While it’s true that nothing is as it should be, in the world or the restaurant industry, chefs keep finding new ways to keep their doors open and their customers fed. From seasonal-cocktail kits to online sauce shops, here’s our short list of current observations, obsessions, and recommendations.
The Armchair Gourmet
Watch Stanley Tucci eat his way through Italy since you can’t.
Stanley Tucci groupies are well aware of the actor’s passion for food and drink. There are the family cookbooks; the forthcoming memoir, Taste: My Life Through Food; the 1996 film Big Night in which he co-starred with Tony Shalhoub and a scene-stealing timpano. But it took a viral video of him shaking a Negroni shot by his wife at their London home during lockdown to suggest there might be a wider audience for the pleasure of watching Stanley Tucci, suave, urbane voluptuary, indulge his appetites. We’re not saying we want the man to make us a cocktail (shaking was the least of his Negroni transgressions), but we have become fast fans of his new CNN food show, Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy. The scenery, both geographic and gastronomic, is stunning. But it’s clear from Tucci’s first bite of the original Neapolitan pizza (stuffed with pork fat and deep-fried) that here is someone who not only deeply enjoys eating and drinking but knows that food is nothing when divorced from place and history. And he’s at home in the land of his ancestors: He speaks the language, surrounds himself with engaging guides, and ventures off the eaten path to immigrant enclaves and struggling restaurants to taste their food and hear their stories.
Sip sublime Irish coffee.
Counterintuitively and with few exceptions — the Dead Rabbit being No. 1 — you don’t go to an Irish bar for Irish coffee. Stale Folgers from the Bunn warmer, an out-of-whack coffee-to-whiskey ratio, and freshly spewed Reddi-wip about sums it up. When you learn that the drink was invented at an airport, you think, Well, that might explain it. But when done right, Irish coffee is a mood lifter non-pareil, a little miracle of perfection, little being the operative word. According to Dale DeGroff, who consulted on the Dead Rabbit’s recipe, you want no more than four ounces of freshly brewed coffee (skip the espresso and the extra-dark roast: too strong); one and a half ounces of Irish whiskey (again, nothing too big; try Jameson, Powers, or Tullamore Dew); an ounce of demerara syrup; and an inch of cream on top. Balance is key, and so is whipping the cream à la minute, and only to the point where it barely reaches soft, not stiff, peaks. (You want to pour it, not spackle it.) The drink is best when the weather turns nasty, but even a slight drizzle will do. (Another tip from DeGroff’s The New Craft of the Cocktail: To cut down on whipping time and prevent your pandemic-atrophied arm from falling off, pre-chill a stainless steel bowl in the freezer, add cream, and use a big whisk. Alternatively, try the nifty cream shaker that’s included in the Dead Rabbit’s Irish Coffee kit, which contains everything a superfan of the drink might need — except for the cream and the bar’s forthcoming book on the subject, slated to publish early next year.)
The At-Home Happy Hour
Stir and shake (and garnish) like the pros.
The reopening of Gage & Tollner was slated for last March 15, the day before indoor dining came to a pandemic-induced halt. The owners have yet to welcome customers, but they’ve done the next best thing: assembled meal kits and takeout fare to preview what’s to come. We feel a toast is in order, and as luck would have it, cocktails are a highlight. The dining-room-bar menu sticks to the classics, but the upstairs retreat, Sunken Harbor Club, is packing rays of sunshine and bushels of mint into its Chinese takeout containers. Partner St. John Frizell’s tropical libations accomplish the neat trick of making you feel like you’re bartending when all you’re really doing is combining fastidiously prepped, freshly juiced ingredients and straining them over the included pebble ice. Rum features prominently, animating tipples like the sweet-tart English Armada, the Sichuan-pepper-spiced High Seas Shakedown, and the rosewater-scented Sultan’s Good Counsel — each accompanied by a diverting (and entirely fictitious) backstory. Spam sliders and steamed wontons make perfect bar food, even minus the bar.
The Moveable Feast
Order delivery from way, way outside your zone.
For many New Yorkers, the pandemic has fostered a bond with neighborhood restaurants. But the rotating-chef program at Intersect by Lexus lets you do something hard to come by these days: experience the food and flavors of a distant kitchen. Through mid-April, Intersect chef Nickolas Martinez is channeling the culinary spirit and bringing to life the southern-inflected recipes of Mashama Bailey, chef of the Grey in Savannah, Georgia. The three-course menu changes weekly, and our delivery arrived so sleekly packed the experience felt like unwrapping a present. For something so detached from its original source, dinner came equipped with everything needed to convey the Grey’s blend of sophistication and soul: the reminder to warm the Parker House rolls before slathering them with butter; the slivers of country ham that jazz up leeks vinaigrette; the vinegar to douse smoky collard greens. Biscuits and apple butter conjured a time when special-occasion restaurants would send you home with something for the next morning, only this time you’re already there.
The Online Shop
Buy sauce, support Gaia.
Milan native Gaia Bagnasacco ran her Lower East Side restaurant for nearly ten years before the pandemic and a landlord dispute shut her down. Over that time, she gained a bevy of loyal customers and racked up as many accolades for her delicious, homespun, absurdly affordable cooking. Now Bagnasacco is looking for a new space and planning a comeback. To help fund it, she’s producing a variety of jarred sauces out of a commercial kitchen and selling them online. Our favorite is the simplest, a bright and tangy tomato, followed by the zingy carrot-tomato curry. Both go nicely with the fresh Calabrian fusilli Bagnasacco sells by the vacuum-packed bag.
*This article appears in the March 1, 2021, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!