May 28, 2007 | BITE: My Journal

From Alaska to the Bronx with Chodorow

 Wild Salmon, Jeffrey-Chodorow
 Does this man look hungry? Chodorow eats up New York. Photo: Steven Richter

       Jeffrey Chodorow was so ticked off by Adam Platt’s lukewarm billet doux to Wild Salmon in last week’s New York  (May 28, 2007), the wild eyed feeding baron was threatening to take another full page ad in the New York Times, but his handlers managed to wrestle him to the ground.  

        We whiney, impoverished scriveners, who would give anything for even a Times tombstone column to boost our latest book, may wonder why Chodorow is so quick to drop $30,000 or $40,000 to vent, when for $200 or so he could book an extra hour with his therapist.

        The answer is simple. The page rate fee is fool’s change to Chodorow, who’s worth zillions.  Once in a while he will economize like the rest of us.  On May 14 when he dispatched his executive chef with Wild Salmon’s toque, Seattle-brined veteran Charles Remseyer to Cordova, Alaska, assigned to personally bring home the first salmon local fishermen pulled from the Cooper River, Chowdorow actually thought about sending them in his own jet and decided that might be overkill.  And maybe even a bit too uppity to win favor with the notoriously cantankerous salmon fleet.

        I can’t help sort of loving that man.  There’s something special there…a fine madness…a certain innocence.  Jeffrey Chodorow was until very recently just a name to me.  One I usually misspelled and maybe still do. (Full disclosure: Even after he and his wife Linda became Citymeals-on-Wheels angels, I once spelled it Chowdorow). We have a checkered history.  I was tough when he launched China Grill, but later became a fan of the fried calamari salad and the lamb ribs. The drifting white curtains and giant sharing plates at Asia de Cuba drove me to my thesaurus for new adjectives of lyrical approval.  

        But I nixed Mix in two or three of its lame manifestations and I was dubious about Tuscan.  “Alas,” I wrote in New York March 15, 2003, “the service is a bizarre hash of super professional, comedy shtick and ditzy Stepford Wife.”

        I was glum about English Is Italian, his third effort in the space that would become Wild Salmon. “Some good grub here,” I wrote on April 2, 2005, “but it's more a feast for gluttons than gourmands.” I went to a friends and family tasting at Caviar and Bananas and…loathed it.

        My long time play pal, Karine Bakhoum, Chodorow’s devoted spin meistress, would pale a bit with each pan.  Her smile would tighten.  Amazingly, due to who knows what -- my charm, the fun we share, her ability to swim above treacherous whirlpools -- we manage to remain friends all these years, though I often fail to love her clients’ best efforts.

        Then I walked into Kobe Club, primed to loathe it. I didn’t quake at sitting beneath 1800 unsheathed swords, as I carried one of my own: Le Petit Pen is my brand.  (writes smoothly under the table unlike most ballpoints). But that first meal at Kobe was wonderful. What a shock. The thick mahogany-glazed American strip was quite perfect.

       "What happened?” Jeffrey asked Karine, she confided to me later.  “I can’t believe it. She likes a restaurant I did.”
And I went back.  Twice.  Not on any expense account. On my own money. The test of my affection.

        So when Jeffrey cited my rave in his Times j’accuse, attacking critics who didn’t get the charms of Kobe Club, I became persona grata.  I sat beside him at the friends and family night for Wild Salmon and was suitably impressed as much by the sake-marinated black cod and the crisp stuffed Walla-Walla onion as by Chodorow’s ingratiating candor.  He has two official publicists.  That night his Miami booster sat across the table, flinching occasionally as Jeffrey poured out heart and sole.

    Here’s the deal.  Chodorow’s got 26 restaurants and he’s going for bingo. The slings and arrows of the professional nit pickers have not swayed him for a  moment. He fully expects to bear fardels yet again when he dares to  reopen the 12 East  22nd Street canteen where he and Rocco di Spirito dueled in blood-spattered gravy  on reality television. Quit after a few flops?  He wouldn’t dream of it.  He’s got the lease. The  space has “great bones.”  I’m thinking Greta Garbo. Great bones.

    So there it is.  Chodorow has boundless hopes for Zak Pelaccio’s celebration of beloved New York products at Borough in that space (by June 29, he hopes).  The boss himself and his team spent a few days tasting pickles and German  sausage in the Bronx.  He is also backing Pelaccio (of Fatty Crab and 5 Ninth)  at Kopi Tiam, a Malaysian coffee house on Broadway at 77th Street.  And guess  what?  It’s a big space with room next door for an American brasserie by Tom Valenti.

    He confided plans to for China Grill Fort Lauderdale  and Stay Social (a hotel and restaurant, also in Fort Lauderdale).  And ultimately Asia de Cuba, to expand his Miami aura.  Maxim Steakhouses are in the works. And somewhere before or after or in between, this feeding-obsessed creature plans to partner Ouest Steak with Valenti at Lincoln Center.

    It’s a Westside surge. In my own zipcode.  Dear Jeffrey.  You didn’t have to…but, thank you.


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