Maybe I visited too early upon its opening in 2009 before they worked out the kinks, but Marea, Michael White’s Italian seafood restaurant, left me disappointed back then. I am a fan of his previous ventures, Alto and Convivio, but at Marea the dishes were bland or simply not inventive–pasta with calamari and clams? As the months went on, people raved about the crudi (raw fish) and fusilli with octopus and bone marrow. Then, in May 2010, the James Beard Foundation awarded Marea best new restaurant. As far as I’m concerned, anyone with a stove and a sign has a James Beard award by now, but it was enough to make me reconsider (then again, Tom Colicchio won outstanding chef and Keith McNally won outstanding restaurateur).
Tom Colicchio needs to stop spreading himself so thin. The host of Bravo’s Top Chef has five branded restaurants with 13 outlets across the country. ‘wichcraft, his casual sandwich eatery, has 12 locations in NYC alone! (I ate at one in my neighborhood; it doesn’t have the flair it did when it first opened next door to Craft on 19th street.) Even his renowned flagship Craft, which lets the quality of ingredients sing for themselves like à la carte presents, has lost its luster. Not surprisingly, Colicchio & Sons has followed in this vein: Good but not great.
Eleven Madison Park, under bulletproof restaurateur Danny Meyer‘s direction, has been on my NYC hit list since it received a rare 4 stars from the New York Times in August 2009. They seem to be using French Laundry as a model (especially for food presentation) and, while the meal was highly enjoyable, it had some missteps.
I’m afraid, like Minetta Tavern, Locanda Verde is also guilty of hype over hope. Maybe the marked improvement over Robert DeNiro’s former restaurant in the same space, Ago–an all-around disaster–is putting stars, literally, in people’s eyes. Yet chef Andrew Carmellini, who won a Michelin star in 2009 for his food at A Voce, continues to receive awards and recognition for his latest venture. Or maybe we just ordered the wrong things? A Time Out New York food editor recently told me it’s all about the desserts. Well, I tend to like what precedes them, too, especially if there are awards involved.
My interest in Italy was first sparked by the movie The Godfather. Part I, of course. When Mike meets with Salozzo and police commissioner McClusky in an empty Italian trattoria with plans to kill them both, Salozzo turns to the police commissioner and says, “I’m going to talk to Mike in Italian for a moment.” I leaned in at what I thought would be a pivotal moment—the raunchy underbelly of the movie, the secrets among blood brothers. They spoke, and there were no subtitles. No subtitles! I was crestfallen. I had probably missed the most critical part because I lived a squalid English-speaking existence. I resolved to learn the language and see the movie again, only to find out what he said had just been filler. Why I oughta…
While I waited patiently on the phone for a Per Se reservation two months in advance of the date, my lunch at the French Laundry came up rather unexpectedly. Knowing I would be in Napa in two weeks, I put myself on the waiting list in case there was a lunch cancellation. Having assumed that most people make the French Laundry a vacation destination in itself, I didn’t expect a call. Yet, after returning from a hike in Point Reyes National Seashore park, there it was: A missed call from the French Laundry (joy)… but 45 minutes ago! (misery) Arg, surely they had found someone to take the open reservation the next day. But (insert minor hyper-
ventilation here) they hadn’t, and of course we were in. You gotta do it once, right?