Unsung Heroes Of Restaurant Eating

I’ve often been told I don’t have enough passion for good food. I’m not especially adventurous, ordering the same thing time after time. I’ll start on a dish when it’s still too hot to taste. I don’t go into raptures about this kind of sushi or that gourmet cupcake. However, this hasn’t prevented me from recognizing talent in the kitchen or, as the case may be, out on the dining area. Because I’ll say this: some people really know how to go to a restaurant.

The fact of these savants occurred to me late the other night at Carnegie Deli, when I saw a man calmly take down a lake-sized latke, five pickles, and an entire corned beef mountain with the steady aplomb of a space shuttle pilot reentering Earth’s atmosphere. (The Rueben sandwich at that place haunts my dreams, a volcano of melted Swiss that has rarely suffered more than a vague dent in its planetary surface.) But in his isolation and singlemindedness he reminded me of a still more awesome hero, a king in the pantheon of excellent ingestion.

This king was a fellow seated next to my wife and me, alone, at P.J. Clarke’s some weeks ago. He ordered their giant burger—enough to evoke a three-hour nap/coma in any mere mortal—and when the waitress returned to ask how it was (he had already finished), he remarked, in slightly accented English: “It was the perfect appetizer.” We were stunned silent at the adjacent table as he proceeded to order a full rack of ribs and strip them clean with his teeth as easily as he’d inhaled the burger. He tipped well and left before we could comprehend what we’d seen, off for dessert elsewhere, to spread his gustatory gospel.

Follow Miles Klee on Twitter.

Industry Insiders: Christopher Gilman, Latin Lover

West Village hotspot Yerba Buena Perry isn’t co-owner Christopher Gilman’s first rodeo. He’s been in the business for more than two decades, but his first ownership role came with this top-notch Latin staple. Gilman met his partner Julian Medina (Toloache, East Village Yerba Buena) out of pure coincidence and the two have been working together successfully ever since. Read about Gilman’s menu recommendations, attempts at going green and making friends in the new neighborhood after the jump.

Yerba Buena backstory: I worked at The Palm steakhouse for 23 years. I was most recently the general manager at the 50th and 8th location. A tiny little restaurant opened up across the street called Toloache, which is Julian Medina’s. From day one, I was blown away by how amazing and flawlessly they opened the place. They did everything perfectly except for one thing, they didn’t have their ice machine down pat. So, they’d come and borrow ice from us daily and Julian and I became really good friends. I needed a change, and we eventually partnered up.

Point of Origin: I was born in Boston but I’ve been all over. I started at The Palm as a bus boy in 1984 in Dallas. I’m not from Texas; I want to make that clear. I just made a wrong turn. I was only there for a couple years, got moved up and I relocated to New York to become their food and beverage buyer back in ’91.

Day-to-day at Yerba Buena: It’s very casual and wonderful because our clientele here is all neighborhood people. It’s not the business high-end. We’re building a neighborhood clientele, and we just get to take care of people. It’s so hands-on. The chef is my partner so everything is done immediately.

Uptown or Downtown: I live in the Upper West Side, but I’d love to move downtown. I’ve just been too busy, so I may move this year.

On giving the regulars preferential treatment: We’re so new that everyone who comes in is a new customer. The hardest thing for me is to say no to a reservation on the phone because it’s definitely not arrogance. We just don’t want to lie to people and have them come in to a packed restaurant. It’s a tricky game, because the first time guests are going to be regulars one day. The great thing is that we have a big bar so people who walk in can eat there. And the bar is a scene because we are making some famous cocktails and it’s always a show to watch.

Best meal: The ceviches are amazing, and we have a wide variety. My personal favorite is the Grilled Black Cod, I think I eat that everyday. I like the Parrillada which is a combination plate of steaks as well.

His biggest reality check: Opening night in August of last year was the best night for me. Seeing the decisions we made for the past eight months all coming together and finishing all the construction was surreal. Watching the crowd come in on opening night was just a huge sense of relief and a dream come true. That was the craziest night for me so far, just seeing it all in play.

Go-to joints: I like A Voce in the Time-Warner building, and Marea. I love that place. My girlfriend is a ballet dancer for the Metropolitan Opera, so a lot of times we’ll just meet at P.J. Clarke’s, after her shows.

Hobbies: I ride my motorcycle 12 months out of the year, it’s a Vespa 250. I have to do yoga three to four times a week. All we do is deal with people all day long so just to go into that room and not think about anything is pretty amazing.

On chef/partner, Julian: Julian is an artist. He’s traveled a lot, and when he was building the menu, he just picked out his favorite dishes from all over South America, and put the Julian Medina flair on them. We have a ribeye ceviche which no one else has, and his arepas are just amazing. From the Ropa Vieja de Pato to the watermelon fries, everything has his distinctive touch.

Worst habit? Parking my bike on the sidewalk. And probably overdosing on those watermelon fries.

Going green gone awry: We went and ordered metal straws to try and get rid of the plastic ones, but for some reason some people still want plastic. We’re not an organic restaurant, but we’re trying to do the right thing with everything we buy.