The Launch

Sam Mason Devises Oddball Combos of Sweet and Savory

Rolling up one tattoo sleeve …Photo: Melissa Hom
Sam Mason, the former star pastry chef at wd-50, will be launching his own restaurant and lounge, Tailor, at the beginning of March. In the weeks leading up to that, he’ll take us behind the scenes of a hot restaurant opening.

Would you like to see the weirdos, er, specials?Photo: Melissa Hom

“We’re working in the test kitchen now, a great facility in Chinatown. We have a high-powered blender you can grind rocks in. But no matter how good the test kitchen is, it’s not exactly the way it’s going to be in our restaurant. It’s a way for some of our investors to get an idea of where we’re going. It’s only been a couple of days, but we’ve already started with a Peking duck and eel terrine and also a terrine of foie gras and peanut butter. Both are right in the center of that spectrum between sweet and savory that I want Tailor to represent. But Peking duck costs $16 a pound! That isn’t a food cost we can handle. Also, we thought it would be nice to have greater control over the duck flavor profile. So Fran [Derby, co-chef] and I went down to Canal Street and bought raw duck legs and made our own Peking duck–inspired flavoring for them with kecap manis, shiro dashi sauce, and a few other things. We wrapped the legs in tinfoil, braising them in a 270-degree oven in their own fat. That’s what we’re thinking of using in the terrine at the moment. Some of the other things we’re experimenting include short ribs with hibiscus glaze, paired with a kind of date purée and green-tea-poached daikon. I see these dishes in my head first and sketch them out.

Diagram of the notorious “Hail Mary” dessert.Photo: Melissa Hom

In the meantime, they’re putting in the floors. They’re new, but we want them to look old, and we have to figure out how to age them. And we’re still looking out for an assistant manager. The kitchen staff is done for right now, until we get to phase two, when we really open. And it will be a while before we think of the front of the house. The assistant manager isn’t the easiest position to fill. He’s the guy who is out there in the dining room, making executive decisions during service. If someone is pissed off about maybe waiting to sit down, because we’re just starting out and working out the kinks with seating scheduling, he’s the one who makes them feel like they’re still having a good time; he’s the guy that pacifies them. It’s more a personality than a skill set, I think. But I don’t think it will be a huge problem. We’re looking but not scouring yet.”

Sam Mason Devises Oddball Combos of Sweet and Savory