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Tim Zagat's favorite drink is iced tea (three-quarters) with cranberry juice (one-quarter).

By Daniel Maurer

Rachael Ray Brushes Off Her Starbucks Scandal As ‘Ridiculous’

The blowback from last week’s item about Rachael Ray, in which the Food Network star was reputed to have demanded Starbucks rather than her own officially endorsed Dunkin' Donuts coffee, has apparently reached Ray. OK! magazine sent a reporter to a Friday taping of The Rachael Ray Show to ask the inexplicably omnipresent food personality about the rumor and its possible damage to her relationship with Dunkin’ Donuts. The wholly predictable response? “It's ridiculous. It's absolutely ridiculous.” We agree, Rache! But you didn’t say whether it was true! OK! Exclusive: Rachael Ray Denies Starbucks Rumor [OK!] Related: Rachael Ray Doesn't Like Dunkin' Donuts Coffee Any More Than We Do

Julia Jaksic, Now Head Chef at Employees Only, Shows Off New Menu

Julia Jaksic, underground-dinner-club hostess and consulting chef at Smith and Mills, has been named head chef at Employees Only (where she was previously a sous-chef) and has completely revamped the menu. Look for nods to her Croatian heritage: A hamburger that’s served on a fluffy pita with pepper paste and carmac, and (on the brunch menu) polenta with smoked bacon and sauerkraut and brown butter. A hamburger that’s served on a fluffy pita with pepper paste, and (on the brunch menu) polenta with smoked bacon and sauerkraut and brown butter. Berkshire bacon makes another appearance wrapped around New Zealand lamb chops — an appetizer that’s fast becoming the Employees Only equivalent of Freemans’ devils on horseback. The late-night menu has also been jazzed up, surely good news for industry types still reeling from the loss of wee hours eating at Mas (farmhouse). Employees Only dinner menu Related: Sign Up for Secret Dinner Club's Weekend Time Warp

At the End of the Day, Nicole Kaplan Likes Ring Dings

We told you on Wednesday that Nicole Kaplan was leaving Del Posto for the Plaza, and today we can tell you why: She’s not crazy about cooking Italian food. “I guess I just missed my style; I wasn’t loving Italian food as much as I thought I would. My style is American food with a strong French–training influence.”

Crosby Connection Will Rise Again; Los Dados the Last Breath of Meatpacking

Meatpacking District: With the wave of recent restaurant and nightlife closings, this area seems doomed, but Los Dados and long-delayed Merkato 55 might be able to salvage the hip destination, at least "on its western perimeter." [Zagat] Midtown East: Midtown Lunch finagled a sneak peak of Sakae Sushi’s conveyor belt and loses his cool: "If you’ve been to an outlet overseas, you may end up disappointed by the first US location which lacks some of the uniqueness or ‘cool’ factor of the locations in Asia. That’s because they felt a more subdued location would be more appealing to the clientele of Midtown.… Even when we get something cool, we get screwed." [Midtown Lunch] Park Slope: Lebanese Laila has closed, which doesn’t seem like a surprise since it was across the street from "the better, cheaper Olive Vine." [TONY] South Slope: The Fourth Avenue soup man has officially given up his spot in preparation for a new fancy condo. [Eat for Victory/VV] Upper West Side: China Fun is getting in on the New Year shill fest: Submit 500 words (or fewer) on why you want to celebrate the Year of the Rat at China Fun (info@chinafun-ny.com), and you could win a banquet for eight. West Village: After losing its lease, Italian sandwich destination Crosby Connection is moving from its hole-in-the-wall to an actual restaurant space a couple of blocks away. [The Gluttoness]

George ‘Norm’ Wendt Plays Beer Pong at Brother Jimmy’s; Uma and the BF Get Frisky at Lever House

A friend of Grub Street texted us last night to let us know that Camille Paglia was at French Roast, perusing The New Yorker in a suit jacket. As much as we love spotting “feminist bisexual egomaniacs” (her words, not ours), this didn’t quite sate our voyeuristic tendencies, so, as we do every week, we combed the gossip columns for mention of any other club and restaurant sightings.

Russ & Daughters Immortalized on PBS

The Jews of New York, PBS’s new documentary, could have any number of heroes; we were pleased to see that the family behind downtown lox legend Russ & Daughters was chosen to represent the New York–immigrant experience. As we recently noted here, their Houston Street store is one of the only things keeping the old Lower East Side’s Jewish life from disappearing into history. As scion Josh Russ Tupper tells us, “We’re perpetuating and cultivating the culture of Jewish experience. And whether we’re religious and go to temple is independent of the fact that we’re providing an experience of the Jewish–immigrant era of New York. It’s really important to maintain what it was like and what it is like.” Not to mention, they have some very nice herring there. Russes among stars of ‘The Jews of New York’ [Alfred University]

Green Bay Is Getting Off Easy in This Year's Food Bet

The unavoidable wager between the mayors of Green Bay and New York has been made, and AP has dutifully reported it. But as usual, New York is getting the worse of the deal. Green Bay mayor, Jim Schmitt, is betting a basket of cheese, some spread, and some New York strip steaks (New York strips! Imagine!), with some candy — a pair of cheese-wedge sunglasses. That’s if we win. If they win, the self-appointed “Titletown” gets twenty pounds of Peter Luger porterhouses, a case of Brooklyn Lager, and a cheesecake (take that, cheese heads!) from Carnegie Deli. Green Bay is getting the much better deal here. We suggest Bloomberg match Schmitt’s bet with a gristly steak from Tad’s and a black-and-white cookie from a random deli. Bloomberg places bet on Giants-Packers game [Newsday]

Under the Bridge in Williamsburg, We Could Not Get Enough Pies-N-Thighs


Lining up for one last look.Photo: Melissa Hom

Our photographer Melissa Hom, whose love of fried chicken has been well documented (by herself), hit the scene at Pies-N-Thighs last night and somehow managed to snap some photos through teary eyes. She had this to report: “There was a huge line out the door and around the corner. The two e-mail sign-up sheets weren't enough for fans eager to hear where they move next, so the crowd started tacking up their own sheets and taping business cards to the wall. Lots of free food, well-wishing in the form of big tips, and wistful smiles.” Sigh.

Omido Chef and Maybe AvroKo to Join Chris Eddy in Nolita Project

Yesterday, we brought news that Chris Eddy, owner of barmarché, has plans for the Forty Deuce space; today, Eddy tells us that he’ll be joined in the venture by Omido chef-owner and founding SushiSamba chef Eliji “Taka” Takase. “We’ve been trying to do a restaurant for ten years now,” Eddy says. Can we assume that AvroKo, designers of Omido and owners of nearby Public, will be on board? Nothing is final yet, but it’s a very good assumption. Eddy plans to open in summer and says that, although certain neighbors are concerned about rising property values, he’s working with them and has been assured by the community board that, if he agrees to certain concessions, he’ll have a liquor license by February. Wherever Ivan Kane is these days, he must be sick with envy. Related: Chris Eddy of Barmarché and industry (food) Goes After Forty Deuce Space

Falafel Mecca Offers City Gluttons a Challenge Not Easily Refused

We love Forest Hills, and we love falafel, at least in the form in which it appears at On the Grill, our number one go-to shawarma-and-falafel place in the five boroughs. But are we, or you, man or woman enough to beat On the Grill’s falafel challenge? Gothamist’s Joe DiStefano reports that the restaurant has instituted the Great Falafel Eating Contest, which stipulates that anyone who eats five falafel sandwiches in 29 minutes gets them free, plus a $50 gift certificate – presumably, to be spent on more falafel sandwiches. If you’re thinking, “Pshaw! There’s no meat in falafel! I can eat all I want!,” be warned: Tzur Kalaf, On the Grill’s colorful owner, bakes huge, puffy pitas in-house, every one of which could paralyze an average person. And his sandwiches aren’t small. Which is maybe one more reason why you should go to On the Grill and make the effort. On the Grill, 98-102 Queens Blvd., Forest Hills; 718-897-4829. Competitive Eating Comes to Forest Hills, Well Sorta [Gothamist]

At Insieme, Marco Canora Makes Pasta Like It’s 1875

In the wonderful world of pasta, there is the fresh (usually made with eggs and rolled-out), and there is the dried (usually eggless and extruded). And then there is the unusual hybrid of sorts that Marco Canora has recently introduced on his Insieme menu. While surfing the Web, as all blog-obsessed chefs are wont to do, Canora discovered an old Venetian–style hand-cranked pasta extruder known as the Bigolaro, a.k.a. the Torchio, and if he had his doubts about its decidedly low-tech looks, the price, at $280, was right. The rustic gadget, which was patented in 1875, clamps on to any sturdy tabletop, and although it requires the strength of two Greco–Roman wrestlers to operate, the results are worth the effort.

AvroKO's New One May Open in Late Spring, First Book Out in the Meantime

AvroKO, the firm that designed newly opened Omido, among others, is in the process of locking down a new restaurant space near the Bond Street location it abandoned after community protest, and partner Adam Farmerie tells us it could be ready to open in as little as four months. In the meantime, you’ll be able to explore the world of AvroKO in print when the firm publishes its first book, Best Ugly, on February 19. The 265-page tome profiles six restaurants, starting with raw-space snapshots and moving on to floor plans, process sketches, and sexy interior shots. Readers will also get an eye into what inspired the designs (the wall at Stanton Social, for instance, is modeled after deconstructed suit jackets). Our advice: Keep this beauty off your coffee table, or you’ll be tempted to go splurge at Public every time you pick it up.

Kozy Shack Founder Dies, Grub Street Mourns

Vinnie Gruppuso, the founder of Kozy Shack pudding, died today. It is a dark day on Grub Street, since Kozy Shack was not just our favorite pudding (a confection so potent it practically qualified as a controlled substance), but also a modern rarity: a New York–area manufacturing story without an unhappy ending. The Kozy Shack factory in Hicksville is no Wonka–like wonderland, but the sight of an entire eighteen-wheeler loaded with whole milk, the secret to the pudding’s mouth-filling fullness, gave us that kind of feeling. And Gruppuso’s story is a kind of ultimate foodie fantasy. He was a blue-collar guy, a bread deliveryman who happened to fall in love with the pudding made by a deli in Ridgefield. We’ve all had such crushes. But Gruppuso bought the recipe when the deli closed and essentially married it, investing everything in Kozy Shack and eventually building a pudding empire. Tonight we will have a toast for Vinnie Gruppuso with our favorite cordial: Kozy Shack chocolate pudding, straight from the tub, with a chaser of melancholy. Vincent Gruppuso, 67, Seller of Pudding Snacks, Dies [NYT]

A Sausage-Fest Welcome in Chelsea; Gramercy Tavern Recipes

Chelsea: On January 15–20, Trestle on Tenth will begin its own yearly tradition of Metzgete, a Swiss winter celebration of sausage, choucroute, and wine. [Trestle on Tenth] Flatiron: Adam Shepard hasn’t yet been able to clone the success of his Boerum Hill original at Lunetta, in the old Mayrose space, but Frank Bruni thinks he’s capable of making the necessary adjustments. [Diner’s Journal/NYT] Gramercy: Gramercy Tavern’s Michael Anthony provided this recipe for East Coast blackfish over spaghetti squash, but we have his recipe for fork-crushed purple majesty potatoes in our database. [Restaurant Girl] Hells Kitchen: How is this world going to stop mispronouncing chipotle as "chi-POLE-tay" if restaurants like Kevin St. James on Eighth Avenue can’t even spell it right? [East Village Idiot] Midtown West: Our In-box submission claiming there are prostitutes at Maze has inspired a call for the best restaurants that attract good ol’ traditional gold diggers. [Bottomless Dish/Citysearch] Upper East Side: Agata & Valentina Ristorante has permanently closed, but the original gourmet shop is still lively. [Eater]

Choking: The Universal Language

Choking Victim
Michael Touchard of the Hell’s Kitchen bistro Tout Va Bien speaks fluent French, fluent English, and kitchen Spanish. But he doesn’t speak — or read — a word of Chinese. Neither do many of his customers. So let’s hope nobody chokes.