Top Chef’s Fabio Viviani Eats New York

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Photo: Melissa Hom

While Fabio Viviani doesn’t have plans to move to New York (“You go in a cab in New York, you get out, you just want to punch somebody in the face. I’m a very peaceful person”), the Top Chef contestant was in town last week to promote the Café Firenze cookbook (out in May) and scout a Village location for a local outpost. Since leaving the show, Viviani scored another book deal (with his mom) and has contributed to the nutritious-eating site KidsHealthCafé. We managed to stop the season-five fan favorite long enough for him to share his New York Diet.

Friday, March 13
My breakfast on a Friday morning was really a couple of mojitos at around 2:30 a.m. I was at Cuba on Thompson Street.

Then I went to bed in the hotel, we got up, and I went to Shopsin’s; it’s one of my favorite breakfast joints. They have this crazy, incredibly big menu. I don’t even know how they can deal with it. The funny things is I always get the same thing: the Essexy, a sandwich with potato, eggs, herbs, and ciabatta bread. I have no idea who the owners are. I like it because it looks like the kitchen of a friend of yours. I always get an orange juice. See, I drink espresso, but I’m not a big fan of American coffee. How can you walk with something in your hand all day?

After Shopsin’s we had lunch at Eleven Madison Park. I had the tasting menu. The poached lobster was absolutely great. The parsnip soup was delightful. I was not a big fan of the dessert. It was different preparations of chocolate: a kind of a gelatin chocolate, a coffee marshmallow. I’m not a big fan of chocolate. I think it’s one of the finest restaurants in New York; it’s just not my style of restaurant. You know, tablecloths, three servers per table, high ceiling, high-end feeling. These are the kind of restaurants for me that it’s a onetime experience.

Then I had several hot dogs from stands on the street; most of them are very good. We got out of Eleven Madison Park, we had a nice walk, four to five blocks, and I got a hot dog. I was still hungry from the tasting menu. See, that’s another thing, you go in high-end restaurants, little portions, sexy beautiful food, but you’re not really satisfied food-wise.

Then we walk another ten blocks and I get another hot dog. I get plain with mustard and mayo. If they don’t have mayo, I get ketchup with it. Maybe some cooked onion. If it’s raw, I don’t eat it.

Then I went for dinner at SushiSamba. The chef either recognized me or was in a very nice mood that night. He started to send out all kinds of food, but I always order sea urchin. I can have sea urchin on bread instead of butter. I ordered lobster. And then they suggested I stop ordering, because I got a whole bunch of sushi and the chef was sending out all kinds of things. I got a banana cake, it was like a chocolate cake with banana and caramel. It was very good, which I was surprised [about], because you don’t expect a sushi place to be a good spot to have a dessert. After SushiSamba I was toast because I’d been eating all day like a pig, so I went to bed.

Saturday, March 14
Saturday morning, once I got up, I went in the sandwich shop in front of the Roosevelt Hotel. I had a smoked-salmon sandwich with cream cheese, red pickled onion, and lettuce on a baguette. And then I walked away from the place, [then] halfway through it was really good and I went back and I got another one and a glass of fresh orange juice.

For lunch I went to Cipriani. The good thing about Cipriani is that it’s all Italian. Every single person is Italian. Even the American sommelier is Italian. Everybody speaks Italian. It’s a good feeling. I consider Cipriani one of the most refined services that I’ve ever had in a restaurant. For lunch I had spaghetti a la chitarra with Amatriciana sauce. I had beef tartar. I had fried seafood, mixed. I had also the fresh pasta with the duckling ragú. It was outstanding. Then I got a plate of Parmesan with green olives and I got the whole roasted branzino. It was me and another person. We had several glasses of wine. We didn’t get dessert; we had a glass too much of wine, so we were very full. We stayed there like an hour just finishing the wine because my friend ordered a bottle.

Saturday was fun because we went kind of heavy on lunch, red wine, so in the afternoon we were really lazy, walking around like ghosts of New York.

For dinner we decided to go easy and [not] kill ourselves with food, so we decided to go to Peter Luger’s steakhouse and just get like four pound. It was steak for four, and we were two. I got a tomato salad, with onion. I got the creamed spinach. One of the sexiest spinaches I’ve ever eaten in my life. The steak was very good. It was a little bit underseasoned for me, but it’s good. And we had almost two bottles of wine.

Sunday, March 15
We got White Castle in the afternoon.

For dinner, we went to Perilla, Harold Dieterle’s restaurant, the winner of Top Chef season one. They sent me out a couple of plates because it was me, so they sent me out a scallops dish, a calamari dish that was very good. I ordered the hamachi crudo with soybean and cucumber, it was very good. And I ordered the pork belly, very good, too. I got the hanger steak and the duck breast. And then they sent me a side of risotto, very, very good. And then for dessert I got a special, like a banana bread pudding. It was very good, too.

We were joking, because for the wine, the Santa Margherita, we have it in our restaurant, and it’s on our wine list, we’re working with them, we have some project going on with this winery, my friend was joking ‘we have to finish the wine, because we’re going to upset the girl.’ We did finish the wine.

Monday, March 16
I had breakfast at Café Orlin. I had eggs Benedict because I was still a little hung-over from the wine. When you drink a little bit too much the night before, there’s nothing better than eggs Benedict with Canadian bacon and half a muffin. And Café Orlin does a very excellent, thick, heavy, tasty Hollandaise sauce. If I eat something, I have orange juice. If I don’t eat, I get an espresso with a splash of milk.

For lunch, I went to Union Square Cafe. We got the carpaccio and the orange plate with ricotta salata. We got the gnocchi; very, very good. And a squash tortelli with brown-butter sage. It was really good. We got a scallop plate. We got a kind of beef, I don’t know if it was a hanger steak or a sirloin. It was with mushrooms and Parmesan salad. At Eleven Madison Park, you’re almost afraid to have a laugh while you’re eating. Eleven Madison Park is one of the finest places in New York, but yet when I go there, I feel that I have to talk with my voice very low, I have to whisper, and if you laugh too much people turn and look at you — Jesus Christ, I’m having lunch! At Union Square Cafe, [there's] straightforward food, well presented, but presentation is not the prima donna there. The flavor is great. I loved it.

On Monday night, I went to Scuderia. I had a great Italian meal. It was very nice, super casual, no fancy glass, no fancy décor, very good food. The chef is from Valencia. He did a very nice job. He sent out a tripe, we got polenta with mushroom, he sent out a meatball. We had a pizza with figs, prosciutto, and Gorgonzola — I loved it. For pasta, we had the ragú and the spinach-ricotta dumpling.

Tuesday, March 17
I was taking pictures all day, another not-memorable breakfast, because it was in-service catering. I got a muffin. When you do a photo shoot, there’s muffin, there were some cold cuts, a fruit salad. I got a coffee and took pictures all day.

At night I went to to the restaurant of Scott Conant, the friend that was talking shit about me on Top Chef, the one that he thinks I don’t understand English. I was very upset that he wasn’t there. But he truly is one of the greatest chefs in New York City, so he deserves some respect for that. I’m not bad either, but he’s way more famous than me.

I’d heard great things about Scarpetta. It was very, very good. The only thing that I didn’t enjoy was the saffron gnocchi — they were very, very chewy. Most of the diners at my table didn’t like the gnocchi. Again, he wasn’t there doing the cooking; I’m sure he does great gnocchi. Everything was great; my striped sea bass was perfectly cooked, the short-ribs appetizer, outstanding. The scallop crudo, scallop tartar was beautiful. We got the fried mozzarella.

Wednesday, March 18
[For] breakfast and lunch, I was not very happy because it was a catering service.

We went to dinner at A Voce. Missy Robbins, the chef, blows me away. Trust me, I've been up and down Italy. No where it’s possible to find such a great recipe for bomboloni. The best I've ever had in my whole life. I'm willing to pay a lot of money for her recipe. Even if she has a pastry chef, she cooperates with her pastry chef. Great, great, great dough, some sort of crème inside, and chocolate dip.