"I think the secret is to get food, and then get more food," we heard one partygoer tell another at last night’s Le Fooding. As strategies go, it wasn’t a bad one; super-long lines for virtually every offering snaked around P.S. 1, meaning that the best plan was to pick up one dish and eat it while waiting in line for another. With judicious pausing between bites — take a sip of champagne, complain a little about standing in high heels in a sandpit, inconspicuously scope out whether attendant celebs like Jake Gyllenhaal, Amber Tamblyn, and Aziz Ansari are standing nearby — it was possible to finish your grilled pork ribeye from Nopa within seconds of having to pick up your pickle-and-mortadella lamb’s tongue salad from Torrisi.
Not surprisingly, the sheer ravenousness of the guests quickly became a problem for most of the chefs. "They told me I should expect to do 1500 pieces and I’ve already done 2000 plates," chef Jeremy Fox told us scarcely an hour after the doors opened to non-VIP ticketholders. Robert Newton and his Seersucker crew plowed through almost half of their 1300 pieces of fried chicken in the first hour they were up and running, and ran out long before feeding everyone waiting in their (seemingly infinite, ouroboros-like) line. Even David Chang’s beet-goat cheese-oatmeal concotion, a dish that was at best tepidly received, didn’t last. But the award for quickest sell-through went to April Bloomfield and her Breslin team: their blue-cheese-topped meat pies were completely gone by 8:45.
But the big question isn’t one of quantity, it’s one of quality: which city had better offerings? Our highly scientific breakdown, below.
Jeremy Fox (free agent, formerly of Ubuntu): Cucumbers in miso "bagna cauda", whipped nasturtium flower, square roots & coffee, marcona almonds
Grub Street says: The nasturtium had novelty going for it, and the lavender-coated almonds were pretty neat, but we didn’t do cartwheels over anything. Plus one.
James Syhabout (Commis): Scallops with smoked stone fruit emulsion, licorice herbs.
Grub Street says: The scallops were really good, with a bonus for being the one subtle dish at an event that was all about punching you in the face with flavor. Plus two.
Laurence Jossel (Nopa): Wood-grilled pork ribeye, smoked tomato jam
Grub Street says: Spectacular. There’s a reason this pulled the second-longest line of the night. Plus three.
SAN FRANCISCO TOTAL: 6 points
Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi (Torrisi Italian Specialties): Pickle salad New Yorkese
Grub Street says: The perfect astringent counterpoint to the other chefs’ meaty, fatty offerings — with meaty, fatty components of its own. Plus two.
David Chang (Momofuku, Ma Peche, etc): Beets, goat cheese, walnuts
Grub Street says: This layered riff on a yogurt parfait was too foamy, too oatmeal-y, and not beety enough. We all know Chang can do better. (Was it an intentional punt to SF?) No points.
Robert Newton (Seersucker): Tennessee-style fried chicken
Grub Street says: Fresh from the fryer, this was approaching the Platonic ideal of fried chicken: hot, crispy, oily, meaty. But was it worth standing in line for an hour just to get a drumstick? Plus one.
David Sclarow (Pizza Moto): Pizza bianca; pizza with octopus, jalapeno, and cherry tomatoes
Grub Street says: Surprisingly, this was the stand we heard the most buzz about all night, and it delivered: the pizza was shockingly good, with an awesomely chewy, charred crust. Plus three.
April Bloomfield (The Breslin): Braised beef & onion pie with Bleu d’Auvergne
Grub Street says: Homey, delicious goodness. Exactly what you want in a meat pie. Plus one.
NEW YORK TOTAL: 7 points. But the home team had two extra contenders — get rid of Bloomfield and Pizza Moto and we’re down to 3, which means…
LE FOODING WINNER, NIGHT ONE: San Francisco. But there’s still another night to go — can Dan Barber and his September vegetables grilled on carbonized pork bones turn the tide back towards New York? Stay tuned for more Grub Street coverage and find out.