October 16, 2007 | BITE: My Journal

Wild Chodorow, Allen & Delancey, Shelly’s Poseidon Adventure
 Restaurants are the spice of Jeffrey Chodorow's life. Photo: Steven Richter
 Restaurants are the spice of Jeffrey Chodorow's life. Photo: Steven Richter

     “This is not a stomach,” says Jeffrey Chodorow lovingly of the proud baggage he carries above his belt.  “It’s a repository of memories.”  We are chatting at a friend’s birthday brunch Sunday at Market Table, where Shopsin’s used to be on Carmine Street.  His svelte and beautiful wife Linda puts another slice of steak on his plate.

      It’s the first calm moment they’ve had together all week.  Notoriously, the raging pen-pal of the New York Times, Chodorow is smiling and benign today, back from a typhoon tour surveying his empire, from London to Miami to Denver to Las Vegas to Los Angeles to Scottsdale, then home (a Buck’s County farm). It’s a real comfort to have your own jet.

    “I haven’t had enough time for my blog,” he admits, “Though I do write when I feel particularly moved, usually when I’m annoyed.”  He's frustrated by critics who didn’t appreciate Wild Salmon. “But what can I do?”  Belligerent ads may not be the answer. So he wants me to invite a couple as his guests for dinner and a bottle of Oregon wine at Wild Salmon one evening in November. Email me a letter saying why that couple should be the two of you. Write your own review and I’ll print it.

    Chodorow is bubbling over, oatmeal on a too high flame, with plans for a 50,000 square foot food hall, inspired by the mythic KaDeWe in Berlin, indoors and out, on Sixth Avenue between 29th and 30th in a building being developed by L.D. Carlyle. He plans a restaurant on the second floor and food service for meeting rooms above.  It will give him something to play with in 2009.

    He’d dedicated Sunday to domesticity.  He and Linda were booked for pedicures at 3, a gift from a friend. (Now you know what to give the man who has 26 restaurants and a jet). “It was phenomenal,” he reports the next morning.  “You recline on a chair that massages you all over and they soak your feet in pineapple juice.”

     I imagine Jeffrey marinating in pineapple juice for an hour. A nice foodie image.


Love’s Labors Lost, Regained on Allen Street

Candlelight flickers on flea market finds. Photo: Steven Richter

     It’s positively Shakespearean.  The nasty-mouthed chef from Hell gets two Michelin stars at Gordon Ramsey in the London Hotel near Times Square to the shock of local critics, just as his anointed prince, chef de cuisine Neil Ferguson, forced to take the fall for early snarls, arrives in the patchwork gentrification of the lower east side. This is definitely first act material.  From riches to rags.  I’m off to taste.

     Allen & Delancey is already jumping early Friday night.  The chef is half hidden behind a garnet drape. Flea market finds and curbside scavenging of odd bottles and candlesticks, old books and rickety tables lend a cozy charm against an ancient brick wall, all that was here when real estate developer Richard Friedberg first fantasized this bôite. Built to look ravaged by the decades, the new ceiling is faux brilliance. Except for us, two unreformably, old-fashioned mixed gender couples, the back room tables are ruffled with youngish chicklets in twos and fours and more.  Fueling before the lower east side mating crawl perhaps.

Cabbage, beef and onion. Photo: Steve Richter
    House baked rolls, a splendid guinea hen terrine with smoked ham knuckle and foie gras, and the rustic flatiron steak with cabbage and onion show the kitchen finding its mark.  But with appetizers up to $18 and entrees $22 to $29, Ferguson needs to be better, clearer, more generous. It’s hard even to taste sweetbread in this muddy raviolo pillow alla Bolognese and for $12 I want to see more than two or three leeks sprawled on a platter with “truffled” fingerlings and shaved proscuitto – not an inspired mingling to begin with.  I can’t even guess what makes the magret of duck so tough to chew, and overcooked dorade cut as thin as a shingle is definitely a mistake. By the way, the menu says Colorado lamb chop – and that’s right. One chop and a juicy chunk of braised neck sit poised on a trickle of potato puree.

     The staff couldn’t be sweeter but they could pretend to be more professional.  Then again, maybe they can’t.  Remember, it’s just a first tasting.


115 Allen Street, northwest corner of  Delancey. 212 253 5300.

 Poseidon Adventure

 His lobster Catalana makes Shelly Fireman smile. Photo: Steven Richter

     Mercurial if not manic, Shelly Fireman returned from an August retreat in his Tuscan hilltop home, minutes from the Tyrannian Sea, and set about ripping apart Shelly’s Trattoria Tradizionale, formerly known as Shelly’s Prime Steak, Stone Crab and Oyster Bar, originally known as Shelly’s New York. See Deep Knish.

     Thus, as soon as the city approves his new awning, the small triplex joint at 41 West 57th Street will officially be Shelly’s Tradizionale, but don’t whisper “now and forever till death us do part.” Notice that it clearly declares itself a Ristorante di Pesci on the window.

     What can this the man be thinking?  The city has been seized by a mania for meat.  Star chefs, savvy restaurant titans, neighborhood stalwarts and out-of-town chains are opening steakhouses and burger joints. Pork belly is the gourmand mantra. The foodie avant garde can’t get enough BarBQ.  But Shelly is consumed by thoughts of the sea. Friends, foodie influentials and actual customers have been ordering off the new menu (still in beta) for a week now.

     “I want to be a contrarian,” Fireman confides rather proudly. “When everyone’s buying, I’m selling.  You don’t need another steak house in New York.  What this town needs is an Italian fish restaurant.  I had my guys schlepping all over the coast of Italy this summer to bring home recipes. You’re gonna taste the best risotto you ever tasted. I’m going to be tasting myself Saturday night,” he said.  “You can join me.” 

     Friends introduced us to Shelly and Marilyn Fireman in Pietrasanta near the Tuscan seashore in 1995. Our eccentricities meshed with an exhilarating exuberance. Our occasional dinners can be dramatic, confessional, comical, even quite moving, as Shelly confides tales of growing up poor in the Bronx.  I have tried to walk the serious critic’s fine line but it can become jagged.

     “We’ll join you,” I said, “if you don’t mind my not talking about the food.”

     “God bless."                                                       

Shelly's Tradizionale goes fishing Italian style on West 57th Street.

     We start at 8 with a delicious little fried ball of mashed potato wrapped around a shrimp and crisp-fried just-born fish, bianchetti.   By 11, we are moaning and groaning. A thin, thin carpaccio of pineapple with lemon sorbet in an almond tart shell seems like a judiciously tart finale, but then there we are finishing the last dab of what is called a chocolate sorbet – “Torino chocolate,” says our captain. It tastes like chilled fondant to me or whipped chocolate truffle – maybe whipped by an Eskimo standing in an igloo. Possibly the great French patissier Gaston Lenôtre would say it wasn’t even a sorbet (although in this liberated era I wouldn’t be surprised to confront shrimp sorbet).  Just chocolate then, divine chocolate.

     And there are one or two rocky moments, overcooked fish (i.e. fish cooked the way most Americans want it).

     “I forgot to say I like my fish ‘rarish,’” I grouch.

     But both of us are taken with the seafood pastas - sensational. My favorite, paccheri alla vongole – the giant artisanal tubes, properly al dente, tossed with baby clams and tuna bottarga –  unlike anything I’ve tasted here or on the Italian seashore. 

     “You don’t often get clam pasta with real clam taste,” the Road Food Warrior tells Shelly.  (Steven doesn’t have a professional distance to maintain, I suppose.)  Indeed. Real clam flavor.  And the skillet-cooked risotto lives up to the host’s braggadocio. Well, close enough.

     And then we are bowled over by two pounds of carefully steamed lobster Catalana, just the way we discovered it served in Viareggio, lobster in a garden, nesting on raw vegetables and fruit: celery, radishes, tiny tomatoes, carrots, melon and strawberries, with lemon and olive oil. And suddenly, at every table around us, I see what I guess to be tourists, inspired by the sight of the platter en route to our table, digging into a dish they’ve never heard of before.

     Again, this is just one excursion, a dinner with the boss himself whose gruff demands have everyone in the house racing around as if they’re on rollerblades. We’ll see if early warnings and early thrills can be trusted.

41 West 57th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. 212 245 2422



Patina Restaurant Group