Scott Conant Returns With ScarpettaLost in the shuffle of this year’s high-profile openings has been a major lingering question: What ever happened to Scott Conant? One of the city’s top Italian chefs, Conant last year gave up both of his restaurants, L’Impero and Alto, to pursue a mystery project. (Michael White took over both places, to great acclaim.) Conant monkeyed around in the Hamptons, consulting for a friend, but only now is his next real project in view.
Back of the House
Babbo Tops Zagat Italian List, Followed by RelicsWe’re not surprised that Babbo is the city’s top Italian restaurant, according to Zagat’s new America’s 1,000 Top Italian Restaurants book — its popularity alone is enough, in Zagat-land, to ensure yearly dominance. And in fact, Babbo is a wonderful restaurant, four stars by our lights, and justly beloved. But if you had any doubt how unreliable the Zagat surveyors are, just check out number two: Village relic Il Mulino! Now, don’t get us wrong: Il Mulino is a fine restaurant and uses very expensive ingredients to good effect. The tuxedoed wait staff are as servile as ever. But it should be the second-most-popular Italian restaurant of 1958. Haven’t the matrons of Secaucus ever heard of A Voce? Or
Wing Woes on First Avenue; French Bistro Tougher Than Gun Shots in BrooklynDitmas Park: Patois and Sweetwater owner Jim Mamary is opening a French bistro at the corner of Newkirk Avenue and Argyle Road, and his progress hasn’t been hampered by a recent shooting nearby: “You can’t open up a flower shop on a strip nobody would walk on. It’s us guys who take the risks. Restaurants take the risks.” [NYT via Eater]
East Village: Despite having encouraged wing reservations for yesterday’s big game, Atomic Wings lost track of orders and left customers waiting one to two hours for what turned out to be cold Buffalo not-so-goodness. [Grub Street]
Financial District: A new Mexican cantina called Mad Dog and Beans has brought fish tacos and chiles rellenos to Pearl Street. [Zagat]
Soho: Palacinka has lost its lease. [Eater]
West Village: L’Impero alum chef Michael Genardini will be in the kitchen of a rustic Italian eatery called I Sodi, which should be ready this March in the former Puff & Pao space. [TONY]
Gordon Finn Is Mike White’s Secret Weapon at AltoEach week, we’ll be highlighting one of the great but obscure young chefs running one of the city’s major restaurants. These are the unheralded chefs de cuisine, the right arms to the name chefs, and when they are big stars themselves, you can say that you read about them here first.
Name: Gordon Finn
Background: Finn, a CIA graduate, earned his Italian-food chops cooking in good restaurants in Puglia, Tuscany, and Lombardy, before signing on with Scott Conant as line cook and then pasta chef at Alto, and eventually, under Michael White, chef de cuisine.
Gordo Blog Better Than the Real Thing; Water Trend More RidiculousA true innovator has started a mock Gordon Ramsay blog with such posts as “What? Emeril’s boobs aren’t nice enough?” But when will someone step in to fill in the gaps at Chodoblog? [News Groper via Serious Eats]
Related: Food Network, Emeril No Longer Feeling the Love
No holiday parties at Chumley’s this year; according to the owner Steve Shlopak, the space has no ceiling and no floor. [NYO]
Even after a top-chef shuffle and “showdown between Fiamma, L’Impero and Alto … all three places have come through recent turmoil, and the good news is that they’re better than they were before,” says Steve Cuozzo. [NYP]
Tell L’Impero What You Feel Like Eating Sunday NightSunday suppers, when they’ve been offered by New York restaurants, have generally been big red-sauce feeds, and none too exciting. But when, one month ago, L’Impero launched its Domenica Rustica menu, the city got a pretty outrageous bargain. Meant to be more homey and casual than you might normally expect from L’Impero, it starts early (4:30), ends early (9:30), and comes at the cost of four courses for $42. It’s still not really homey or casual, but it’s really good, and that’s the key thing. Also: L’Impero wants Grub Street readers to have a say in what they serve.
The Other Critics
A Star Swap for Alto & L’Impero; No Amore for Richman at FiammaThe Times’ verdict is in on Alto and L’Impero, and it’s the expected three and two stars, respectively. Lost in the Alto upgrade is the hard fact that L’Impero now enters the dreaded two-star limbo into which Frank Bruni puts any place neither transcendent nor mediocre. Personally, we would have had it at four and three. [NYT]
Alan Richman admires the new Fiamma (former home to Mike White) in a cool and distant way, finding the food busy and not at all Italian, although not exactly lousy by any means. No one will read this review and want to spend money to eat at Fiamma. [Bloomberg]
On the other hand, Restaurant Girl’s three-star review reads like a perfume ad, it’s so loving: “Like an artist, he paints deeply flavored ragu onto a pappardelle canvas, finished with tender ribbons of venison.” Ew! But Steve Hanson must be happy. [NYDN]
NYC Chefs: Setaro Pasta Rules!Today marks the tenth anniversary of Chelsea Market, a place we would avoid if there were anyplace else to get Setaro pasta. The supremacy of the Campagnan product, sold only in Buonitalia at the market, is something we never stop hearing about: last night, Kevin Garcia of Accademia del Vino told us, “All the top chefs I know use it — it’s the pasta of choice, the best I’ve ever been able to find.” Mark Ladner of Del Posto, Jonathan Benno at Per Se, and any number of other food luminaries swear by the stuff. But why? Buonitalia co-owner Antonio Magliulo says, “This company, Setaro, is very small. They don’t produce a lot of pasta. And when they dry it, it’s at low temperatures, so it keeps the flavor and texture. The way it cooks, the bite that it keeps — it’s something special.”
Two Chefs (and One Good Eater) Take a Trip to the Bronx
If there’s something you can think of better than going up to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx in a big white Buick, for the express purpose of eating sandwiches with your two favorite Italian chefs, then we would like to know what it is. We heeded our lust for salumi and mozzarella and recorded the results for Grub Street posterity. .
Roving Chef: Arthur Avenue [Video]
Michael White on His Departed Pastry Chef: “He Was a Jerk.”Restaurant Girl reported pastry chef Tim Butler’s departure from Alto and L’Impero yesterday, not long after chef Michael White found out himself. “He just told me on Friday and only told Restaurant Girl to stick it to me,” White says. The two had sparred over what White calls Butler’s refusal to use Italian ingredients and flavors in his desserts. “I asked him over and over again — use a little hazelnut or some Gianduja chocolate — but he totally refused. Then he told me he wasn’t coming in anymore. I’m the easiest guy to work for in the world! But this guy really was a jerk.” Chef de cuisine Kevin Sippel is also leaving White but had given notice several months ago for family reasons. White expects to name a new pastry chef soon — we’ll let you know when he does.
Creative Differences at L’Impero and Alto [Restaurant Girl]
A Pastry Purge at Alto and L’Impero; Dosa Man Wins His VendyExecutive pastry chef Tim Butler has left L’Impero and Alto after a two-year stint citing “creative differences” with recently installed former Fiamma chef Michael White; Alto’s chef de cuisine Kevin Sippel has also stepped down. [Restaurant Girl]
In a stunning upset, Dosa Man Thiru “Susan Lucci” Kumar won at the Vendy Awards on Saturday. [NYDN]
Manhattan sidewalk dining is ghetto, and the reasons New Yorkers suffer through it might include wanting to pretend they’re like Europeans and “if something is in limited supply, New Yorkers want it, period.” [NYT]
Back of the House
The Post returned to an evergreen feature idea today, every editor’s best friend: the “overrated” list. Since our philosophy has always been to slavishly ape the Post in every way short of peppering our posts with the phrase “tot-slay suspect,” we thought we might add a few of our own. Since the Post didn’t limit itself to specific dishes at specific restaurants, we won’t either. Here are a few things that we find ourselves less than overawed with these days.
Back of the House
Who Will Win the Golden Clog?Culinary writer and BFF to the stars Michael Ruhlman has announced the Golden Clog awards, a new unofficial contest, with multiple chef categories. The winners will be announced, no doubt with much facetious fanfare, at this year’s South Beach Food & Wine Festival. The categories are as follows:
FERGUS AWARD — for best achievement in offal.
ALTON AWARD — for the food personality who can actually cook.
MARIO AWARD — for the chef-restaurateur who best multitasked, merchandised, multiplatformed and generally whored himself yet still continued to make significant and valuable contributions to the restaurant landscape.
ROCCO AWARD — for worst career move by a talented chef.
CHEF’S CHEF AWARD — for the least heralded yet most deserving working chef.
The Annotated Dish
L’Impero’s Pork Belly Sure Bet for Cautious DinersSince taking over from Scott Conant at L’Impero in May, Michael White has made the restaurant’s menu his own. As Gael Greene says in this week’s issue, “His new menu reflects the dazzling sunniness of Southern Italy’s markets and his own unleashed exuberance.” Exhibit A is this appetizer of grilled pork belly with mission figs and arugula. “People don’t want to risk their whole entrée on a pork belly; this way they can order it knowing that they’re safe with their sea bass or whatever,” says White. As always, mouse over the different elements after the jump to hear them described in the chef’s own words.
In the Magazine
A ‘Top Chef’ Surprise and Other Summer Treats
The lull of midsummer is already over, and new growths sprout everywhere. A young chef gives his first restaurant a go, a veteran gets his own place for the first time, and an established star gets a fresh start. We have restaurant openings, new and better lemonades, and even a baked squash blossom. Summer is starting to tire, but the food stays sharp.
Tables Available at San Domenico; A Voce Mostly BookedIt’s 4 p.m., and that means it’s time to play Two for Eight. We just asked ten restaurants the best time they can squeeze a couple in for dinner; you need only make your chosen reservation. (As always, we make the calls but don’t guarantee the results.) Today: Gourmet Italian.
Behind the Scenes at the Conant-Cannon DivorceAs with Brad and Jennifer or England Dan and John Ford Coley, the professional marriage of Chris Cannon and Scott Conant at Alto and L’Impero seemed perfect to the world until the day it broke up. Both men tell Grub Street that they have oodles of respect and love for the other, but in speaking to both, we were able to gather a basic time line of what happened. Some time in the last year, Conant talked to Cannon about new and ambitious plans outside the restaurant, which we gather are still in play but which Cannon wanted no part of. (Conant is doing a little casual consulting for Il Tutto Giorno, a friend’s tiny, 30-seat restaurant in Sag Harbor, but by Conant’s account, that is a minor, separate affair, and he is certainly not to be the chef there.) “There are things I wanted to do, and he wasn’t necessarily on the same page with that,” Conant says. “I need to achieve my potential. The restaurant business is changing, becoming more fluid, and I need to evolve with it.”
Scott Conant Takes Leave of Alto, L’ImperoIt looks like Scott Conant, one of the city’s top Italian chefs, will be leaving Alto and L’Impero. Neither restaurant will confirm, but a high-level source with professional connections to Conant and Chris Cannon (co-owner of the restaurants) tells us that former Fiamma chef Michael White will replace Conant in both kitchens. The decision to part was supposedly pretty friendly, though based on longstanding disagreements between Conant and Cannon on how to move forward with their partnership. L’Impero will maintain its focus on southern Italian food, Alto on northern, but our source expects that White will introduce new menus by mid-August.
The Other Critics
Michelin’s Explosive New Red BookMichelin dropped its ratings bomb today, and it’s safe to say that the New York restaurant world is, as usual, reeling. Though not as consequential as a Zagat snub, business-wise, the Michelin ratings are closer to the hearts of top chefs. (French chef Bernard Loiseau was widely believed to have killed himself over a Michelin downgrade.) The book is supposed to be in stores tomorrow (though our local Barnes & Noble says it’s not even at the distributor yet). We do, however, know of some surprises. Messrs. Boulud, Bouley, and Takahama are no doubt having lousy afternoons.