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When Dinner With Friends Shook the World

Polaroids, pay phones, classified ads, two vast and trunkless legs of stone — the past is a back catalog full of shit the internet made obsolete. Am I of the last generation who remembers what it felt like to be alone? To be in a room with no one to chat with, no one to snap at, with no hangouts and time gone slack? And if so, then is that generation the last to feel the hot-shower sigh of relief when, by the caroming of cosmic bumper cars, we find our people and realize we are not in fact alone? Today it seems so easy to connect. There are so many apps, so many platforms, so many places to log into.

If the gerrymandered channels of social media are to be believed, today’s chefs — and today’s eaters — are woven together in the warp and weft of likes, emoji, and hashtags. Never have the chefs been so united. Yet never has their unification felt so transactional.

Michael McCarty, Jonathan Waxman, Chef Dan Kluger and Andrew Friedman at Loring Place, April 23rd, 2018

On a recent spring evening at Loring Place in Greenwich Village, this state of affairs is on display. “There are probably three dinners like this somewhere in the city tonight,” says Andrew Friedman, the bright-eyed, bearded author of the new book Chefs, Drugs and Rock & Roll: How Food Lovers, Free Spirits, Misfits and Wanderers Created a New American Profession, a voluminous oral history of American chefs in the 1970s and ’80s. We are gathered in the downstairs dining room of chef Dan Kluger’s quietly bonkers-good restaurant on West 8th Street to celebrate two things.

The first is the publication of Friedman’s book. The author is an exhaustive researcher and a deliberate writer. He runs a blog called Toqueland, subtitled “Inside the World of Professional Chefs,” and has a podcast, Andrew Talks to Chefs, in which he talks to chefs. Friedman is an inveterate story collector, the Studs Terkel of the culinary world, the Legs McNeil of fine dining. His new book is a 480-page, in-the-weeds birth story of American cuisine, with all the mothers and fathers and doulas and midwives accounted for.

Menu from The Stanford Court

The second thing we’re celebrating at Loring Place is the 35th anniversary of the legendary (to some) Stanford Court Dinner, an event that, to quote Friedman’s book, “changed everything and brought rising chefs from across the country together for the first time.” The original dinner took place in San Francisco on May 4, 1983. It was organized by Michael McCarty of the restaurant Michael’s, in Santa Monica, California, with help from his chef, a young hippie named Jonathan Waxman who looked like he stepped from a Pontormo painting. Alice Waters made a garden salad, natch; Jeremiah Tower made a pecan pastry with chocolate-and-sabayon sauce; Larry Forgione, of Brooklyn’s River Café, made a terrine of smoked American fish “with their respective caviars.” The Southeast was present in the person of Paul Prudhomme, who cooked his signature blackened redfish on piping-hot skillets over charcoal grills on the fire escape, sending smoke into the San Francisco air; Mark Miller, of Fourth Street Grill in Berkeley, made quail; and two guys from the Midwest — Bradley Ogden of American Café in Kansas City, and Jimmy Schmidt of London Chop House in Detroit — stuffed a rack of lamb with greens from Missouri and made a gratin of wildroot vegetables, fiddlehead ferns, and cattail sprouts. It was the first time in the history of American fine dining that chefs so far-flung had conclaved, the first time they had poked their heads above the plains to see the other prairie dogs. It wasn’t like there was no American culinary vernacular developing. But, as Friedman puts it, standing in front of the room and conjuring up a distant past, “The coasts didn’t know much about the other coast, or care.”

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Save for the yellowed paper and serif type, the menu — copies of which are distributed tonight along with the book — wouldn’t look out of place today. The chefs, however, have aged and flourished, each having gone on to make a mark in the annals of cuisine. At the dinner tonight are the wizened, thicker versions of the young men who were part of that first dinner. Michael McCarty is here with his wife, an artist named Kim McCarty. We New Yorkers may recognize Michael’s as the feeding trough for the last of the media tycoons. Back when magazines were swollen with tumescent mastheads, it was where the top names ate, and the fourth estate liked to play a parlor game, like tasseomancy or Kremlinology, to divine the internecine power struggles of the media by observing who sat where.

Larry Forgione and Alice Waters contributed dishes to the meal

But in its hometown of Santa Monica, Michael’s has been known not so much for its crowd or courtyard but for its ambitious menu. And 35 years ago, McCarty was a young restaurateur, fresh from training in France with the idea that, fuck it, American cuisine should be celebrated. (At the time, everyone slouched toward Escoffier.) In 1981, McCarty, along with Julia Child, the winemakers Dick Graff and Robert Mondavi, and others, had founded the American Institute of Wine and Food in order to promote and — let’s face it — build a market for American product. It took two years to organize the dinner that would be called “An American Celebration,” and it fell to Waxman, McCarty’s chef, to corral the kitchen talent. Tonight at Loring Place, it’s hard to imagine Waxman as anything but the grizzly éminence grise sitting at the end of the table. But he was young once too. “We had no fucking clue if the dinner was going to be a success,” he says of his efforts at the time. “We had to send letters, that we wrote on typewriters, through the postal service!”

According to all those present, both the postal and dinner service came through. That epochal meal had introduced the 400-odd gourmets — who had paid $150 in 1983 dollars for nine courses paired with American wines (about $380 today) — to the emergence of American fine dining cuisine. More importantly, all the prairie dogs came out and saw they were not alone.

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Today, so much of what and how we eat is presaged by that two-page menu, from Waters’s nonchalant “garden salad” to the locavore organic veggie-forward forage-friendly wildroot vegetables and cattail sprouts of Ogden and Schmidt’s dish. I think all those present would agree that there would be no Loring Place, with its cheerfully resolute focus on ingredient extruded through the American culinary vernacular, without the contagion sparked that night in Nob Hill. And that would be a damn shame, because Dan Kluger has made this one of the best restaurants in New York City.

In Kluger’s hands, Forgione’s terrine is reimagined with cured salmon and foie gras; Waters’s salad becomes a salad taco — salad taco! — with a guajillo and tamarind hot sauce. “I’ve never totally loved blackened fish,” admits Kluger, so he turned Prudhomme’s blackened redfish into a brown butter–basted sea bass with a blackening spice. It sits pretty on a Dungeness crab salad. And so it goes: Miller’s marinated quail becomes wood-grilled duck with Indian warming spice; the rack of lamb becomes a loin of lamb with the Missouri greens transmogrified into a hazelnut and mustard green pesto. The fiddlehead ferns abide. Tower’s dessert arrives as a delicate chocolate mousse with shavings of candied orange. It all feels very now and tastes very good. The dinner’s title is “Food Memories Dinner Series With Andrew Friedman.” That’s a mouthful but you don’t need the memories to enjoy the flavors; you don’t need to know the roots to savor the fruit.

What’s so striking about the mythology of the evening recounted — Genesis 1:1 of American Cuisine — is how much the whole thing hinged on these chefs, working in isolation but in tandem, having found one another. And how much the difficulty of finding one another endowed the relationships with special hard-earned import. McCarty, Waxman, Waters, Tower, Miller, Ogden, Schmidt, and Prudhomme had finally found their people. They were no longer lonely prairie dogs. I thought about that, and about how, 35 years later, there’s not a motherfucker on this earth that I can’t find pretty easily. But though, as Friedman says, this type of collaborative dinner at Loring Place is common enough now, I doubt there will be a dinner like that at the Stanford Court again anytime soon. Because even though everyone is searchable, reachable, and findable all the time, now that trends are fast-moving waves and collaborations as transient as an Instagram story, being alone has never been harder but being lonely never easier.

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Iron Chef Marc Forgione on Marc Forgione, New Fiancée’s Cooking Part 2

Yesterday, Marc Forgione shared the details on his new Atlantic City steakhouse. Today, we bring him back to the city to find out what’s up at his Tribeca restaurant, Marc Forgione, and what it’s like to cook for a legendary chef . . . who happens to be your father.

What’s new at your eponymous outlet Marc Forgione?
We’re doing these beautiful local clams and serving them with garlic-infused Mangalitsa pork fat to dip in. We’re also doing an English-cut lamb chop with chickpeas and fiddlehead ferns that’s really impressive looking.

You run an uber-seasonal kitchen and spring brings a bounty of fresh produce. What gets you most excited? (Please don’t say ramps.)
I get the most excited when the spring vegetables come out in general. It’s the only season where it seems that everybody wakes up and has a little pep to their step when they see fresh peas, asparagus, fiddleheads, etc. It’s like bears coming out of hibernation.

You come from a cooking family, do you parents stop by your restaurants often? Do they offer critique?
Believe it or not, when I’m testing recipes, I’ll give them to my mother to see what she thinks. As far as cooking for my old man, it’s just like cooking for any other of the legendary chefs of our time . . . not easy or for the faint of heart.

Word on the street is that you recently became engaged, congrats! Does you fiancée cook as well? Does a family that cooks together, stay together?
She does, not professionally but makes a mean almond-crusted chicken that I enjoy.

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Farm Rations at Hundred Acres and Forge

At Forge, in a space that looks like the Little House on the Prairie crossed with Dracula’s dining room, we are waiting for our bread. The rolls, lovingly tended by an enormous man who looks and sounds like a Russian wrestler, are being slowly warmed on a skillet inside a cast-iron oven from 1906. “The bread is coming, I promise,” bubbles our waitress. Perhaps these hunger pangs are meant to evoke pioneer farm life; I take deep breaths and remind myself that Laura Ingalls Wilder probably had to wait for her bread, too. Finally, Mr. Wrestler delivers two warmed rolls to the table, along with caramelized-onion butter. The bread is better than anything Ma Ingalls ever whipped up: homemade potato rolls with the eggy tenderness of brioche. We gobble them and are reduced to staring pitifully at Mr. Wrestler, who has returned to his post by the antique stove.

The ongoing hunger for American countrified cuisine made with greenmarket ingredients and spun upscale (coined “haute barnyard” by New York magazine’s Adam Platt) shows no signs of flagging. Get all the farmhouse chic you can swallow at Forge and Hundred Acres, twin additions to the genre. Hundred Acres is owned by chef Marc Meyer and Vicki Freeman of Five Point and Cookshop, and occupies the space where Provence, the 20-year-old French restaurant, once doled out bouillabaisse. Meyer and Freeman have a knack for naming their upscale restaurants after long-gone, decidedly downscale neighborhoods. Five Points name-checks a notorious Lower East Side slum, and Hundred Acres references “Hell’s Hundred Acres,” Soho’s nickname before it was Soho.

Dandelion greens, fried squash blossoms, and seared tuna have replaced Provence’s escargot and onglet. The space has been redone in calming, Pottery Barn–style cream and dark wood; a cotton plant puffs out of one corner. The restaurant is packed with people who do not seem the farm-loving sort. “Is that cobra?” shrieked a girl at a nearby table, clutching at her friend’s humongous bag. “No, it’s python!” came the reply. File that under conversations I never thought I’d hear while eating liver and onions. (Virginia-pasture-raised liver, but still.)

On balance, Meyer’s countrified plates are pleasingly straightforward, unpretentious, and generously portioned (unlike his patrons). The food isn’t tricky or clever, but it’s expertly done, with an emphasis on simplicity and punchy flavors. Tongue-tea sandwiches are much heartier than the “tea” designation implies, featuring thinly sliced whole-grain bread spread thickly with butter and piled high with garnet rounds of tongue. Ramps, the darlings of the greenmarket, are pickled into a relish that tops the tender slices of meat. Another hearty appetizer, the trio of toasts, involves three large crostini teetering on a wooden serving board. Each toast is mounded with a spread: coarsely chopped chicken livers with cherries, puréed smoked fish, or garlicky, shredded rabbit that’s as richly good as duck rillettes (or pulled pork, for that matter).

As for the liver and onions, the sautéed calf liver is topped with a tumble of pickled sweet cherries, and the combination is genius. The meat has a clean mineral savor, but one night, it was slightly overcooked. The caramelized onions underneath are studded with fava beans, a nice touch (although it made me feel a bit like Hannibal Lecter; all I needed was a nice glass of Chianti and a homicidal streak).

We also liked the grilled bluefish, garnished with a slick of rust-orange paprika aioli, and sided with a vinegary, crunchy little carrot-cucumber salad, perked up with delfino cilantro, a feathery variety that tastes like a cross between cilantro and dill.

Meyer serves a sweet-onion mayo with his (sadly, limp) fries that’s very similar to the caramelized-onion butter at Forge. Both restaurants offer “market greens,” fingerling potatoes, fried chicken, fish with morels, squash blossoms, and pickled ramps. Both serve hard lemonade and a cucumber-gin cooler. Both will change their menus seasonally.

Forge is Hundred Acres’ more expensive, amped-up, and posh cousin. While the latter is all neutral cream and wood, Forge is dark and rough, with a cave-like black ceiling, uneven brick walls, twisted wrought iron, and drippy white candles everywhere. At Hundred Acres, the cheapest glass of wine is $8; at Forge, it’s $12. At Hundred Acres, main courses average $18; at Forge, they average $30.

Chef Marc Forgione (son of famed New American chef Larry Forgione) is in Forge’s kitchen; he’s trafficking in New American/haute barnyard, but it’s fairly high-concept, with more elaborate plating and pricing to match. Chicken nuggets, a signature appetizer, are crusty rounds the size of ping-pong balls (I would have called them fritters). Crunch into them and molten chicken confit oozes out. Smoked-onion remoulade stands in for ketchup. Grilled octopus is an equally good starter, with big, toothsome chunks of octopus joining artichoke hearts and crunchy hearts of palm, all tossed in almond pesto.

Forge suffers from some maladies that are going around right now. We had to beg for bread, but we found our wine glasses full to the brim at all times. (When we ordered the bottle of white Burgundy—the second-cheapest on the menu at $38—our server grinned and said, “We love bottles!” I’m sure you do.)

Nevertheless, much of Forgione’s food is out-and-out delicious. Sea-bass filet is wrapped up in prosciutto and sautéed until the outer layer of pork is browned and the fish inside is buttery. Cockles sit alongside, their brine echoing the salty pork. Lamb loin is cooked medium-rare, and its pink juices are soaked up beautifully by spongy morels. Coco-bean risotto is bright with tiny, translucent dice of preserved lemon. For dessert, there’s the grandiosely named “Taste of American Classics,” a mini-trio of sweets: Root-beer float with ginger ice cream, a tiny crock of butterscotch pudding, and a two-bite-sized chocolate cake dressed up with cocoa nibs. Meanwhile, at Hundred Acres, the best dessert is just a proper slice of lattice-crust blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream. I suppose it just depends on your taste: Do you want a clever take on American classics, or an American classic?