Fake It To Bake It: What Men Are Faking On V-Day

Oh yeah? You thought only women faked it? Well when it comes to doing the deed in the kitchen, men have got their act perfectly rehearsed. This Valentine’s Day, guys are ordering their romantic “home-cooked” dinners for their dates from homey Italian spot Casa Nonna. For $500, the Hell’s Kitchen restaurant is offering an “Ultimate Guide to ‘Faking’ It” dinner kit, complete with a four-course meal, sommelier-chosen bottle of wine, candles and placemats, and a pre-dirtied – yes, already dirty ­– apron and cookware. Does it come with brow sweat and chopped onion-induced tears, too?

Here’s the restaurant’s reasoning:

 “Rather than a dinner and a movie or a phone call, dating has resolved to a text, a drink after 10pm, or a “group date” with buddies. Casa Nonna wants to help bring romance back for those culinary challenged through their Ultimate Guide to “Faking It” deluxe dinner kit for two.”

What happens when the date finds the Nonna receipt and tupperware labeled “Faking It” stuffed under the bed? What will she think of her guy standing there against the oven in his apron that’s been pre-smudged in a kitchen far, far away? If relationships are about reciprocating, than I can guess what she’ll be doing later…

Find all the info about Casa’s Faking It dinner here, and follow Bonnie on Twitter.

The New Pleasures of Old-American Dining at Harding’s

In a vast, high-ceiling space in the Flatiron District, Ryan Nivakoff, Spencer Slaine, and Justin Finn have just opened Harding’s, an old-American restaurant situated in what used to be the southern eatery Gravy.

In just a few months, the team refurbished the whole place with the help of designer Libbey Gillette. The new space features framed vintage newspapers, Civil War bullets nestled into the wall, a private dining room overlooking the main floor, and a 40-seat, repurposed black walnut bar from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Dangling on an exposed brick wall is an antique, 45-star American flag from 1895, which gets bathed in soft light by elegant chandlers.

Helming the kitchen at Harding’s is ACME‘s former chef de cuisine and Hell’s Kitchen season six contestant Ariel Fox, who is whipping up classic, non-diner American food. What, in this day in age does a traditional American meal consist of? 

Delving into the history of our food brings up classics like Delmonico steaks, and you can expect at least one similar dish on Fox’s menu. They also have a Waldorf salad, a recipe that dates back to the late 1800s and comes from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. Even further back in food history is Oysters Rockefeller, a dish created in the New Orleans’ restaurant Antoine’s in 1840, and one they serve at Harding’s.

While not all of these old school plates might be familiar to you, Fox is serving one thing all Americans recognize—Thanksgiving dinner. But, it won’t just be for this month; she plans on making this a year-round special. Plus, the America theme doesn’t stop at the food and décor, Harding’s also sources all liquor, beer, and wine from the U.S.A. 

Between the awesome setting and American all-star menu, Harding’s appears to have a great way for us to pursue happiness, life and liberty.

Photo by Jane Bruce

Guest Chefs: Getting Chefs Out of the Restaurants

When Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen finalist Paula DaSilva showed her Miami heat to the James Beard House yesterday, the 1500 Degrees executive chef brought with her not only the whole kitchen staff, but a little bit of sunshine to the five-course menu. As the beaming DaSilva thanked everyone for coming, I felt the praise went to her for letting me try her Brazilian-inspired, farm-to-table food without ever having to step on a plane.

As the concept of celebrity chef becomes increasingly popular, a lot of other restaurants are sending their cooks to the city to showcase their food in a series of one-up dinners. Sine 1986 the not-for-profit James Beard House has been one of the biggest providers of this type of dining. Some upcoming meals to look forward to include the pork-centric feast by Daniel Doyle of Poogan’s Porch in Charleston on June 14. Then they host more Hell’s Kitchen alumni as Connecticut based chefs Kevin Cottle and Van Hurd do a soft shell crab extravaganza on July 11, and, on July 19, chef Adam Keough from the San Francisco will bring a taste of Absinthe Brasserie and Bar to the table.

City Grit is another way to experience chefs from around the country. Run by Food & Wine’s Home Cook Superstar Sarah Simmons, the pop-up establishment is meant to showcase chefs that don’t always get to be the stars of their own restaurants or ones visiting the city. Today and tomorrow, they feature award winning chef John Currence from City Grocery in Mississippi as part of their new series “Secrets Behind the Chef.” Past chefs have included Top Chef contestant Ty-Lor Boring previewing his upcoming restaurant and “the angry chef” from Atlanta, Ron Eyester. The schedule goes up monthly, so check it out for upcoming events.

For those wanting to try star chef’s food in a more intimate setting, and give something to charity, on July 24 Just Food and the Sylvia Centerhave put together A City Farmer, A Chef, and A Host a series of 14 dinners that take place at private homes around the city. Though this event is geared toward local chefs, it’s a good way to try some food from some of the hottest restaurants around and features chefs like Dan Kluger from ABC Kitchen, Robert Gurvich of Alison Eighteen, and Andrew Carmellini of The Dutch. It’s expensive, sure, but lets you experience these chefs in a whole new light.

No matter which way you go, the time of having to go to one restaurant (or many, if it’s Danny Meyer) to sample a chef’s cuisine is slowly changing, which is great for many diners. 

What of the Now Todd English-less Ember Room?

When the Ember Room opened up in February 2011 in Hell’s Kitchen, it did so with fanfare, parties, and with chefs Todd English and Ian Kittichai backing the project. Not long after it opened, Ember Room fell into that same problem a lot of celebrity-owned restaurants do: the food, service, and vibe all rode on names and in the end, didn’t deliver. Basically, it sucked. Now Todd English has stepped down from the Ember Room, a move he did quietly a few weeks ago, and has let Kittichai take over the kitchen. So what will become of the Ember Room? Will it continue to smolder or will it gradually cool to stillness?

Perhaps English’s move is smart, he has after all been running restaurants since the 1980s when he opened Olives in Massachusetts. Since then he has quickly moved up in the restaurateur world, starting businesses, staring on his own TV show, and writing numerous cookbooks. Maybe he just heard Ember Room’s death rattle, after all, it’s not unusual for celebrity helmed eateries to fail when the restaurant doesn’t step up to the plate. For example look at Britney Spears’s short-lived NYLA in New York or J-Lo’s Madres in California. Some restaurants, like the Heath Ledger’s Five Leaves, remain strong even when the celebrity presence is gone, and that’s usually due to its solid food and service.

Kittichai, in his thick Thai accent agrees and says, “I want to make this restaurant more impressive, more fun about eating, more fun about experiencing. Like, trying the Ladyboy [cocktail].”Aside from the whimsical drink list and recognizable Asian-flare themed dishes like lobster pad Thai, whole striped bass, and juicy volcano chicken, Kittichai has worked to recreate the menu into something people, not just tourists wanting to eat at a famous chef’s restaurant, will make an effort to go out and try.

Under Kittichai’s command, the food offerings appear to have perked up, though it still remains safe for diners not really wanting something too different or spicy. The chef also tapped into today’s current trend of comfort-fusion food by adding dishes like green curry lasagna, Thai chili mac n’cheese, and Thai tacos with shredded chicken, coconut, and a sweet chili sauce.

In the end, perhaps English’s exit was a good thing. He might have brought the crowds but it is Kittichai’s name carries weight in food-conscious circles. So we hope: English is gone but the Ember burns on.  

The Dish: Georgica’s Gorgonzola Mashed Potatoes

What: Gorgonzola mashed potatoes, a strong, stand-on-its-own side dish. Where: Georgica Restaurant & Lounge, East Hampton’s resident gourmet eatery turned nighttime hotspot. Ideal meal: Open Thursday to Sunday, so plan accordingly. The perfect pre-game dinner for a big night out, beachy style. Because: Chefs Robert Hesse & Seth Levine of Hell’s Kitchen fame knows how to keep a menu in check, and owners Antonio Fuccio and David Schulman will make sure you’re dining with the upper echelon of the Hamptons set. Tastes like: Gorgonzola has an unusual bite that makes these mashed taters far from dull. Bottom line: $10 as a side. No complaints here.