October 14, 2013 | BITE: My Journal

American Cut Celebrates Pastrami and the Everything Bagel

Chef Marc Forgione’s marvelous crusty latkes with chicken fat crisps, that $10 carrot.

          Marc Forgione has a passion for everything bagels. He’s got a yen for pastrami, too, and a homeboy feel for Tribeca, where he’s just added American Cut to his restaurant real estate below Canal. (Only weeks after scoring a hit at Khe-Yo, the Laotian kitchen of his long-time chef de cuisine on Reade Street.)

The waiter chops and tosses the authentic 1924 Caesar at the table.

          I’d be content here making a dinner of the original 1924 Tijuana Caesar salad chopped at the table and those crunchy potato pancakes with ribbons of chicken fat and a dribble of sour cream –“latkes,” it says on the menu, assuming you talk New Yorkese too.

You can try not to eat these giant everything biscuits. But then, you only live once.

          After slowly and methodically devouring the warm, oversize “everything” seeded biscuit, with dabs of cream-cheese laced butter, it’s no wonder I barely make a dent in the first-rate “New York City 20 oz. bone-in ribeye” with pastrami spicing that my friend and I are sharing. It’s just what I want in my steak: seriously rare, smartly caramelized, chewy but not too, with a smack of smoke and bravura deli spicing.

I was expecting a recognizable 20 clove chicken with garlic not these arid roulades.

          The “20 Clove Chicken” with pumpernickel croutons proves excessive the way I’ve over-ordered.  I don’t like it anyway, stuffed into roulades with garlic confit binding the arid meat. I would definitely prefer a recognizable half bird, crusty and crackling.  

Homage to Pops Forgione: cornflake crusted crab cake with Charleston slaw. 

          At American Cut, Forgione has fun playing off his heritage as the son of Larry Forgione, the Godfather of American cooking at An American Place where Marc apprenticed at 16. And he channels James Beard, the family Deity.

Step into the sleek and sexy Las Vegas looking bar. Let the bartender indulge you.

          Recalling this sprawling gymnasium of a space in its last several incarnations, I’m dazzled by the expensive, brassy Las Vegas look -- the black leather booths and the drop-dead lighting. The easy verve and confidence of the staff so early is unusual too. But then, Forgione had a chance to practice and iron out the kinks on this theme at the first American Cut in Atlantic City.

There might be a small pickle poking out of your olive. Ask for seconds. 

          That Tanqueray or the Ketel One martini will cost you $16, but the bartender will shake or stir it on a silver tray before your eyes. And check out the cute little pickle stuck in your olive. My pal finds it a delight and asks for two more.

Here’s the signature knife that comes with the evocative wedge and Maytag blue cheese.

          Our waiter presents the Caesar in its wooden bowl for our inspection before chopping it.  (Forgione did extensive research on the original. “We measure the mixings in the kitchen to be sure it’s perfect, then let the waiter smash it at the table,” he confides a few days later.) Of course there will be An American Place crab cake, but with a twist: it’s coated in cornflake crumbs and served with smoked oyster remoulade and Charleston slaw. At $18, it ought to be enough for two. In our case, it definitely is.

Why do I want snails and short rib meatballs with my marrow? I just do. 

          The menu offers to top any steak, wet-aged or dry – from $32 for the hanger to $135 for the 42 oz. Tomahawk for two – with a Feather Ridge farm egg, smoked bacon, bone marrow, foie gras or Forgione’s signature chili lobster ($27.00).  No thanks. The pastrami spicing is enough gloss for me.

No carrot is thrilling enough to cost $10. Is there some secret here?

          Sunchoke-spiked spinach with fontina tastes like spinach, rather than the green mucilage of some creamed versions. The two of us are basically so happy we can only laugh at the audacity of our $10 glazed carrot.

When you get too cute, you turn out something like this silly “apple pie.” 

          I’m disappointed in the “apple pie.” I should have questioned those quotation marks on the dessert list. A lattice of tough, tasteless pastry balances atop an oval of ice cream, a couple of brioche doughnut holes and apple balls.  Chic indeed, but no standin for real apple pie.

The mint is good, but not as good as the classic York mint we snorted at Saturday matinees.

          After that, the waiter delivers some childhood memories – a minted chocolate that’s fine but not quite a York mint patty – and a nutty something to remind us of a Girl Scout cookie.  Still, it’s chocolate and a cute way to say goodnight.

Surf and Turf. The Tomahawk steak roars, and the spicy lobster needs it own bowl.  

          A friend has reserved for the following week and frankly, I’m eager to taste more. I persuade our caboodle to share the “Surf and Turf” for two: a 42 oz. Tomahawk steak with a spicy 2 lb. lobster at $175.  “But we’re four,” protests our leader, who clearly believes more is more.  He has brought two bottles of elegant Cos d’Estournel from his cellar which the sommelier has skillfully decanted.

Hiramasa tartare is wrapped in a pounded filet and doused with dashi. 

          With dinosaur-size biscuits, four starters and a raft of sides, it will be enough, I assure him.  After a bit of a wait, the oversize crab cake and Hiramasa tartare wrapped in a pounded filet afloat on a fragrant dashi broth make the rounds.

Caramelized onions under the chewy Gruyere quilt is definitely for the table to share.

          We cant resist the big iceberg wedge with Neuske’s bacon and Maytag blue cheese that’s better than Mom’s. It comes with the house steak knife – American Cut incised on the blade. A scattering of snails, short rib meatballs and James Beard’s classic salad of chopped onion and flat leaf parsley trick up the marrow bone.

I laugh at this broccolini, our feeble attempt at sanity. Yes, Mom, we ate our greens. 

          The seven or eight thick, blood-red slices of steak disappear quickly. One small chunk of over-cooked lobster in the shell is enough for me. But we are all mopping up its spicy sauce with chunks of toasted Texas bread.

Tonight’s special side, potato-porcini gratin, is brilliant inspiration. Cancel the steak.  

          We’re rotating a rash of sides – caramelized onions under a thick coverlet of Gruyere, esculent porcini-potato galette with garlic cream, fat Kennebec fries with sea salt and vinegar, and broccolini, a desperate nod to something green.  Our benevolent wino cleans up the platter, finishing off the fatty top edge of the steak and liberating chunks of meat still on the long bone.

As I tuck my spoon into this crackerjack sundae, I imagine my dentist on the Riviera. 

          The chef emerges grinning to make sure we’re having as much fun as he is. He insists we order the crackerjack sundae. It’s a proud cartoon, piled high with crackerjack clumps, a non-deductible charitable gift for your dentist. There are four long spoons to snare the caramel lurking at the bottom.

          The sommelier pours warm Jameson on the “Carbomb,” chocolate bread pudding with Jameson butterscotch, and Guinness ice cream -- a muddy strikeout with our crew. We prefer pumpkin mascarpone cheesecake with ginger graham crust, spiced gelée and pepita brûlée.  We’ve spent $110 per person (without the $25 corkage we were quoted on the phone).

We dismiss the muddy bread pudding, preferring pumpkin mascarpone cheesecake.

          Forgione hopes his menu playfulness and a deliberately relaxed style of service will soften the impact of the top-heavy decorator glitz. “Every day I tell the staff, ‘go out there and have fun’,” he tells me.

          The rebel is still there. He’s the battling Iron Chef, of course, and there’s the stand-up tomahawk tuft on the top of his shaved head. But he’s still his father’s son. Dad and Mom came by for dinner last week. “Your restaurant is grownup now,” the patriarch observed. I hear the triumph in Marc’s voice as he tells me.

363 Greenwich Street between Franklin and Harrison streets. 212 226 4736. Dinner from 5:30 till 11 pm.

Photographs may not be used without permission from Gael Greene. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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