By Josh Engel
Each year in Manhattan sees the introduction of a new generation of chefs, with novel techniques and novel approaches to fine and casual dining. We’ve featured a few of the notable members of the rising crop of culinary talent.
Lately, Andrew Carmellini can do no wrong. His flagship venture, A Voce, spawned a second branch in the Time Warner Center and mass critical acclaim for its inventive take on Italian cuisine. His second, Locanda Verde, was even more succesful, yielding month-long waits for reservations, regular celebrity mentions (Kelly Ripa drooled over the ricotta on-air), and a breakfast service that some have called the best in Manhattan. This fall, he’ll be up for his third at-bat with The Dutch, a clubby American restaurant that will replace Soho’s longstanding Cub Room. Carmellini plans to look to both regional and global influences in crafting his menu, with both down-home barbecue and lemongrass and miso represented in the varied dishes. It’s a large step out of Carmellini’s recent comfort zone--both A Voce and Locanda Verde are known for modern spins on traditional Italian cuisine--but Carmellini has the chops to back it up. He has also reportedly spent the last year doing some very intense food-scouting, sampling barbecue across the South and acquiring a $15,000 Southern Pride smoker. Get in line now; downtown foodies will be descending on The Dutch like vultures as soon as the opening is announced.
Not a new chef, but a new direction--the much acclaimed chef of Greenwich Village’s innovative Prune has completed a memoir, entitled Blood, Bones, and Butter, which has already garnered some staggeringly good press. Hamilton, who received a graduate degree in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan before beginning her tenure at Prune, has always taken a brainy approach to food. Her restaurant’s menu is both brief and notoriously challenging--present selections include pork braised in octopus broth with clams, kale, and beans, and ginger beer roasted pumpkin with butter and brewer’s yeast. Her memoir is expected to be similarly thought-provoking, and to reveal some of the influences that shaped her culinary tastes and her career. Anthony Bourdain, current king of food writing, has called the book, “simply the best memoir by a chef ever. EVER.” Mario Batali, similarly, has promised to “read this book to my children and then burn all the books I have written for pretending to be anything even close to this.” Tough praise to live up to, but the food-reading public will be waiting with bated breath for the release of the memoir early next year.
Where do you go after Per Se? Johnathan Benno, who for six years as chef de cuisine headed the kitchen at Thomas Keller’s temple of New York haute cuisine, found one place--Lincoln Center. Benno is now serving as the executive chef at the theater’s sprawling, extravagant new restaurant, called Lincoln, which opened to great fanfare earlier this year. Food at Lincoln is solidly in the vein of Per Se; decadent, creative, impeccably sourced cuisine, coupled with service attentive enough to send a Danny Meyer waiter back to charm school. The restaurant itself is gorgeous, perhaps even topping Per Se for decor, with huge floor-to-ceiling windows, lush upholstery, marble and panelled wood. Benno, one of the New York culinary world’s rising stars, has spent years under Keller’s notoriously strict scrutiny; there is famously a two-way flat screen video panel that provides constant communication between Per Se and The French Laundry, allowing Keller to keep an eye on his two marquee restaurants.
One might expect Benno to be ready to distance himself a bit from his famous mentor, and indeed, the menu at Lincoln represents a bit of a left turn within the parameters of luxury Manhattan dining. The restaurant, officially Lincoln Ristorante, leans towards the Italian, and towards larger, a la carte selections, in opposition to Per Se’s barrage of small chef-selected courses. Besides his tenure at Per Se and The French Laundry, Benno is a veteran of the kitchens of Craft and Gramercy Tavern, and some of the comparatively laid-back vibes of those two restaurants can be seen in Lincoln’s heartier dishes—a dry-aged sirloin with shallots and potatoes, a veal chop with gnocchi, carrots, and chanterelles. Still, it’s Benno’s first shot as the boss; it will be interesting to see the novel directions that his cooking takes when left to his own devices.