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“The Strong Buzz June 4th: The News (Park Avenue Summer, Taste, Gaucho Steak, Monkey Bar), Events, My Dinner at Aurora”

Hello all and Welcome to the June 4th Edition of THE STRONG BUZZ: The News (Park Avenue Summer, Taste, Gaucho Steak Co., Monkey Bar, Farewell to Bright Food Shop and Kitchen 22), Events, My Dinner at Aurora.

THE NEWS

Park Avenue Summer
The Smith and Wollensky Group, which owns Quality Meats as well as its eponymous steakhouses, has invested $1.5 million in a new venture to replace their Park Avenue Café. The new restaurant, manned by executive chef Craig Koketsu, takes the concept of seasonality to a new level completely. The restaurant will open and close and be transformed four times each year. It opens this week as Park Avenue Summer and in early September it will reopen as Park Avenue Autumn. Ditto Winter and Spring.

To bring this concept to life, owner Michael Stillman teamed up with AvroKO (Public, Sapa, Stanton Social) and gave them a directive to make the changes as seamless (and quick) as possible. To get it done, AvroKO spent six months offsite, creating an elaborate theatrical set-like stages that be installed and easily converted with intricate panels that form the basis for each seasonal design. Custom steel wall frames surround the space and are built to be fitted with differing seasonal panels (wood, porcelain, mirror), but will also have unique architectural details that will affect the style of the space overall.

To match the changing décor, chef Craig Koketsu has created four seasonal menus. For summer, his menu includes Lemon Sole with Provencal Vegetables and Brioche-Poached Egg, Fire Roasted Lamb with Barbecued Cherries, and Lobster Salad with Citrus-Saffron Sauce. Pastry chef Richard Leach’s summer menu features Roasted Peaches with Crisp Corn Pudding, Peach Sorbet and Sweet Corn Panna Cotta, Raspberries with Goat Cheese Mousse, Honey and Lemon Thyme, and Chocolate and Fresh Peppermint Warm Custard and Ice Cream Bar. Park Avenue Summer will open on Thursday June 7th at 100 East 63rd Street at Park Avenue, 212-644-1900.

Taste
I can’t believe I am going to say this, but I think I just found a reason to have dinner in Garden City. That reason is chef Ed Witt, who was most recently the chef at Varietal (where he took a beating from Bruni). He’s now the chef and owner of Taste, an 80-seat American bistro in Garden City. This menu sounds a lot more like his style of food—rustic, in season, and local—than the avant-garde cooking he was doing at Varietal. His menu includes “Small Tastes,” ranging from house-made liverwurst with horseradish mustard to Newsom ham stuffed mini peppers, cured meats and cheeses, and a raw bar. First course plates include stewed shrimp with andouille and okra, squash blossoms stuffed with smoked tuna tartar and pickled ramps, and cherrywood-smoked pulled pork sandwiches with cucumber slaw. Entrees are hearty and also bear the ring of seasonal ingredients through the lens of South. There’s a pan-roasted snapper with crab dumplings and red pepper sauce, grilled pork chop with cheese grits and collard greens, and house-made ramp pasta with braised artichokes and chanterelles. For dessert, he’s serving Knob Creek brioche bread pudding with lemonade ice cream and sweet potato pie with dried cherry ice cream.

The wine list focuses on regional American wines and there will be hand-crafted cocktails and an extensive beer list featuring both seasonal and regional specialties. Taste is located at 660 Franklin Avenue, Garden City, 516-663-5140.

Gaucho Steak Co.

Chef Alex Garcia, best known for his days at Calle Ocho, has partnered up with owners Felix Ortiz and Arthur Pereira to launch Gaucho Steak Co., an Argentinean steak house based on the chef’s smaller sister restaurant, Gaucho Steak, in Montclair, New Jersey. The menu starts with empanadas (corn, oxtail or seafood, all $3), shrimp ceviche with lemon oil, jalapeno and fresh lime ($9), crispy calamari with Argentinean honey ($8), and costillas—orange chipotle glazed boneless short rib with grilled onions ($9). But the real hook here is the grill, which turns out grass-fed Patagonia beef in a host of different cuts—NY strip steak ($18), gaucho (rib eye, $20), tira (short ribs $13), and espada (beef tenderloin dinner for two $38). If a juicy hunk of meat makes you feel too much like a Flintstone, there’s plenty of lighter fare including a vegetarian paella ($11), and a potato-crusted salmon with garlic Swiss chard and mango mustard sauce ($16). Gaucho Steak Co. is located at 752 10th Avenue (between 51st & 52nd St), 212-957-1727, www.gauchosteakco.com.
—Celine Valensi.

Monkey Bar
Peter and Penny Glazier first acquired the Monkey Bar in the Hotel Elysée in 1994, around the time that I was starting out as a lawyer, and so I have many memories of being a young associate at Shearman & Sterling, having lunch in the rear dining room, and quite a few rounds of drinks at the bar. The Monkey Bar went through quite a few talented chefs (John Schenk was one favorite), and it closed three months ago to give the space a nice face lift by way of Stephanie Goto, updating its look and bring more glamour and a slight Asian sexiness to the room. To bring some more life to the food, they brought in chef-partner Patricia Yeo, who remains chef-partner of Sapa. Yeo’s menu sounds like this—Grilled Cuttlefish & Banana Salad with honey roasted peanuts and banana chili-jam, Salt & Pepper Chicken Peking Style with a scallion pancake and apricot hoisin, Jalapeño-Miso Rubbed Veal Porterhouse with sweet potato spaetzle, and Wasabi Pea-Crusted Sturgeon with edamame emulsion and pea shoot potstickers.

At the bar, a collection of sakes will be served along with house-infused exotic fruit vodkas on the to be paired with a high-end bar menu of Tempura Asparagus with hot & sweet mustard, “Kung Pow” Chicken Lollipops and Yeo’s awesome little Potato Knishes. I hope she starts making pigs in a blanket too. In fact, she could just stuff the knishes with a few hunks of sausage. That would be nice. (Hint, Hint.) The Monkey Bar is located at 60 East 54th Street, between Madison and Park Avenues, 212-838-2600.

Michael Schulson
Michael Schulson has left his post as executive chef at Buddakan. Stephen Starr, CEO of Starr Restaurant Organization (SRO), announced that he will be replaced by his executive sous chef Lon Symensma (Yumcha, Jean Georges) and that Schulson will continue to work with Starr and SRO as an advisor on upcoming projects.

Bright Food Shop Closes
After 22 years, Donna Abramson and Stuart Tarabour have closed their Chelsea neighborhood spot, Bright Food Shop. A note was posted in the window after the last meal was served on Wednesday, May 30th. Stuart and Donna opened Kitchen in 1985, followed it up with Kitchen/Market and then re-opened the BRIGHT FOOD SHOP—a classic coffee shop that dates back to the late 1930’s—in 1990 with one of the first fusion menus in the country. They’ve saved the neon so that BRIGHT may hopefully return. They were forced to close because of a rent increase, but were proud to say that one of their staff members had been with them for 20 years, three for over 15 years and another six from 3-6 years. If you’d like to keep in touch with Donna and Stuart, you can email them at mail@kitchenmarket.com.

Kitchen 22 Closes
Charlie Palmer has closed Kitchen 22, his affordable neighborhood prix fixe spot on 22nd Street. In a statement, he said, “The seating capacity and the limited menu concept no longer fit the direction of growth and development of the company.” He has given up the lease.

EVENTS, compiled and written by Celine Valensi

Bid on a Date with a Celebrity Chef
We all learn to say no to blind dates at some point or another, but this might be one you don’t want to miss. On Monday, June 11th, the French Culinary Institute is hosting New York City's first ever live chef auction to raise money for scholarships for young chefs to attend the FCI. The live auction will kick off at 7:30 pm with chances to win a night out with chefs like David Chang (Momofuku Ssäm Bar), Wylie Dufresne (wd~50), Melissa Murphy (Sweet Melissa Patisserie) and Dan Barber (Blue Hill). The Friends of the FCI auction will take place in the Art Deco ballroom at Cipriani, located at 200 Fifth Avenue (at 23rd Street). Tickets are $250 and include cocktails and snacks from 7-11 p.m. You must RSVP by June 6th by calling (646)-254 7521 or emailing to friends@frenchculinary.com. To view a complete list of celebrity chefs up for bids or for more info, visit www.frenchculinaryinstitute.com.

Craft Beer Dinner at Wild Salmon

If your cup of tea is a pint of beer, Jeffrey Chodorow’s newest Pacific Northwest brasserie Wild Salmon in Midtown has got a five-course dinner for you. On Tuesday, June 5th at 7:00 pm, five craft beers from the Seattle-based Pacific Rim Brewing Company will be paired with dishes from executive Chef Charles Ramseyer’s Wild Salmon menu. Chorizo sausage wrapped Alaskan scallops with grilled Walla Walla onion and arugula salad will be paired with a Vashon Old Stock Ale, and Snake River Farm pork osso buco with Parmesan polenta will be matched with an Admiral ESB. And for dessert, a Pacific Rim Stout will accompany a warm double chocolate walnut brownie with caramel stout ice cream. Limited seating is available and reservations are recommended. Wild Salmon is located at 622 Third Avenue (at 40th Street), (212) 404-1700.

Cooking Class at Fig & Olive
June is generally the month to cut class as much as possible, unless of course a couple glasses of wine are involved. On Saturday, June 9th from 3:15-5:30 pm, Fig & Olive Downtown’s executive Chef Pascal Lorange is hosting a hands-on how-to Mediterranean cooking class teaching you how to recreate light, fresh and flavorful cuisine at home ($60 each). The class starts with a tasting of a selection of extra virgin olive oils from around the world and freshly baked fougasse bread. You’ll then learn how to prepare several dishes from Chef Lorange’s new summer menu, which will be paired with wine. To sign up and reserve a seat, contact kristine@figandolive.com or call (212) 924-1200. Fig & Olive Downtown is located 420 West 13th Street (between 9th avenue and Washington), www.figandolive.com.

STRONG BUZZ CLASSIFIED OF THE WEEK

Rosewater in Brooklyn needs a sous chef, a gourmet food specialty purveyor needs a regional sales person, Café Cluny needs waiters, and a Second Avenue restaurant is up for lease. Check out these postings and post your own classified now!


MY DINNER AT AURORA

There’s something about sitting at a bar at the end of the day with a glass of wine that I find immensely appealing. It’s very relaxing. You can be anonymous and just sort of unwind and tune out. (I don’t carry a blackberry, so I really can tune out.) And it was especially relaxing the other night at Aurora, while I was waiting for Jamie to arrive. I had walked down to Soho, and while it was quite hot out, there was a nice breeze coming up from the river. I arrived early, found a seat at the bar, and pulled out my magazine (I was reading the profile of Paul McCartney in the New Yorker), and ordered a glass of white —the Arneis. It was happy hour and so the bar, a strong slab of raw striped wood, was covered with free dishes of cubed cheese, plates of olive bread and mini pizzetas, bowls of olives, and white bean puree. Ingrid Lucia played overhead, and a set of wide floor-to-ceiling French doors was folded back accordion style, turning the front room into a sort of al fresco wine bar. When the breeze kicked up pile of cocktail napkins flew into the air.

As I waited, I planned on reading more of the article, but I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation between the two women seated next to me. They were probably a few years younger than me, and were dressed in traditional summer in the city chick garb—flowing tops, short shorts, vintage aviator sunglasses perched on their heads. “I think you just have to do it,” the one woman said. “I mean if it’s been more than a week, it’s an issue.” “I know, but we’re so tired, and I just would rather go to sleep.” Oh, they were having that conversation. This might be good. I turned the page of my magazine to make my reading seem more authentic and less of a farce, and listened up. “I mean we’re in a rut, we just don’t do it anymore. Our sex life is totally fading. He doesn’t even seem to care.” Hmm. He might care, I thought.

“Well, that’s happened to us too,” her friend replied. “But you can’t wait for him to make a move, guys are lazy. You’ve gotta just do it. Just lean over and break the pattern.” “Yeah, I know,” her friend said with a sigh. “But I’d rather just drift off to sleep.” I wanted to hear more, but just then, Jamie arrived, and my attention was diverted. No more listening in on other people’s lives. Drats.

Jamie ordered a glass of Falanghina, a crispy white wine we drank while in Capri, and as we waited on Adrienne, we reminisced about our trip to visit Susie in October, when we canvassed Rome, Naples, Capri, and parts of Umbria and Tuscany in our very own eating and drinking road trip.

Aurora reminded me of that trip; the place smacks of Italy. If Susie were with us, she might’ve wandered outside looking for her street, Via della Frezza. First, there’s the space, which is filled with rustic details of the countryside—big canisters of flowers, mismatched tables and chairs, terra cotta and raw brick walls, and wood-planked floors. It’s sort of a smaller, but less cramped version of il Bucco. Then there’s the passionate wine director and manager, Gianluca Legrottaglie, who used to work at il Buco and hails from Rome and is so charming, I think he could seduce the Pope. He had Jamie at Buona Sera. (In addition to his charms, he’s also put together an impressive 80-bottle list of Italian wines made from only indigenous grapes—no Merlot or Chardonnay here.) And then there’s the chef, Riccardo Buitoni of Piedmont, a Slow Food advocate and who first brought his regional Italian cooking to New York with Aurora in Williamsburg in 2003. But Riccardo has now done the reverse commute, and found a spot on Broome Street, sadly located next to an oversized SUBWAY sandwich shop with a massive, highlighter-yellow aluminum awning. It’s dreadful. But once you walk inside and have a seat, it really doesn’t mater. You’re pretty much transported far away from fake meat sandwiches to the promised land of Italy.

In that promised land, dinner begins with a basket overflowing with house-made bread—a stone ground loaf of rustic wheat etched with cabbage is sliced up in a pile next to paper cones filled with little cubes of olive oil foccacia dotted with sweet tomato and caramelized onions. You honestly don’t need to go any further. You could just have the bread basket and perhaps a bottle of the Alba Rosato, Strade vigne del sole (2004), from Lazio ($30)—a cool dark rose that’s manages to be crisp and juicy at the same time—and be quite happy. But then you’d miss out on the antipasti, and you don’t want to do that.

Riccardo’s antipasti talents are considerable. Take the artichokes ($10), crisped up just at the edges and left tender in the center, served with white bean salad dolled up with mint and shaved Percorino. There was also a beautiful hand-cut beef crudo ($14), what you and I might call steak tartare, seasoned well with salt, pepper, a drizzle of 20-year old balsamic and a few hunks of beautifully salty aged Parmesan. A salad of porcini mushrooms reminded me of the one I had in Gubio. The mushrooms were meaty and lovely, dressed in olive oil and lemon and bedded on a bright little salad of field greens crowned with a veil of summer truffles. Even the beet salad was impressive. Roasted orange and red roots were showered with roasted pistachios and tucked into duo of ricotta cheeses—lumps of creamy ricotta and slices of firm and tangy ricotta salata. The contrast in flavors in textures was just terrific.

It’s probably not a shock to learn that Riccardo’s also got a gift for pasta. We had two of his housemade options, the gnudi ($30), which was a special that night, and a signature, the raviolini del Plin ($16). If you’re only experience with gnudi is from the Spotted Pig, well, you’re doing fine, but I should mention that these are a bit different. While April fashions hers simply from sheep’s milk ricotta that’s been dredged in a little semolina before cooking in brown butter, these are more complex. First they are larger, shaped more like ping pong balls than quarters. And while they are made with sheep’s milk ricotta, these dumplings also pack in black kale and Swiss chard, so there’s almost a mini-torta inside made of layers of vegetables and cheese. The raviolini are wonderful as well. They arrive shaped like rectangular envelopes filled with a little swell of Castelmagno, a cheese from Piedmont that’s rather ripe and tangy, and makes for a nice backdrop to a sauce of sautéed wild mushrooms.

His signature entrée is a 10-hour slow-roasted pork belly with white beans, broccoli rabe and caramelized apples ($20), but we were feeling quite hot that night, and a big ole pork belly was not calling us. What did call us was the lemon sole ($23), and while sole will never be pork belly, this was quite a fish. It’s cut into inch-thick filets and dusted in polenta and pan fried so it’s got a soft crunch on the outside that reveals sweet silky fish beneath. It’s served with the creamiest roasted peanut potatoes that are tossed with arugula, some slivered sautéed mushrooms and a grainy peppery mustard sauce. Adrienne doesn’t even eat fish and she was digging in, amazed at herself.

But she was back to her normal self when dessert came along and she went for the chocolate cake. This is a woman who cannot be separated from chocolate for too long. She’s been known to bring down planes for chocolate before. You think I am kidding. If you ever meet Adrienne ask her to tell you the story of the chocolate chip cookies in First Class and what happened when she discovered they didn’t have them. Anyway, while she was making quick work of a chocolate cake (I stayed away for fear of being hurt), Jamie and I were enjoying the lemon curd tart, served on a buttery shortbread crust made with pine nuts. Gianluco served us a dessert wine from Montefalco that again took us back to out two-week excursion through Italy when we ate lunch overlooking the hills of Tuscany in Montefalco. We toasted to our trip and to Susie, who we wished had been with us for dinner at Aurora.

By the time we left the restaurant, we were already making plans for a return trip to Italy, and the two women whose conversation I had eavesdropped on, were still at the bar, joined by a few other girlfriends. Bottles of rose were emptied between them and they seemed quite (hiccup) happy. Who knows what happened later.

Aurora Soho is located at 510 Broome Street (between West Broadway and Thompson), 212-334-9020.

And that’s THE STRONG BUZZ for this week. As always, thanks for reading and until next week, READ IT AND EAT!


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