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Two Fucking Dinners


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Past Omnivore events in New York have been subverted by organizational ineptitude. This June, it seemed like Omnivore is simply cursed: it isn't necessarily anyone's fault that the chosen venue -- John Fraser's demi-popup, What Happens When -- lost its liquor license just before the events were to proceed. So they were moved to a less assertedly "cool" location -- Fraser's Uptown restaurant Dovetail -- and there we were.

 

The Three Fucking Dinners featured mash-ups of foreign and local chefs. I attended the two that intrigued me: Copenhagen's Mads Reflund v. Gramercy Tavern's Michael Anthony, and Paris's Giovanni Passerini v. Roberta's Carlo Mirarchi. The chefs alternated courses. They didn't tell you which was whose -- but alert diners could tell.

 

Reflund v. Anthony (June 9)

 

The First Fucking Dinner showed us that there's something to the New Scandinavian style -- and also that there's a difference between minimal and boring.

 

Few remember it now, but Chef Reflund -- a close friend of Rene Redzepi's -- was one of the two opening chefs at Noma. The friends found they couldn't work together, so Reflund then went to open his own restaurant in the same style, MR. MR has gone through some stylistic alterations and some financial vicissitudes as well. It is now a New Scandinavian restaurant focusing on fish.

 

I managed to lose the menu from a few weeks ago, and have no solid recollections of particular dishes except of an exceptional lobster dish that Chef Reflund prepared. But the alternating courses drove home to me that I do not like Michael Anthony's food. I admire its chaste emphasis on the purity of the ingredients, but I think it's boring. Chef Reflund similarly focuses on ingredients -- but even an ocean away from the unique Nordic ingredients he favors, his food was still fascinating and flavorful, with unique flavor combinations that work. (The food he served at this dinner, at least, seemed less determinately weird than his friend Redzepi's.) This is food that makes you rethink how dishes might work. Whereas Chef Anthony's just sit there on the plate.

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Passerini v. Mirarchi (June 10)

 

This was a closer match-up. Especially because the two chef's styles are so similar.

 

Chef Passerini serves French-inflected Mediterranean-oriented food with an Italian basis. Maybe Chef Mararchi's food is earthier, with less of a French inflection, but really how different is what he serves?

 

It wasn't until the outrageously good sweetbreads with buttermilk, onion, and smoked fish(!)(?), which I think was Chef Mirarchi's, that I was really able to tell whose food was whose. But looking back on the menu now, I'm not sure. It was all pretty great.

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Past Omnivore events in New York have been subverted by organizational ineptitude. This June, it seemed like Omnivore is simply cursed: it isn't necessarily anyone's fault that the chosen venue -- John Fraser's demi-popup, What Happens When -- lost its liquor license just before the events were to proceed. So they were moved to a less assertedly "cool" location -- Fraser's Uptown restaurant Dovetail -- and there we were.

 

The three dinners featured mash-ups of foreign and local chefs. I attended the two that intrigued me: Copenhagen's Mads Reflund v. Gramercy Tavern's Michael Anthony, and Paris's Giovanni Passerini v. Roberta's Carlo Mirarchi. The chefs alternated courses. They didn't tell you which was whose -- but alert diners could tell.

 

Reflund v. Anthony (June 9)

 

The first dinner showed us that there's something to the New Scandinavian style -- and also that there's a difference between minimal and boring.

 

Few remember it now, but Chef Reflund -- a close friend of Rene Redzepi's -- was one of the two opening chefs at Noma. The friends found they couldn't work together, so Reflund then went to open his own restaurant in the same style, MR. MR has gone through some stylistic alterations and some financial vicissitudes as well. It is now a New Scandinavian restaurant focusing on fish.

 

I managed to lose the menu from a few weeks ago, and have no solid recollections of particular dishes except of an exceptional lobster dish that Chef Reflund prepared. But the alternating courses drove home to me that I do not like Michael Anthony's food. I admire its chaste emphasis on the purity of the ingredients, but I think it's boring. Chef Reflund similarly focuses on ingredients -- but even an ocean away from the unique Nordic ingredients he favors, his food was still fascinating and flavorful, with unique flavor combinations that work. (The food he served at this dinner, at least, seemed less determinately weird than his friend Redzepi's.) This is food that makes you rethink how dishes might work. Whereas Chef Anthony's just sit their on the plate.

In 2008, my second best dinner in Copenhagen was MR. Brilliant all around. The winner, though, that holiday was, not surprisingly, noma -- which meal I preferred a bit more than my dinner at nome last year in 2010.

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I remember when Dan Barber and Michael Anthony were both snugly working in the Blue Hill kitchen, and various mavens argued strongly that Anthony was a wonderful chef while Barber was responsible for muting the flavors of the food.

 

I still have no idea whether such an analysis could even be applied, but it's noticeable that M.A. has drifted off the foodie radar somewhat at Gramercy Tavern, while people who disdained Barber's food in Greenwich Village find it staggeringly good now it's in the middle of nowhere.

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The last dinner I had at Gramercy Tavern, a couple of months ago, was superb in every way, and not at all lacking in flavor or interest.

 

The first and only dinner I had at Blue Hill, many years ago (so long ago it was with eG friends, some of whom are long gone), was so bland that I have never had any desire to return.

 

Then again, if we all agreed here, what fun would there be?

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What's interesting is that I don't find Chef Anthony's food bland, the way I usually find Chef Barber's food (although I have to admit that Chef Barber has gotten much better at flavoring things recently). I just find it boring. It's hard for me to articulate what I mean by this: no vibrancy, no depth. When I said "the food just lays there," I meant it (even though that's a purely subjective assessment).

 

Certainly can't fault his technique. His stuff, at Gramercy and at this event, is always in my experience superbly prepared.

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Passerini v. Mirarchi (June 10)

 

This was a closer match-up. Especially because the two chef's styles are so similar.

 

Chef Passerini serves French-inflected Mediterranean-oriented food with an Italian basis. Maybe Chef Mararchi's food is earthier, with less of a French inflection, but really how different is what he serves?

 

It wasn't until the outrageously good sweetbreads with buttermilk, onion, and smoked fish(!)(?), which I think was Chef Mirarchi's, that I was really able to tell whose food was whose. But looking back on the menu now, I'm not sure. It was all pretty great.

 

It's funny but Rino stands out like a sore thumb in Paris for how deeply Italian it is (and I don't mean that in a very good way, although I hear the restaurants serves repeat customers much better food), while when served in nyc I can see how it'd magically transform itself into French-Med with some Italianisms.

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That's an interesting and I'm sure correct point. But please note that I very carefully tried to write that his food was "Italian-based" and only "French-inflected" and "Mediterranean-oriented". Meaning, basically Italian. I can see how that didn't come across very clearly.

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Point taken.

 

Anyway, I think the odds of Carlo having a two Michelin star joint to his name over the next couple of years are very high, which gives omnivore an incentive to associate his name with their events. (whatever incentive they have for holding them, i'm still not sure)

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