Last season’s Top Chef winner Hung Huynh, who previously cooked at Per Se, Gilt, Manhattan Ocean Club, and others, is back from a year and a half at Guy Savoy in Las Vegas — this week he started as executive chef at Solo. The Mediterranean-Asian restaurant happens to be kosher, meaning Huynh can’t use his beloved fish sauce or sherry vinegar. “I’m pretty limited to proteins,” he tells us. “I have to be a little bit more creative with my flavor profiles.” If Padma and Tom paid a visit, he says, he’d probably serve them his sweetbreads glazed with truffles and served with lemon-honey carrots. But forget what he’s cooking; we’re more interested in what he ate this week.
While no one was looking, New York just got another high-end Vietnamese restaurant in Saju, at the Hotel Mela. The place is in what could loosely be called soft-opening mode, largely because they are still ten days away from a liquor license and are still BYOB. But the food, mostly classical versions of Vietnamese dishes, shows the kind of French influence that comes from colonial occupation, rather than “fusion cooking” per se. (The fact that a Frenchman, Osteria al Doge's Phillipe Bernard, is a co-owner underscores its Gallic pedigree.)
Update, 6:14 p.m.: Sit-in ends after 45 minutes, with the NYPD ordering protestors out of the Vietnamese eatery. Jamie Chen, who we spoke with earlier, tells us that she and her fellow students took over most of the tables on first floor. There were no arrests. The protestors joined noisy demonstrators outside, chanting “Boycott Saigon Grill.”
Update, 5:49 p.m.: Students, many wearing red, have taken over a number of tables inside the restaurant while television cameras whir.
In a planned demonstration reminiscent of sixties campus radicalism, at least 100 students citywide are expected to stage a protest shortly after 5 p.m. today in front of the trendy Saigon Grill on University Place. The demonstration is a statement against the lockout of some 33 delivery workers who refused to sign in March what they claimed was an illegal contract from owner Simon Nget, a Chinese-Cambodian refugee who also runs an Upper West Side Asian eatery by the same name. The protest is “definitely student generated and initiated,” says Jamie Chen, 20, a Columbia student reached during finals. She says her fellow activist Christina Chen,19, held a teach-in at Columbia’s Hamilton Hall a couple of weeks ago “to talk about the abuses” at the restaurant “and a lot of people want to do something about it.”
This week’s food section is all about pressure: A pastry chef has to cook every night for a president who hates pineapples and will send him packing at the first hint of progressive dessert-making; Vinh Nguyen, a first generation Vietnamese-American, rolls the dice with his Williamsburg restaurant Silent H, and, as far as Rob and Robin are concerned, comes up lucky seven; Jeffrey Chodorow, fresh off his battle with Frank Bruni and Adam Platt, opens a big new restaurant and hopes for the best; and four new restaurants open, surely hoping for the best as well. Even this week’s In Season is rife with tension, calling as it does for a delicate filleting operation that could easily destroy a beautifully roasted flounder. The New York food world is not for the faint of heart.