October 23, 2007 | BITE: My Journal

In Memoriam Nish, Truffle Connection, Shorty’s Sureshot, TBar Steak

 There are 32 chairs and 32 candles at Shorty's .32. Photo: Steven Richter
There are 32 chairs and 32 candles at Shorty's .32. Photo: Steven Richter

    I’m not sure if this is deep dish or shallow dish.  But my bouche is definitely amused. The best revenge is being alive for your own memorial celebration. Wayne Nish can give himself a hug knowing Zagat voters chose as “best new restaurant of the year” his short-lived attempt to save his restaurant March by rethinking it as Nish.


    On Saturday Alain Ducasse and Gwenaelle Gueguen, his tall and stunning companion of the past twelve years – will marry in St. Jean de Luz.  The religious ceremony for friends follows a civil marriage at the town hall some days ago. Robochef, who gave up the pots in his multi-starred kitchen for the jet-stream life of a global feeding titan, met his bride-to-be in flight -- where else? – when she was still a university student. What do you give the chef who has everything and all that mileage too? I wasn’t invited so I’ll stop racking my poor brain.

    May I Borrow A Cup of Truffles Please?

     I couldn’t make Tony May’s invitational celebration of the first new truffles from Italy at San Domenico but I found myself in desperate need of truffles. Friends booked a Saturday night table for four of us but had to cancel.  We rebooked Tuesday.  I could almost taste the deliciously dirty little fungus, imagined I could smell that pow across the room.

    “Truffles,” I say. “What shall we put them on?”

An indulgance of Le Cirque truffles at San Domenico.  Photo: Steven Richter
“But the truffles are finished,” Tony’s daughter Marisa trills sweetly as if it were not a tragedy.
“You don’t understand,” I object. (Okay, sort of obnoxious.)  “We’re here for the truffles you had just days ago.”
The horror of it all sinks in. We are not getting truffles.  I reset my craving and settle for raviolini al ricci di mare con ragu of scallops and tomato.

    And now Papa May arrives.  Smiling too, of course.  That charming sweet smile I’ve known for almost four decades.
“It seems your truffles are finished,” I greet him. 

  “Yes, they were not good enough,” he offers.  He turns on his heel.  “Marisa, call Mauro at Le Cirque,” he says.  The Maccionis will have truffles.”

    We have eaten our savory roast goat, the spaghetti alla citarra., the marvelous sea urchin pasta, a suckling pig to share and now, what is this?  Bowls of fettucine and risotto arrive and a waiter with a grater and a big fat truffle.  I inhale. He makes a nice little blizzard.

    “The Maccioni sons are my brothers,” Marisa explains to me the next day. “Egi Maccioni is my Godmother.  We grew up in the same apartment building. We always help each other out.  I told them I needed truffles for a very VIP.  We sent a waiter with cash in a taxi to pick them up.”

    The  six grams of truffles at $7 a gram appears on the bill.  I don’t see any charge for the taxi.  I always did feel New York City was a lovely small town.

What a Clever Title
Is this what you had in mind, Lynne?

     No I’m not upset that Lynne Cheney borrowed inspiration from my best selling erotic novel, “Blue Skies, No Candy” for her own new memoir, “Blue Skies, No Fences.”  I’m touched and flattered. Quite clearly, she wishes she were me. To read Tim Noah’s cogent analysis on Slate go to http://www.slate.com/id/2176192/nav/tap2/

Chanterelle Arrives

    If you’re interested in vintage Insatiable Critic articles from the earliest days of New York Magazine, go to the navigator at the bottom of this page and click on Vintage.  I just posted my 1979 review of the amazingly innovative Chanterelle in its infancy:  The Daring Young Man on Grand Street.

 Wild Salmon Dinner for Two

    Do you deserve? need? crave? the dinner for two at Wild Salmon that Wild Jeffrey Chodorow has offered to an InsatiableCritic visitor one evening in November?  Email me why it should be you before the deadline, Saturday October 27.


Shorty’s .32 Thinks Small

 Shorty's skate smothered in tomatoes, bacon and onion. Photo: Steven Richter.

    He wanted to call it 32 seats till he walked around the corner and saw a restaurant called 12 Chairs.  So chef-partner Josh Eden gave this small spot his own nickname, Shorty’s .32.   “ I was thinking 32 seats, 32 caliber, a small concealable guy.”  Here he is, after twelve years in Jean-Georges Vongerichten's kitchens, concealed in his own, turning out wonderful cavatelli with arugula and wild mushroom ragout, fine braised shortribs served alongside macaroni and cheese of my childhood dreams, splendid roast cod in a gruyere broth.  And a burger with crunch-perfect fries because, as he recites from the philosophy of Jean-Georges:,“The day you cook for your customers and not for yourself is the day you’re ready for the customers."

    Stefan Mailvaganam is the energy whirling like a tornado in this appealing little groom with its 28 different lamp-shaded bulbs suspended from the ceiling and every table already occupied.  It’s his idea to spring us from our wait at the bar by dragging a table upstairs from the cellar to create a cramped little post for us five inches from the sidewalk. And then we’re off on the path of discovery.  Another Jean-Georges post-grad but then…you never know. Talking and thinking seasonal, like all chefs these days who aren’t actually dozing 24 hours a day, Eden finds heirloom cherry tomatoes that zing with late summer zest for a grilled shrimp and avocado starter (big shrimp, blissfully not over-cooked) and also for the panzanella salad that comes with a $24 strip and first-rate fries.

    Crisp crab sticks, peeky toe crab to be sure as if Mrs. Paul wasn't already jealous enough, are a gift from the kitchen.  I seem to be the minority of outspoken gastropods at our table, not liking the sweetness of the braised pork belly -- it’s pedigreed pork from Union Square, of course, with radish, scallion, chive and shallot in sherry vinegar with too forceful echoes of honey and molasses for my taste.  But I am eating more than my ration of Jerusalem artichoke soup with purple potato and Jerusalem artichoke chips floating like blossoms.  And trying not to lose control over a side of macaroni we’ve chosen as a starter to share.  Full of essential crunch and not overly cheesed-up, it’s a discreet blend of piave, Dutch beemster, gruyere and parmigiano. I only know because I asked.  In a show of supreme confidence the chef doesn’t borrow an exotic pasta, but sticks with an actual elbow macaroni not unlike Mom’s.

    “I messed around a lot to find the right cheeses,” the chef confides.

    If you need a dessert, there they are – perfectly fine chocolate bread pudding with caramel ice cream, warm apple tartlette with date puree and my favorite, toasted pound cake with tristar strawberries.

    Will he eventually free us from our misery and take reservations?  Absolutely not.  “You really need your neighborhood clientele,” he says.  “You can never turn your back on the neighborhood.”  So he’s always looking for the fish buy of the week and there will be no $36 lamb chops…"Three American chops are a very hearty portion. Maybe I’ll price them  by the chop, " he muses.

199 Prince Street between Sullivan and MacDougal 212 375 8275.  No reservations.


Hedging Bets at T-Bar
That's a first rate rib eye at TBar Steak. Photo Steven Richter.

    When I heard Tony Fortuna was turning Lenox Room into TBar Steak and Lounge, I figured he must be in a mid-life crisis. Yet another steak house?  Would his loyal geriatric early-birds with their compromised arteries desert him?  “The landlord doubled my rent,” he told a longtime regular who stopped by to check out the new menu. “So I had to find a way to boost the check average.” The new raw bar items will add muscle to his bottom line too. “I’m going to miss those little tasting dishes on the tiered platters,” my friend the Lenox Room habitué told me.

    I am not expecting standing room only the Thursday we spied the new awning and pushed through the swinging door -- that’s new too -- 15 minutes early for our 8:15 reservation.  I like not being recognized, but of course am annoyed there isn’t an empty table in the house. The long narrow room with its quiet corner on an elevated alcove looks the same, but vaguely different.  The carpet is gone, in its place a new wood floor. No wonder it seems so noisy. Soon the new table tops would arrive and tablecloths will vanish.  Etched glass appears to be a theme.

    The bar/lounge has definitely seized its corner, grown, possibly doubled.  Tonight’s mating moves play out under the roar of fans screaming for their team. The game. The game. There is always a game. (I once lived with a man who didn’t care about any team. It was so refreshing.  Alas, he had a few bad habits to offset that charming aberration.)

    It’s no cinch to turn out a seriously good steak, even with the new $17,000 broiler Fortuna moved in.  But tonight’s 24 ounce rib-eye ($42) is first rate, smartly caramelized, full of flavor, enough for two.  And a thick $28 Berkshire pork chop, not as pink as I might have preferred, is surprisingly juicy and delicious, better than a rather ordinary cut of grilled salmon alongside unshelled soy beans.  A chopped salad and the blue cheese escarole wedge are pleasant enough, but I’m really wild about the aggressive flavor and exceptional crunch of the treviso salad – endive, radicchio, white anchovy and Parmigiano shards.

    A good-sized Gianonne chicken is judiciously cooked too -- when a dark meat aficionado is talking, that means even the breast meat was edible. If stuffing is what you like about Thanksgiving, you’ll succumb to the chicken’s savory sage dressing, with or without a few sweet morsels from half a roasted garlic bulb. Indeed, garlic on the half shell is on most every dish.

    In a rational moment of adult sanity,
 Desserts to share. Photo: Steven Richter
we decide to order a dessert to share, just as two waiters begin setting a spoon and fork at each place swiftly followed by three gift desserts along with Tony himself:  “I apologize I didn’t recognize you before,” he says. The Road Food Warrior normally doesn’t crave sweets but can’t resist the splendid lemon cheesecake with pineapple-rum glaze.  Meanwhile, inspired by two outsize crystal bowls -- one a chocolate sundae with molten brownie, the other layered banana parfait mille feuilles, the rest of us lose all discipline.

    By the way, Fortuna has found a jewel in manager Datza Kikovic, who emigrated from Orsay uptown.  Her charm and energy quickly quenches narcissistic tantrums. When we point out that our three glasses of wine are not on the bill, she explains.  “I always offer a glass of wine when we keep someone waiting.” That’s a tonic I approve.  I believed her and we accepted the gift.

    For all you upper east siders constantly complaining about the lack of good places to eat:  Here it is.

1278 Third Avenue between 73rd and 74th. 212 772 0404
















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