Blue Ribbon Sort of Opens in Times Square

Last night I went down memory lane, all the way back to the first date I ever had in New York City. The time is 2007, the spot is Blue Ribbon Bakery, the food is aged cheese—as is my date. But last night I wasn’t munching friend chicken at the quaint West Village haunt. Rather, I was perched in the middle of Times Square at the Renaissance Hotel enjoying the company of the Bromberg brothers themselves. Bruce and Eric Bromberg, the brothers behind the Blue Ribbon Restaurant Group (which includes Blue Ribbon Brasserie, Blue Ribbon Sushi, and Blue Ribbon Bakery Market, among others) held a private cocktail party at R bar to kick-off their plan to offer comfort cuisine at upscale Renaissance Hotels throughout North America. The chefs have teamed up with the Marriott chain’s culinary team to introduce a “Blue Ribbon Classics” menu, which will be available at 20 hotels in key cities starting this Fall. Upon hearing the news, I immediately questioned why they didn’t just go Vegas, or open up a Blue Ribbon in some touristy locale, but I didn’t have to wonder long. The boys pulled themselves away from the coterie at the Renaissance (foodie women treat all chefs like David Cassidy) to chat about why this partnership made sense to them.

After gorging on passed plates of pulled pork sliders, salmon, hummus, and pork rind nachos with the lovely Natasha Huang, the one-woman show behind NH Media, the bothers took over the mic to explain that they were going with Renaissance because they, too, were taking a trip down memory lane.

When they were young, they explained, their love of cooking took them on routine visits to the famous Stanford Court Hotel’s Fournou’s Ovens within one of San Francisco’s landmark hotels. The hotel is now restored and called the Stanford Court Renaissance San Francisco Hotel. They wanted to share their new “Blue Ribbon Classics” menu with the property, and saw it as an opportunity to reach other food lovers all over the country, including in cities like San Fran, New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and Austin.

I’m paraphrasing, because the speech was much more swoon-worthy. The boys created the menu to include twelve signature items, tailored specifically for Renaissance Hotel guests. The comfort food will also feature mini-versions of Blue Ribbon favorites, which will include:

Northern Fried Chicken Wings Manchego and Honey Toast Smoked Salmon Toast Grilled Cheese Panini BBQ Pork Sliders Fried Rock Shrimp

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These Restaurants Will Make You Thin

What are the thin people really eating? The British Journal of Nutrition just published a study this month saying that the trimmest people, those who weighed the lightest, flaunted the slimmest waists, and were proud owners of the smallest hip circumference, had the highest levels of omega 3 fatty acids in their blood. After investigating the commonality, I found that these people were in fact not freebasing flaxseed oil. They were, however, loading up on foods that were rich in omega 3s — grass-fed beef, flaxseed, soy, salmon, etc. No one knows for sure what omega 3s do for the diet exactly … they may stimulate hormones that make you feel full, and they have been shown to improve circulation, which can also aid in weight loss and reducing inflammation. Whatever the case, you can get slim while you dine in New York this weekend; head to a few of these “healthy” joints to load up on the good stuff.

Salmon This cold-water oily fish is optimal for omega 3 intake, and these restaurants are extra careful on choosing their fish. If you’re worried about that whole mercury poisoning thing, take heed: Harvard’s School of Public Health reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association that the benefits of fish intake far outweigh the potential risks. Petrossian (Midtown West) – Perhaps the Carnegie Hall scene is a bit on the hoity-toity side, but the Guatemala shrimp & smoked salmon, salmon roe salad, and premier smoked salmon served with toast points, crème fraiche, and fresh dill are all delish and good for your waist, One If By Land Two If By Sea (West Village) – Feel great on your romantic date by imagining your ass is shrinking with every bite of your smoked salmon. Blue Ribbon Sushi (Soho) – Double your pleasure with a menu that’s heavy in salmon and soy — another omega 3 favorite. Sake tataki, salmon tartare, and that sake shiso salmon with shiso are some to sample. Lure Fishbar (Soho) – A great seafood hot spot, the salmon tartare and grilled salmon with spaetzle, peas, smoked onions, and herb vinaigrette make everything about the resto well-rounded, so your midsection won’t be.

Flaxseed Though is sounds like something health nuts go nutty for, flaxseed is six times richer than most fish oils in omega 3s. The Pump (Flatiron) – Get your flaxseed on with the Pro-Omega shake, a mixed fruit, apple juice, acai, flaxseed oil, and whey protein concoction that is not as scary as it sounds. Actually, I would venture to call it yummy. Organic Avenue (Lower East Side) – Organic health food emporium where you can add flaxseed to just about anything. Try the flax-full fiesta chips.

Grass-Fed Beef Beef fattened on grass is typically waayyyy healthier than all the other crap out there. Now that restaurants know that we now know this, they’ve upped their game. Here are a few restos that get it and get it right. Craftsteak (Chelsea )- Superchef Tom Colicchio’s flesh venture does meat right, and just because the beef is priced by fattiness doesn’t mean it will go straight to your hips. Savoy (Soho) – Their hamburger, made from divine grass fed beef and served with French fries and house ketchup, is pitch perfect. Blue Hill (Greenwich Village) – They have their own farm. You have to guess the Blue Hill Farm veal with broccoli rabe, roasted potatoes, and string beans is true to its name.

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Industry Insiders: Paul Liebrandt, Haughty Cuisiner

Paul Liebrandt has worked in some of New York’s most prestigious kitchens — from the decadent Gilt to the critically acclaimed Atlas. His sometimes atypical ingredient pairings in his early days in New York sometimes drew criticism from diners and journalists, a sore point he’s still hesitant to discuss. His current post at Tribeca’s Corton has earned favorable attention and may arguably be his most successful venture yet. Although getting through to the chef took some doing, we got a decent peek into the culinary mastermind’s lifestyle.

Can you describe a dining experience at Corton? How do you mean describe the dining experience? What does that mean?

Can you describe the menu, the ambiance, the experience for our readers who have yet to dine there? Well the menu is modern, contemporary, I guess. French. It’s a very calm dining experience. It’s very refined. Very elegant. You feel excitement in the food and the service. It’s a very refreshing experience to eat here.

How do you react to criticism of your food or your restaurants? Excuse me? Criticism? What do you mean by criticism of my food?

Any sort of negative press or negative reaction. I mean … everybody’s entitled to their opinion

We’re just wondering if you take in stride, or if that’s something that hits home for you? It’s part of any business that you do … people have the right to voice their opinions. If somebody doesn’t like something, that’s their opinion.

What are some of your favorite menu items currently? We have a lovely Japanese Madai on the menu right now, which is lovely, with summer tomatoes and coconut.

What’s is the most unconventional or daring item on the menu? Unconventional. Daring. Well I guess it depends what you call daring, doesn’t it? What I call daring may not be to someone else. We do have a lovely Stilton cheese ice cream. We serve it with a foie gras. It’s really refreshing. We also serve it with a cold cherry soup. And it’s savory, not sweet.

How are New Yorkers different from diners elsewhere? In other cities where? In this country? Europe? Japan? What?

Is there anything that distinguishes New York diners? New York diners are very discerning; they know what they want, and they are very loyal customers. When they like you, they keep coming back.

Which has been your favorite experience in a kitchen? Which has been my favorite kitchen? Is that what you’re asking?

Yes. For what, the restaurants that I’ve owned? Or just in general?

Just in general. Where I’ve worked?

Where you’ve worked. You mean like my favorite working experience?

Yes, your favorite working experience. Well, they all have great things about them, there isn’t one particular kitchen which is better than another one. If I said that one is better than another one, all the other kitchens would get jealous, wouldn’t they?

What’s one piece of advice you would give to novices cooking at home? Choose good ingredients. And when you cook, it sounds a little corny, but I think it is very true — but cook with passion. And really love what you’re doing.

Is there a starter dish that you would recommend to someone who hasn’t cooked very much for themselves? Since it’s summer time, beautiful, beautiful tomatoes are starting to come out of the market. For myself at home, for someone who doesn’t cook professionally at home, say a lovely tomato salad with maybe a little bit of Burrata sliced over the top. I like smoked sea salt, which you can buy at any good store. Just that, it’s beautiful. Very, very nice.

Where else do you eat or go out in New York? I really enjoy Japanese food, so I’m a big fan of Bar Masa. And Blue Ribbon Sushi.

Do you frequent any bars in Tribeca or elsewhere? Not really, no.

Have you noticed any positive trends in New York dining? I think more and more people are using all sorts of sustainable items on their menus. More people are very aware of the impact of using locally sourced ingredients. I think in general, you see a much bigger swing in that regard. The area that we live in here, within New York City, upstate New York, the Tri-Boroughs, it’s very, very good for their locally-sourced ingredients. I think you see a lot more people utilizing that.

Do you have anyone that you would cite as a mentor? Pierre Gagnaire.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure? A weekend in Paris.

And what do you do during your weekend in Paris? Well, that’s something which your readers will just have to find out about themselves.

What’s your dream spot for a project? New York, of course. I live here, it’s my home.

Industry Insiders: Alessandro Bandini, Scuderia’s Front Man

If you’ve ever visited New York Italian restaurant powerhouse Da Silvano, you’ve probably rubbed elbows and shared a laugh with manager Alessandro Bandini. The gregarious Florentine has put in his time in kitchens and dining rooms at Italian restos around the world, and he’s recently invested his wealth of knowledge in new project Scuderia. Situated across the street from Bar Pitti and Da Silvano on Sixth Avenue, the modern, fresh trattoria serves delectable Italian comfort food in an open, casual environment. We met with Bandini at the new spot and chatted about the menu’s influences, why women love Italian, and the legendary Da Silvano/Bar Pitti feud.

How did the idea for Scuderia come about? We started to think about the possibility of taking over this place because we thought that the location is great, and we have a beautiful sidewalk. The choice fell also because this is our turf. I’ve been working at Da Silvano for 11 years, and I know the people. So Leyla, Fabrizio, Silvano, and myself decided to make a young restaurant with moderate prices, Italian comfort food, to attract neighborhood people and young people in an economy like this. We wanted to compete with maybe Bar Pitti or Lupa, or Morandi, and do something more affordable and younger, that doesn’t have to compete with Silvano. The initial idea was always to do something for everybody. We planned to be open for breakfast from the beginning, but we haven’t done it yet because we want to first concentrate on lunch and then progressively add more and more. We’ve been averaging 200 people a day since we opened so we think it’s working.

Describe the clientele. Many, many ladies come here. Maybe 70%. The female customers love meatballs and pizza. They definitely love fish and the whole fishes like the branzino. We host a lot of large parties with many, many ladies. We love it.

Why do you think you get so many women? I don’t know. I think that the place is kind of — I don’t really like to use this adjective, but — sexy. Since it was designed partially by Leyla, it has a female touch. I also think it’s because of the pricing. On ladies night, the ladies may not want to spend too much. Maybe I’m wrong, but if you go to a nice restaurant, usually it’s the man that takes the tab.

The cuisine is Italian comfort food? We decided to concentrate on what we know about Italian food, which is based on simplicity, first with fresh ingredients, and using the staples like pizza, pasta, and sandwiches with a little twist. We’re using seasonal ingredients and concentrating on what people really like. I love the Ceviche au Scallops. We do some unusual pizza with bleu cheese, speck, and fig jam. In general, people come here and they eat richly.

What are the Florentine and Tuscan touches on the menu? The Tuscan touch is the use of olive oil and the use of game, rosemary, and fresh herbs. It’s also seen in the simplicity of the preparation. There is a fusion of Northern Italian bistro foods with an eye to the American palate. We have a burger made of brisket of beef, so it’s very fatty and juicy. We have staples, like pesto made like they do in Genoa with stringbeans and potatoes. We also have lasagna; a Bolognese dish.

Locally grown products as well? Yes. For instance, now ramps are in season; we use them. Fidela ferns are in season; we use them. Fava beans are in season; we use them. We’ve been serving, when it’s available, local Atlantic sardines, as opposed to sardines from Portugal. Whatever the market offers; we use it — especially in the daily specials.

What happened with your chef, Claudio Cristofoli? Claudio has been, like, a little disappointment because I thought he didn’t believe in the project as much as we tried to make him believe in the project because we have ideas of expansion. If this goes well we would like to replicate the brand. So he could have been part of something greater if he only was a little bit more patient. Unfortunately, he wasn’t.

And do you have ideas for a replacement? We’re evaluating people now. I’m in charge of the back of the house. I try to work with the strong guys that I have, which are very good executors of our menu, which I almost completely designed with Silvano. So it’s not difficult. You don’t need really a metagalactic chef to execute our menu. We just need someone organized.

You have a long history with Silvano. How did you cross paths in the beginning? Silvano used to go to hotel school in Florence with my parents in the 60s. I came here for the first time in 1990 on vacation, and I met Silvano then. I worked for him for a week as a cashier, just to make a couple of extra bucks, and I really liked what he was doing as a host-chef. He inspired me. When I came back to the states in 1996, I started working as a waiter at Da Silvano to make some money. It’s an amazing place, with an amazing clientele — celebrities, beautiful people, beautiful customers — in a trattoria setting. That was the magic about Da Silvano. For 11 years, I worked as a manager there.

How are people in this neighborhood reacting to Scuderia? We have many, many people from the neighborhood. Many curious people wander over from Bar Pitti and Da Silvano. People really like the atmosphere. People also organize little private events in our mezzanine in the back. And now we have this beautiful sidewalk that is really wide and surrounded by trees. I think the place has all the cards. We have a full bar, and so, lots of potential. I think it’s going to be a promising, good summer

How does Scuderia change the neighborhood restaurant dynamic? Are you attracting clientele from Bar Pitti? I think that it would be pretentious to believe that we could steal customers from such an established place like Bar Pitti, but I have noticed Bar Pitti clients and customers coming here. I believe that this place is definitely more fun than Bar Pitti. The food is really good, and we are definitely improving. But Bar Pitti has an amazing amount of regulars that it has built over the years. I see people crossing the street when they have to wait too long. So, instead of having 50 people waiting at Bar Pitti, now they may have 25 because people come here. We are good enough, and we have a young, fun wait staff. The service has been defined as breezy, warm, and friendly. That’s the idea that we want to impose. The food is tasty, but the environment is really nice. The place is very airy with high ceilings.

Is it true that Giovanni Tognozzi from Bar Pitti chased you down 6th Avenue last year? Yeah, it’s true. And it’s funny, really. You should laugh at these things. And I did. I don’t hate Giovanni. I think that Giovanni is a great worker and, unfortunately, I got caught in between him and Silvano. They’ve had this feudal relationship, and it’s a little silly because they’re both making money off each other. You put two Italians — two Tuscans — ten feet away from each other, and it’s not an easy task to keep them calm and quiet. If you know Tuscan people, they’re very argumentative and opinionated, and that’s what created this feud. I got caught in between because I was Silvano’s manager and Giovanni first threw me out of the restaurant and told me I wasn’t welcome in 2004. Last year, I accidentally entered Bar Pitti. I saw an old friend I hadn’t seen in awhile, I went into the terrace, not even inside. I was talking to my friend for less than a minute. Then I left and I didn’t notice Giovanni, so he came after me, around the corner, chasing me. And he told me if I ever, ever tried that again he was gonna have someone shave my head. I wanted to see if you can really do that sort of thing in 2008, without having consequences. I called the police and I went in front of the restaurant and tried to stir the waters a little bit. I kept asking, “Can he do that?” Because I never ever hurt the guy in any way.

Any other stories of the feud? Giovanni threw Fabrizio [Sotti], our partner, out after he was spending tons of money at Bar Pitti. He used to go between Da Silvano and Bar Pitti all the time. Once he found out that Fabrizio would be a partner here with me and Silvano, he kicked him out. It was done ungracefully — he kicked him out in the middle of a meal. Giovanni is a little rough around the edges. He has a few problems. Every single employee at Bar Pitti is forbidden to go to Da Silvano, even in their private life. They will face consequences from Giovanni. They can’t wave or say hello to anyone at Da Silvano. On our side, this feud doesn’t exist. People who work here are free to do whatever they want. Giovanni really wants to keep the feud going. I know friends of Giovanni who are looking for jobs who found out that Silvano was involved at Scuderia, and cannot apply here because they would lose Giovanni’s friendship. I always ask, “Does he pay your rent?”

Who else does it right? I love Al di Là Trattoria in Park Slope. It’s a Venetian trattoria. The menu is small, but has exceptional staples. I like Blue Ribbon Sushi, Aquagrill, and almost anything in this neighborhood.

New York: Top 10 Sushi Spots

Bond St. (Noho) – Though it’s lost some mojo on the hotspot meter, the melt-in-your-mouth sushi and swank décor continue to attract sushi snobs and modelizers alike. ● Sushi Yasuda (Midtown East) – Friendly staff and minimalist looks keep focus on expertly crafted sushi. Dinner will set you back a geisha’s ransom. ● East Japanese (Kips Bay) – Though quality at this mini-chain may not be much better than Food Emporium, for kitschy fun, affordable conveyor-belt sushi spot takes the cake. Sushi discounts on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Yuka (Upper East Side) – Got you covered with their $19 all-you-can-eat deal that won’t have you feeling sick for the rest of the week (just enjoy spicy mayo in moderation).Don’t try and sneak some to your friends, as watchful staff keeps an eye on patrons. ● Blue Ribbon Sushi (Soho) – Loses points for not taking reservations, and the price to indulge in their raw eats will set you back dearly, but there’s no denying that this sushi-snob-approved spot delivers with everything from classic California rolls to more exotic options like the kaki fri made with fried oysters and lettuce. ● Sushi Seki (Upper East Side) – Despite sleepy location, serves stunningly transcendental sushi — in both quality and price – until 3 a.m. ● Morimoto (Chelsea) – In the battle of NYC’s mega-sushi temples — EN Japanese Brasserie, Megu, etc. — Iron Chef Morimoto’s spot comes out on top not only because of the eats, but also because of glossy white interior and not-to-be-missed high-tech bathrooms. ● Jewel Bako (East Village) – Sleek digs and unforgettable omakase dinner make this fittingly named spot a true find; be prepared for stratospherically high prices. ● Sushi of Gari (Upper East Side) – With creations that include salmon sushi with onion cream and roasted tomato, marinated tuna sushi with tofu mayo, and red snapper sushi with arugula salad and fried lotus root, Chef Gari-san is the Wylie Dufresne of sushi. ● Sushi Zen (Midtown West) – Masa and its $400 sushi gets most of the attention, and Nobu gets all the stars, but Sushi Zen trumps them both with fresher than fresh sushi artfully prepared and presented by Chef Suzuki, who is not only licensed to serve potentially deadly fugu, but is the chef often credited with first introducing Americans to sushi.