Chef Portsmouth serves up French-Vietnamese fusion at Sapa (43 W. 24th St.). On some nights, the huge room feels like a nightclub, but the bold flavors on the plate can distract from the impossibly sleek crowd.
Any tips for entertaining at home?
Keep it simple and do things ahead of time. You don’t want to spend the whole time in the kitchen. If I’m making a meal of rib-eye and veggies, I’ll cook them before guests arrive and then simply reheat. It also helps to have a steady supply of alcohol going.
Where is your favorite place to eat in the city?
Knife + Fork restaurant and wine bar in the East Village. The chef uses a contemporary European style of cooking, which I miss here in America, being English myself. I also enjoy the relaxed, mellow atmosphere – exposed brick walls, seating for only about 40 people, a great wine list – and of course, fantastic food.
What do you cook for yourself at home?
It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but I often eat out of the freezer at home. One of my favorite things to eat is beans on toast. If I do cook at home, it’s usually my mum’s home cooking – English roasts, stews, etc.
Any tips for getting a good dinner reservation?
Barring knowing someone at a restaurant…I’d go out earlier in the week. It’s easier to get reservations on Sundays and Mondays. Also either early or late in the evening. One thing I love to do is to sit at the bar. You can get the same menu and it’s a less formal – and more attainable – experience.
What is the best meal you’ve ever had? The worst?
The best meal was many years ago at Gordon Ramsay’s first, 2 Michelin-starred restaurant, Aubergine (now closed) in London. Five of us went to lunch and stayed for six hours. The food was immaculate and the service was great – not intrusive, but the staff was always on top of anything you might need.
The worst was at a little Italian place on the Lower East Side called Il Bagatto. I had pasta with a spicy tomato sauce that was totally burnt. Nothing like that had ever happened to me before. I couldn’t understand why anyone would serve that. Needless to say, I got up and left.
Do you have any memorable stories from the kitchen?
When I was a kid, about 18 years old, I left home to work in London at the Connaught Hotel in Mayfair. There was a very regimented atmosphere accompanied by the French mentality of cooking. I was verbally abused for a year while I worked there and it got to me to the point where I broke down and cried. Somehow this story got around, and now my sous-chefs will tell it to all the new recruits in my kitchen. So they all know that I’ve been there, too.
What is the most common misconception about eating out?
I find that people think food is way too expensive in this city. What they probably don’t know is that running a restaurant, especially in Manhattan, is one of the hardest ventures. There’s a small profit margin; every little thing adds up. That said, there are ways around the expense. Some restaurants have half off their bottles of wine on Sundays and Mondays. And most places have prix-fixe menus on certain days or during certain times of the day.
Sapa’s Japanese BBQ Steak
10 oz New York Strip or Rib-Eye
Two sweet onions
Half cup balsamic vinegar
Half cup extra virgin olive oil
Two large portobello mushrooms
2 packs of honshimeji mushrooms
Half pound shishito sweet peppers
One tablespoon soy sauce
One tablespooon lime juice
A few Thai basil leaves
For the BBQ sauce
Five ounces dark miso
Three ounces sake
One ounce oyster sauce
One ounce hoisin sauce
One tablespoon sherry vinegar
One tablespoon Japanese mustard
One tablespoon dark brown sugar
Combine all, heat in pot. When it reaches a boil strain through a fine sieve.
Four ounces sake
Four ounces mirin
Three tablespoons Japanese mustard
Combine all ingredients and mix with whisk until smooth.
Score onions with a cross on the top about 1 inch down. Pour half of the balsamic and half of the olive oil in the onions, put on roasting tray, cover with foil and bake in oven at 400 degrees for two hours or until soft.
Brush steak with marinade and season with salt. Grill, getting slight char until desired temp. Let rest.
Coat the portobello with the rest of the balsamic vinegar and oil. Grill until soft; cut into half-inch strips. Oil, season and grill shishito peppers until light golden brown.
In a sauté pan cook the honshimeji mushrooms in a little oil, add the portobellos, basil, and shishito peppers and then finish off with the soy sauce and lime juice.
Cut onion in half and squeeze them so all the layers come up. Season the onions with salt. Put a couple of tablespoons of BBQ sauce on plate, slice the steak and lay on top of sauce; place the mushrooms on top of the steak.