the grub street diet

Chef Geoffrey Zakarian Tastes the National’s Entire Menu at Once, Clears His Palate With Beer

Zakarian in the raw space that will soon be the National.

Zakarian in the raw space that will soon be the National.Photo: Melissa Hom

"I'm just so sick of talking about the Lambs Club," says chef Geoffrey Zakarian. "It feels great to not have to answer any more questions about when it's going to open, and just get to work." His restaurant, first announced in 2007, opened last month just a handful of years behind schedule. Work these days means the National, the restaurant he's opening next month on the ground floor of the Benjamin hotel. "I've been waiting like twenty years to open a place like this," he says. "It's a midtown neighborhood joint, which should be an oxymoron." Straddling the office-heavy Grand Central area and the more residential neighborhood of Sutton Place, Zakarian sees room for something welcoming. "Where else are you going to go?" he asks. "The only two options you have are Michael Jordan's and Cipriani, and one's terrible and one's a rip-off." Find out what he had to eat this week in our latest New York Diet.

Friday, September 17
I wake up at five-thirty each morning and make my daughters breakfast. Then I usually have a slice of twelve-grain bread with a tablespoon of almond butter, and that morning I had two double espressos.

I had a fresh tuna-fish sandwich for lunch that I made myself: canned Ortiz tuna with celery, onions, capers, parsley, mustard, black olives, and olive oil. No mayo. It's really good.

That afternoon I went to a tasting at the National. There were lots and lots of dishes — it's about 80 percent the final menu. It's what I like to call the "final final." I tried dozens of things: crab soup with pork belly and mushrooms; a fall squash soup; baby-beet salad with red quinoa and brussels sprouts; a chicken salad with couscous and mango; mushroom risotto; yellowtail tartare with barbecued eel; veal sweetbreads; a seared yellowfin tuna sandwich with alfalfa sprouts and cucumber; a whole brook trout with farro and butternut squash; skate grenobloise ; cavatelli with roast duck and root vegetables; pork loin with broccolini and quince; and the burger. I had maybe a forkful of each. There were more dishes than I can remember.

I came back to the Lambs Club after that, sick to my stomach in a good way — a great way — and I had a cold Sierra Nevada beer. That's what I do after tastings; it's so refreshing. I asked my GM to whip me up a double espresso; she used to be at Eleven Madison Park, and they make the best coffee. She really understands it.

I expedited at Lambs Club that night, and I ate like chefs do: We sort of pick and nosh all night long. I had probably half a side of french fries. At the end of the night, I sat down with my wife and I had an extra-dry gin martini made for me by Sasha Petraske, our genius here. He makes the meanest martini in the world with four very big green olives from Sicily.

Saturday, September 18
I started the day with espresso and a slice of twelve-grain with almond butter. We did a brunch party, and I had a few bites of a mini-ham-biscuit, some tomato salad, and crab toast.

That night we checked out Eataly: I tried the veal chop, gigante beans, tagliatelle with pesto, margherita pizza, and carpaccio of beef. I had a Diet Coke and some Bastianich wine. At the fish restaurant, Il Pesce, we had some steamed cockles and octopus.

Sunday, September 19
Breakfast was toast with almond butter, bacon, a double espresso, and some watermelon.

For lunch, I cooked hot dogs on the grill for my daughters, and I ate two of them with Les Palais de Thes iced tea. I had some pineapple, strawberries, and melon, and drank Diet Coke and a double espresso. Dinner was a half of a roast chicken and a glass of Burgundy.

Monday, September 20
Toast with almond butter and espresso to start.

Lunch was a turkey-and-Swiss sandwich, and a double espresso. I had a nectarine smoothie at work, and a "chopped" tuna salad — I was working on the new mezze platter for the Water Club in Atlantic City. I was in the kitchen [at the Lambs Club] that night, so I was tasting a myriad of dishes and items. It's about quality control.

Tuesday, September 21
My wife made me scrambled eggs with feta and roasted tomatoes with Herbes de Provence for breakfast. I had an espresso and my twelve-grain toast.

All day I was tasting and testing for the National — lots of the same dishes from Friday. After service that night, I treated myself to an Old Fashioned.

Wednesday, September 22
Twelve-grain bread with almond butter and an espresso that morning.

We were filming Chopped the entire day, so I ate a mishmash: horn melon, ostrich, Rice Krispies, Chinese sausage, squash blossoms, mussels, waffles, pears. I drank a lot of water. I went to work right after that, and spent the night sampling and working on all sorts of dishes from the menu.

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