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Chef-Squad Kicks Off Month-Long Series of Food Pop-Ups. First Up? Hot Chicken.

Fans of Vicki Freeman, Marc Meyer and their mini-restaurant empire of Cookshop, Hundred Acres, Rosie’s and Vic’s should take note: Beginning Sunday, five different pop-ups are being thrown up throughout the next month, inspired by squad travels with their chefs and even their own personal histories. The gallery space to the left of Vic’s on Great Jones Street will serve as pop-up central.

“I’ve always had this desire to do a pop-up because there are so many different things I’m interested in, that our chefs are interested in that I don’t know if they require a full-on restaurant,” says Freeman, as she mulls over the inspiration and challenges behind launching five baby restaurants. “Everything’s electric, there’s no gas, but it’s good because we have Vic’s right next door, so we can cook things there.”

First-up is #BlazingFeathers, the team’s ode to Nashville hot chicken joints Hattie B’s, Bolton’s and Prince’s. “We go a few times a year on these trips with our chefs,” explains Freeman. “They had just spent time in Nashville and New Orleans, and they just fell in love with it going from hot chicken place to hot chicken place.”

The same fondness for one of their own chef’s falafels inspired one of the remaining four pop-ups. “About a year ago, we hired Ayesha Nurdjaja to be the chef at Hundred Acres, which has turned much more middle eastern and mediterranean, as that’s her cuisine,” explains Freeman. “So when we wanted to do the pop-up thing, I asked her, because her falafel are to die for, ‘Would you be interested in doing falafel?’ And she said, ‘More than anything.’”

Sourcing for the menus came easy as they used the same farms as their restaurants, with the exception of the pita for the falafels. “Jim Lahey from Sullivan Street Bakery is making our pitas. I forced him into it. He probably had a moment after saying yes where he went, ‘oh crap,’” says Freeman, laughing, who has known Lahey for years. “We had a blast, as we just spent a day with him learning how to make pitas. It was fascinating, as it’s new for him too, and he just nailed these pitas.”

The wild card of the pop-ups also happens to be the only one that’s a full-on restaurant, complete with two seatings and reservations being made through Vic’s. Freeman and Meyer’s sister-in-law Maiko Freeman, who is also a caterer and the brains behind Smorgasburg vendor Oni Sauce, is tackling a 10-course Japanese home-style dinner alongside Andrew Corrigan, the chef from Cookshop, and Meyer himself, the “big daddy” of the whole operation. “I set her free with the menu,” says Freeman, without hesitation. “Every summer we go to Prince Edward Island, and for one dinner alone, we went to the docks, and they have mackerel. But they consider mackerel something that just gets caught with the other fish and they throw it away. So Maiko goes with a bag, which they fill with mackerel and just give it to her, we don’t pay anything. And she did like a 10-course mackerel dinner that just blew my mind.”

Pastrami Sandwich from Five & Dime pop-up
Pastrami Sandwich from Five & Dime pop-up

The final two pop-ups were inspired by the Jersey bakeries and New York City delis of the team’s individual childhoods. “Our pastry chef at Cookshop, Stephen Collucci, grew up in Jersey and just has this fondness for old bakeshops and coffee shops. It’s his favorite stuff to do,” says Freeman. “Hillary [Sterling, the chef from Vic’s] and Ayesha grew up in Brooklyn, and I grew up in the West Village. All our lives, we just went to delis like Katz’s, and we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to do that, but a bit updated?’”

The decor for the different pop-ups will change for each, and the team looked within to cut costs. “It really is our chefs doing it,” says Freeman, as she talks about the sous chef at Cookshop, who is also a chalkboard artist. “One whole wall is chalkboard, and it has the menu, what the project is. She’s going to paint on the window for every project.”

“I did not do this to make money,” claims Freeman, after talking about the drudgery behind licensing and insuring the pop-up project. “If we can break even, I’m happy. Really, it was to give our chef’s a creative outlet. Every night, they are standing at a pass and making sure the food is coming out night after night and lunch after lunch. [This is a way] to have some fun and creativity, to break out of the mold—it’s a way to do something completely different, especially for the chefs.”

33 Great Jones Street
Between Lafayette & Bowery

Sunday, March 19th
#BlazingFeathers
12pm to 8pm

Thursday, March 23rd
Home-style Japanese Dinner
6pm and 8:30pm seatings
For reservations, call 212.253.5700

Sunday, April 2nd & Saturday, April 22nd
Five & Dime Deli
12pm to 8pm

Friday, April 7th
Ba-Da-Baked Bakery
5pm-10pm

Saturday, April 8th
Ayesha’s Falafel
12pm to 8pm

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This Week in Food: ‘Moonstruck’ Feast, Food and TV Panel, Tacuba Pop-Up

Oxalis Summer Pop-Up Dinner
Egg (100 North 3rd Street, Brooklyn)
Monday, 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. 

Chef Nico Russell is hosting a weekly pop-up dinner featuring tasting courses of fresh seafood and vegetables. Tickets are $85 each, but must be purchased in pairs. Luckily, the ticket price includes both the meal and beverage pairings for the perfect date night. Reserve your pair of tickets here.

Moonstruck! A Shareable Feast
Brooklyn Grange (Clinton and Flushing Avenues, Brooklyn)
Tuesday, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

As Nicolas Cage’s baker character in Moonstruck gripes to Cher, “They say bread is life.” And we can bet there will be bread on the family-style Italian menu at this Brooklyn Grange event inspired by the classic 1980s movie. Ticket proceeds will benefit the Youth Farm. Admission starts at $125 and includes all food and drink. Reserve yours here.

Small Screen, Big Business: A Panel on Food and Television
Hot Bread Kitchen (1590 Park Avenue)
Wednesday, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Top Chef judge Gail Simmons will host a panel at Hot Bread Kitchen featuring innovative guests from the food industry. Food entrepreneurs (and those interested in the industry) can listen to food and television vets Kame Onwuachi (The Shaw Bijou, Top Chef contestant), Chelsea Briganti (Loliware, Shark Tank contestant), and Jomaree Pinkard (Hella Company, American Express ad) talk about their experiences in the public eye and the food world. Tickets are $35. Reserve one here.

Dos Gordos Tacos & Pastry Pop-Up

Tacuba — Hell’s Kitchen (802 Ninth Avenue)
Wednesday (Served throughout dinner service)

Tacuba will feature guest chef Jason Licker of Hong Kong for an “East Meets West”-themed pop-up dinner. The menu includes pork belly tacos by Tacuba chef Julian Medina (who attended the International Culinary Center with Licker). Sweets like white chocolate sake ice cream, coconut tapioca, and a molten green tea tart round out the dessert menu.

Meal Time Box Pop Up Restaurant

Industry City Distillery Tasting Room (33 35th Street, 6th Floor, Brooklyn)
Friday, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Meal subscription service Meal Time Box is hosting its first restaurant pop-up experience with live music and Industry City Distillery cocktails. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 on the day of the event. Reserve yours here.

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Theo Friedman Moves From Dorm Room to Table With His ‘Theory Kitchen’ Series

It’s no secret that New York City is full of talented people who often pop up in unexpected places. In a studio on a ho-hum block in Chelsea, in between a furniture store and wood-flooring shop, you can find 22-year-old Theo Friedman cooking up a creative storm on most Friday and Saturday nights.

Friedman tells the Voice his “Theory Kitchen” tasting menu series, priced from $70 to $90 (with optional $45 beverage pairing), “is about two basic principles — I want to cook and I want to bring together interesting people.” During his college years at Tufts University, Friedman spent summers working in NYC kitchens like Gotham Bar and Grill, wd-50, and The Musket Room. He says he’d return to school each fall “desperately needing some sort of creative outlet for all the ideas [I] had,” and so he began preparing dinners in his dorm room.

Grapefruit sorbet, citrus curd, Fernet syrup, grapefruit and dill foam, with dill meringues

For a recent dinner, Friedman and his support team — sous chef Nick Dynan, and front-of-the-house manager Ian Russell — kick off the evening with a cucumber, apple, and dill refresher while other guests (fourteen total) arrive and mingle. The space is striking; for more than thirty years it served as a photography studio, and it features an open kitchen, floor-to-ceiling windows, and enough square footage to accommodate at least one hundred people. Friedman calls it “a big white box with potential to transform itself to fit whatever event is happening at the moment.”

At a simply set table, a succession of thirteen plates follow, each one more akin to the immaculate space than the otherwise casual ambiance suggests, more complex and unexpected than the one before. The first course, “Our bread. Our jam. Our butter,” may sound uninspired, but eating the soft, warm dough felt deeply comforting. The bread was paired with bacon jam and salted butter, a combination that proved memorable.

As the series of courses progress, a recurring theme is revealed — Friedman takes familiar ingredients and spins them into something surprising. “Butternut squash. Goat cheese” is presented as a kind of sandwich, with paper-thin butternut squash chips enclosing a creamy goat cheese mousse and purple cabbage powder, and a dessert called “Rice Crispy Treat” incorporates a pork chicharron yet is somehow still sweet. Around the table, diners are saying “I’m not sure what I’m eating, but I like it,” while their camera phones attempt to capture the artfully composed plates. Between courses the guests alternate between jovial dinner conversation and standing up to watch Friedman and Dynan plate their dishes with tweezers and eyedroppers.

Theo Friedman prepares a dish with crab and sunchoke.

Friedman describes his cooking style as “spontaneous and inspired by what is around me at the moment,” but it obviously requires focus, precision, and discipline far beyond his age. When one course incorporating chicken pâté, beets, and pickled blackberry was served, Friedman told us, “I know it’s pretty, but it’s a play on different temperatures and must be eaten quickly.” In other words, don’t spend ten minutes composing the perfect Instagram.

Despite the subtlety of the service and the sophistication of the food, Theory Kitchen doesn’t feel inaccessible. From the Justin Bieber soundtrack to the laid-back hospitality (“take your shoes off and lie on the couch if you want”), dinner here feels a lot like hanging out around the table with college friends — only with much better food.

Information about upcoming events and tickets to dinners can found on Theory Kitchen’s website, Instagram, or via email at thetheorykitchen@gmail.com.

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The Food of Liberation: A Dinner Series With a Mission

There was a time in New York City’s history when the idea of going to a stranger’s apartment for a meal — along with other people you’ve never met — would’ve made you think twice. Now such “underground” supper clubs happen every day in our city’s trend-happy food scene. The latest version of these dinners not only boasts the allure of a secret setting, but offers a feminist, social-justice mission.

The Advice Project’s Food of Liberation series will feature a monthly dinner, serving favorite recipes from a woman who has lived under oppression, taking place in a private location to be disclosed only the week before. The first dinner is on February 26, featuring Consolee Nishimwe, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide. Next up is Chi Yvonne Leina, a Cameroonian journalist and activist.

Melissa Banigan, founder and managing editor of The Advice Project, explains, “I look for guests who have not only been through extremely difficult circumstances, but who have risen above. The women on my shortlist are strong feminists. Some of them are refugees; others have dealt with adversity right here on U.S. soil. But they’re all amazing, and they each know how to partner some of life’s biggest problems with remarkable solutions.”

Banigan, a single mom, used to host weekly salon-style dinners in her home. Her daughter, now fourteen, asked Banigan to revive those Friday-night suppers, and with that, the idea for Food of Liberation was born. Banigan says she’d “already been thinking of creating a series of events that would partner storytelling with cuisines from around the world,” and this was just the impetus she needed.

The other, more unlikely, source of inspiration came from Japanese culture. In her early twenties, Banigan read The Gourmet Club by Junichiro Tanizaki and was introduced to the concept of nyotaimori, in which sushi is served on the body of a nude woman. “I found this art to be inherently sexist and often wondered if such a meal could be made more feminist,” she reflects. The Food of Liberation project is her attempt at that: “Instead of serving meals off the bodies of women,” she explains, “I would serve them from the minds of empowered women from around the world.”

This isn’t the first pop-up to offer meals in people’s homes to be enjoyed with strangers. But it does offer a rare opportunity to shine a light on women who have experienced oppression, allowing them to share their stories and cuisines in an intimate setting. Each featured guest will provide at least one recipe, which will be the centerpiece of the evening. Banigan and a few volunteers will cook that recipe, as well as a few other dishes to go with it.

For the first dinner, Nishimwe selected a Rwandan dish called ugali, a maize-based porridge. She says she chose it “because it’s very special, it’s kind of unique, and it’s traditional.” Banigan and her volunteers will also serve Rwandan appetizers including ibiharage (white bean paste) with sweet Rwandan honey bread and are planning to prepare a surprise dish for Nishimwe. After the meal, guests can enjoy tea from Rwanda (“We love to drink tea a lot,” she explains) while Nishimwe reads from her memoir.

Nishimwe doesn’t consider herself a cook, but she’s looking forward to good conversation over what is, for her, comfort food. “My expectation is to be able to share a little more of my culture,” she says. “We love to socialize and sit down, especially when you have a meal together. We are oral-storyteller people, so we don’t write as much, but we like to talk about different things.”

Banigan envisions the meal serving as a kind of Proustian madeleine, a jumping-off point for memories and discussion. “People have such a strong connection to food,” she says. “It’s my hope that as Consolee takes her first bite of delicious ugali, she’s transported back to some of her earliest memories of Rwanda that she will want to share with the rest of our guests.”

Proceeds from the dinner will go to support the Advice Project, which brings free media and writing classes to teen girls in the U.S.A., Cameroon, and Guadeloupe. Banigan hopes to raise enough money to provide five Cameroonian girls and women with a trip to attend the annual Advice Project Global Leadership Summit, happening this year in Ireland. Reserve a space here.

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This Week in Food: Winter Cocktails, Paella Class, and Koreatown Cookbook Party


PLANT by Jay Astafa Pop-Up Dinner, Adelina’s, 159 Greenpoint Avenue, Brooklyn, Monday, 7 p.m.

Adelina’s is hosting a 12-course vegan tasting menu, courtesy of chef Jay Astafa of 3 Brothers Vegan Cafe. Courses will include plant-based cheeses and desserts in addition to veggie-forward bites such as sunchoke soup, beet tartare, and squash ravioli. A six glass wine pairing will also be available for an additional $40 charge. Tickets are $145 and are inclusive of service; reserve here.

Tasting Menu, élan, 43 East 20th Street, Monday through end of February

During the final month of service at chef David Waltuck’s élan, the restaurant is offering a special $40 prix fixe menu beginning this Monday. The three course dinner, which will be adjusted daily depending on market availability, will also feature a glass of complimentary sparkling wine.

Winter Cocktails, Montana’s Trail House, 455 Troutman Street, Brooklyn, Monday through end of March

Escape cabin fever with winter drinks like a rum-based “Street Shark” cocktail, which uses winter spice syrup and tamarind cordial to tame the winter chill. The restaurant’s new seasonal menu also includes a bourbon and mulled wine-based “Blizzard Beast” as well as a drink with Calvados, white whiskey, and salted pecan rye syrup.

Paella Workshop, Centro Espanol, La Nacional, 239 West 14th street, Tuesday, 5 p.m.

Fill up on the history of paella before making the celebrated Spanish dish from start to finish.  A chef will lead guests on a hands-on cooking demonstration before allowing students to make their own paella feast. Dinner includes sangria, salad, and dessert from La Nacional. Attendees will take home select paella recipes as well as recommendations for appropriate cookware and ingredients. Tickets are $50 for general admission and can be secured here.

Koreatown Cookbook Party, Ichi Cellar, 6 East 32nd Street, Tuesday, 7 p.m.

Experience the recipes and stories of Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong chef Deuki Hong as he unveils his cookbook, Koreatown. The book features recipes, stories, and photos from Korean American neighborhoods across America. Tickets ($40 per person) include a copy of the book along with beer, soju, and snacks prepared by chef Hong; reserve them here.

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For a Limited Time, Get Paul Kahan’s Brisket Sandwich at Genuine Superette

Paul Kahan is a top toque in Chicago’s culinary scene. The Food & Wine “Best New Chef 1999” and multiple James Beard award winner oversees the kitchens of some of the Windy City’s best bars and restaurants: The Publican, Publican Quality Meats, Blackbird, Nico Osteria, avec, Big Star and Dove’s Luncheonette.

For the next couple months, New Yorkers won’t have to leave town to get a taste of the esteemed chef’s plates — his brisket sandwich ($13.78) is now on the menu at GENUINE Superette (191 Grand Street; 646-726-4633) as part of the eatery’s guest chef series.

Kahan, Publican chef de cuisine Cosmo Goss, and Publican Quality Meats chef de cuisine AJ Walker, developed the sammie together. Wagyu brisket, blanketed in a mix of brown sugar, smoked paprika and ancho chile powder, marinates for 24 hours. Then the meat is cooked sous vide for 12 to 14 hours, sliced and piled on a pumpernickel hoagie with soft, smoky onions, horseradish cream cheese, fried shallots, and Chinese mustard. It will be on the lunch and dinner menu for the next three months, maybe longer if it sells well.

The team didn’t have any guidelines before working on the sandwich and they didn’t know which protein they wanted to use, but in an email Kahan tells the Voice “I knew I didn’t want to do kangaroo.”

Brad Farmerie, executive chef of AvroKO Hospitality Group (the parent company of Genuine), has worked with Kahan in different kitchens and events over the past six years. He says he likes Kahan’s food, restaurants and “no bullshit” personality. “He’s the real deal, straight shooter – no schtick. With Paul it’s just about the food that is well thought out, creative and always delicious.”

Kahan echoes the sentiment: “Brad and I have worked together before and I think he’s a cool dude.”

Chi-town-based Kahan is the most recent guest at Genuine, in a roster of top chefs from around the country that have included NYC’s lauded Paul Liebrandt, who prepared a version of fish and chips. Austin’s Lee Krassner brought his famous spicy lobster rolls, and Jamie Bissonnette, who runs eateries in Boston and Toro in NYC, contributed a Thai pulled-pork sandwich.

For Farmerie, the series is an opportunity to work with chefs he respects and to share the spark of creativity. “I think it is especially interesting to ask high-caliber chefs to put their signature or spin on affordable, fast casual ideas. The flavors that they love and the techniques that they use can get distilled down to something more approachable than what they may cook in their own restaurants,” he says.

“Half the fun is getting together beforehand and bouncing ideas around to see what their creative process is like, and how we can shape something that’s fun, interesting, and tasty.”

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Is This Brodo for Dodos?

“Bone broth,” the modern rebranding of plain old long-simmered stock, continues to rear its hot, murky head in New York City. We don’t begrudge Hearth chef/owner Marco Canora — proprietor of Brodo, an East Village bone-broth takeout stall — for making publicized changes to his lifestyle and promoting the robust flavors and purported benefits of broth, but when the Italian chef teamed up with restaurateur and ice cream kingpin Nick Morgenstern on a flavored-broth project, we were skeptical, to say the least.

Now that the weather’s finally caught up with the season, we stopped by Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream (2 Rivington Street, 212-209-7684) to gulp some of the wild and soupy creations.

(L to R): Saint Nicholas, What Came First, and Marco broths
(L to R): Saint Nicholas, What Came First, and Marco broths

Canora recently overhauled Hearth, his twelve-year-old restaurant, and Morgenstern also owns hot downtown commodities GG’s and El Rey. In preparation for colder temps, the two Gramercy Tavern alums joined forces to offer broth from a takeout window at Morgenstern’s retro Lower East Side parlor. The sipping soups will be available through March and include Brodo signatures like the BBC ($8.25 per ten-ounce cup), with beef stock, bone marrow, and chiles, and Marco’s namesake elixir ($7.50 per ten-ounce cup) — the most palatable of the three my group tasted — which relies on a heavy dose of ginger and turmeric to bolster “Hearth broth,” a mixture of turkey, chicken, and beef stocks.

Left over from the season of yuletide, the What Came First unfortunately came lukewarm when we tasted it, and the chicken broth thickened with egg yolk was missing the nutmeg that Canora intended. The pallid slurry was supposed to evoke eggnog, but our reaction to it was roughly that of countenancing the prospect of holiday travel. With prices from $6.25 to $12 (for a full sixteen ounces of the BBC broth), these chunkless soups aren’t cheap — something we debated at length.

Another festive reference, the Saint Nicholas ($7.75 for ten ounces) muddies together beef broth, bitter chocolate, and coconut milk. Not nearly creamy enough to conjure hot cocoa, nor savory enough to register as soup, this drinkable quagmire confounded us. We’d liken it to the kind of challenging flavors we miss now that wd~50 is history. But like Wylie Dufresne’s pizza pebbles, this is one of those interesting — but not necessarily successful — experiments. Still, at nearly $8 a cup, it’s hard not to want to finish it just to get your money’s worth.

If you simply must get your broth on this winter, we’d recommend sticking to the classics.

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This Week in Food: National Hot Toddy Day, Korean Chicken Pop-Up, and a King Cake Celebration

National Hot Toddy Day, Multiple Locations, Monday

Switch up your coffee or tea routine with a boozy hot toddy in celebration of National Hot Toddy Day. At Faro, guests can enjoy a version made with mulled pear wine and whiskey. Meanwhile at The Daily, guests receive their own mini-bottle of booze to add to a special cocktail during a hot toddy happy hour running this week, Monday to Friday from 5 to 7 p.m. Enjoy a unique hot toddy at other places around the city, including Sid Gold’s Request Room, Tasca Chino, and Public.

National Cassoulet Week, Multiple Locations, Monday through Friday

Spend a week sampling hearty French stew during National Cassoulet Week. At Ai Fiori, guests can find cassoulet served with pork belly and octopus. Other local restaurants including Benoit, Blue Hill, and M. Well Steakhouse offering their own interpretation of the classic winter dish.

KimChick Pop Up, Grape and Grain, 620 East 6th Street, Tuesday, 6:30 to 10:30 p.m.

Fill up on hot Korean-style fried chicken, ssam, and other bites at this one night pop-up feast. Grape and Grain will also have select beer and wine specials ready to go for the event. Tickets start at $59.02 for two people; reserve them here.

Professional Bull Riders Anniversary Kickoff Party, American Whiskey, 247 W. 30th Street, Thursday, 6 to 9 p.m.

Want to find out what life is like as a rodeo star? Bull riding stars Tyler Harr and Robson “Spiderman” Aragao will be signing autographs to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Professional Bull Riders association performing at Madison Square Garden. During the event, guests can enjoy drink specials on Jack Daniels cocktails and shots throughout the evening. The restaurant will also have a barbecue plate special which offers ribs, smoked brisket, potato salad, and barbecue beans for $24.

Galette des Rois celebration, Le Skyroom at FIAF, 22 East 60th Street, Thursday 6:30 p.m.

Start the new year off right by grabbing a glass of wine and a slice of “kings cake” from Maison Kayser. The puff pastry filled with almond cream has been a traditional way to celebrate the Epiphany in France since the Middle Ages.  Tickets are $30 for general admission and can be reserved here.

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Reserve a Spot at This Holiday Hot Chocolate Pop-Up

Miracle on Ninth Street isn’t the only downtown bar with a holiday pop-up this December. Following the success of his summertime iced-coffee counter, head sommelier Caleb Ganzer has transformed Nolita’s Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels (249 Centre Street, 212-343-3660) into a daytime hot chocolate bar and gift shop, now open from noon to 3 p.m. daily through Christmas.

While the bar is stocked with chocolate bars and coffee growlers, a festive reservations-only backroom pumps out Christmas reggae while guests sip on wine glasses overflowing with two cocoa variations: a 70 percent blend of Mast Brothers Madagascar Tanzania and Peruvian dark chocolate, blended with Trickling Springs milk, is served straight with a whipped cream float, or — for a real afternoon wake-up call — with a fifty-fifty mix of Parlor Coffee cold-brew concentrate.

“It’s pretty intense and packs a powerful punch, which is why it’s daytime only,” says Ganzer, who maintains traces of his experimental coffee program. “We have some neighborhood devotees that still come in to ask for it, and we use a cold-brew reduction at night as well for our affogato.”

A paper-lined box is packed with macaroons, chocolate terrine, and donuts perfect for dunking.
A paper-lined box is packed with macaroons, chocolate terrine, and donuts perfect for dunking.

Ganzer’s longtime girlfriend, Roxie Jones — a former pastry chef turned popular SoulCycle instructor — bakes up petite pairings to accompany the cocoa, with new bites to be revealed weekly in decorative wooden chests. For the first week, she’s produced rose water donuts with lemon glaze and pink peppercorns, a chocolate terrine layering shortbread, pistachios, and cherries, and brown-butter coconut macaroons glazed with dark chocolate and studded with pistachios.

“She started working at DB Bistro Moderne when I worked as a sommelier there,” says Ganzer, “and now she bakes all her friends’ birthday cakes and is constantly in the kitchen at home. So I said, ‘Let’s bring you in to do some treats for us.’ ” New creations in the coming weeks will include pumpkin pound cake and miniature carrot cake sandwiches. “I just told her to give me some chocolate, some spice, some nuts, and let her take it where she wanted it.”

The bar's front counter offers a selection of gifts including jars of Compagnie head chef Eric Bolyard's flavored brown butters.
The bar’s front counter offers a selection of gifts including jars of Compagnie head chef Eric Bolyard’s flavored brown butters.

The brown butter Jones uses in her baking is the product of Compagnie’s chef Eric Bolyard, another Eleven Madison Park veteran, who left the restaurant to launch a new enterprise, Black & Bolyard, with partner Andrew Black. “He took a year off to do private events and get the brand going before coming here,” recalls Ganzer, who now stocks the jars of flavored brown butter in the bar’s front room pop-up shop. “They haven’t even done the official launch party yet, but it’s a fantastic product and already in several of our dishes. You can put it on toast, add it to sauces, whatever you want. It’s a staple in every Michelin kitchen, but no one’s ever bottled it before.”

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These Noodles Speak Italian: Milan’s Casa Ramen Chef Takes Over Ramen Lab

Last week, Luca Catalfamo packed a few T-shirts and left Milan — where he lives and where he runs Casa Ramen, one of that city’s few ramen shops — for New York. The Italian chef settled in an apartment just above Ramen Lab (70 Kenmare Street; 646-613-6522). He’s in town for a three week pop-up at Sun Noodle’s standing-room-only experimental noodle counter in Nolita, which began the first night of a Casa Ramen takeover last Tuesday.

Catalfamo will be preparing three different bowls during his stint at the shop: Count on noodles doppio peporoncino with spicy chicken, spinach, and bean sprouts and Milano king tonkotsu with chashu pork and kakuni (braised pork and pork belly) every night of the pop-up, which runs through December 19. The third choice, pumpkin miso with buckwheat noodles and black-truffle butter, points to a collaboration with Urbani truffles, which is the reason Catalfamo is cooking at Ramen Lab in the first place.

Luca Catalfamo of Milan's Casa Ramen
Luca Catalfamo of Milan’s Casa Ramen

Kenshiro Uki, VP of operations at Sun Noodle, tells the Voice that Urbani approached the company about helping them promote more truffles. “I thought the only way we can do it is if we get an Italian ramen chef. I’ve always followed him [Catalfamo]. I thought, ‘If we can bring him in, I think we can pull it off.’ ”

Uki says the goal of Ramen Lab is to show people different kinds of ramen. “Even in Japan now, the second generation is doing different styles, creative chefs are using different techniques and great ingredients. Now we’re seeing a wave of more of the lighter broth — people are starting to appreciate that.”

At home, Catalfamo makes his own noodles with durum flour, so Uki worked with him to develop a special flour blend for Catalfamo to use while here in NYC — it swaps in some durum, which gives the noodle a little more of a bite. He uses that particular noodle in the doppio bowl, which is an important element of that dish because it’s made with very little broth. The chef makes it with varying degrees of spiciness, heating it up with his own mixture of sansho pepper and Mexican chile. “I like spicy; my family is from Sicily,” he says.

Sun Noodle made a special durum-blend noodle for the pop-up.
Sun Noodle made a special durum-blend noodle for the pop-up.

It might seem unusual for an Italian chef to specialize in a dish that originates in Asia, but for Catalfamo it was an instant click. He says he’d never heard about ramen until six years ago, when he saw a line outside a restaurant and decided to see what people were waiting for. The restaurant was Ippudo here in New York, and that first-time experience changed everything. “It reminded me of Italy — it was pasta, it was soup, but it was something that shocked me.”

Catalfamo set out to learn everything he could about ramen. “I started researching ramen and making my own. After a year I opened my own restaurant in Italy.”

In a twist of fate (or the synchronicity of a global food world), the owner of the Japan-based Ippudo chain visited Casa Ramen while visiting Milan, and he liked it so much that he invited Catalfamo to become a participating vendor at the Shin Yokohama Ramen Museum in Japan, the first non-Japanese chef to do so. “It’s kind of like a dream,” Catalfamo says. “Now I am here in New York, making ramen.”

Ramen Lab is open Tuesday–Saturday from 5–10 p.m. and will feature Luca Catalfamo’s ramen until December 19. Check for updates at Ramen Lab’s website.