#NoGoatLeftBehind: The Farmer’s Dinner Series at The Fat Radish

Serendipity placed The Fat Radish’s most recent Farmer’s Dinner on Sunday night, an evening that turned out to be the first brisk one of the season. Huddled inside the cozy front bar, invited guests like jewelry designers Lizzie and Kathryn Fortunato mingled with the rest, sipping on crisp sekt and nibbling on what turned out to be many’s first experience with goat, the theme of the evening. The second of the Farmer’s Dinner series, No Goat Left Behind was the much anticipated sequel to the enormously successful first installment, Let’s Get Piggy With It, in which nose to tail dining took a literal turn and a single pig was utilized for every dish served.

No Goat Left Behind is an initiative formed to raise diners’ awareness of two issues – first being that our country’s insatiable appetite for goat cheese leads to an abundance of wasted goat meat, (and as such, mistreated animals,) the second being that goat is delicious. Most admitted their familiarity with the protein du jour was limited to Jamaican curries and Indian stews, with a nervous excitement for what Chef Phil Lewis had in store. The evening kicked with an assortment of crostini featuring goat liver mousse, goat tartar, and goat heart, and a goat charcuterie board, which the group inhaled.

The five-course meal was the perfect antidote for the shock of the surprisingly cold night, with diners sitting communally around candlelight, enjoying the menu among the constant chatter of new friends discussing each course. Beginning with a croquette, both rich and light, cut with cucumber, dill, and yogurt, the food proved to be warm and enveloping. The wines, by Savio Soares Selections, paired unexpected grapes from small organic wineries with traditional flavor attributes – the Pinot Grigio, for instance, mimicked the most pitch-perfect Riesling to the goat croquette. The next course moved to a goat and quinoa-stuffed cabbage unlike anything you’ve choked down at a family reunion, swimming in a veloute of potato and garlic, followed by a family-style platter of braised goat and served over soft, velvety polenta. The roasted loin and leg of baby goat with mashed potatoes used its decadence to set up for the dessert, a fennel and goat’s milk panacotta, garnished with grapefruit and cracked black pepper, the perfect crisp astringency to take one down from the luxurious umami of the entire evening.

By the end of the dinner, the crowd – the type of people that marketers pray for, designers, chefs, hoteliers, architects, and jewelry designers – gave a final toast, celebrating the talent behind the meal, the organizers who toiled over the details, and the cause itself – the celebration of the unsung and incredible goat. Nicholas Wilber, former chef at The Fat Radish, now uptown at Silkstone’s newest venture, The East Pole, may have said it best: “it’s kind of like that ‘kale’ moment.” With goat making regular appearances on the specials menu at The East Pole, and an evening in which every cuisine of now benefits from it, that may just be the case.

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Industry Insiders: Matt Levine, Native Son

New York entrepreneur Matt Levine is busier than ever these days. Not only is Sons of Essex, the upscale American restaurant he co-owns with Michael Shah, one of the hottest tables on the Lower East Side, he’s also staying on top of the duo’s just-opened drink spot, Cocktail Bodega. We caught up with Levine to ask him about his background, his hospitality ideas, his favorite hangouts, and what exactly goes into a “Gin Hulk” cocktail. 

Where are you from and how did you get into the hospitality business?
I was born and raised in Brooklyn, then grew up right by the JFK airport, in the Five Towns area. You could say I grew up in the hospitality business, bar-backing and serving while in high school and then bartending during college, and eventually bartending in the city every summer.  From my later teen years and early twenties, I started throwing parties and special events throughout the city. Working within the fashion and nightlife world, I started a clothing line in 2004.  Besides giving me an opportunity to travel, the clothing line gave me a creative outlet and the resources to eventually invest in my real passion-hospitality. At the age of 26 I opened The Eldridge.
 
What was the Eldridge like?
The Eldridge provided another creative outlet, and in that 1,000 square foot space, we did some amazing things.  The Eldridge had a great run, was a learning experience from an operational standpoint, and gave me the opportunity to operate F & B on a hotel level, as well as open up satellite locations and management deals. And then when 133 Essex Street came into discussion, I had an asset with The Eldridge, and an opportunity to sell the liquor license and the lease for 247 Eldridge Street, so I did so, and started building out what is now Sons of Essex.
 
What is an average day like for you, if there is such a thing as an average day?
I generally wake up at 7:00 am every morning, check emails, watch a little ESPN, walk my extremely lazy and stubborn English bulldog, Boss, and get to my office by 8:30 am.  I’ll head to Sons of Essex in the afternoon for meetings, and to our new project-Cocktail Bodega.  I generally get home around 8:00 pm, walk Boss again (or should I say he walks me) – then head back to Sons of Essex for dinner with friends and then … it starts all over the next day. Exciting, right?
 
What’s the greatest challenge of running a successful restaurant?
The greatest challenge is keeping consistency levels to the standards we expect. It’s always someone’s first experience at Sons of Essex, always someone’s first Asian calamari salad, someone’s first truffle mushroom pizza and so on – so it’s important to have the customer service and quality of product perfected. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
 
What kind of place is Sons of Essex? Where did the name come from?
We named the restaurant after the Sons of Liberty, who were a movement of shopkeepers, artisans, workers, and tradesmen who held down places like the Lower East Side when the British tried to take it over.  The Sons of Liberty were the voice of the people, the voice of the streets (organizing the Boston Tea Party, taking down the Stamp Act) and with us being located on Essex Street, we wanted to pay homage to those who looked out for our rights, the people’s rights. Sons of Liberty + Essex Street = Sons of Essex
 
What’s the menu like?
The Sons of Essex menu is a reflection of the diverse melting pot of cultures that have helped develop the Lower East Side to what we know of it today.  The old-school scene has been described as a Bowery Boys atmosphere and Gangs of New York vibe that pays homage to the history of the Lower East Side. We fuse a traditional American comfort food menu with the spices of Lower East Side immigrants and the use of local ingredients and Essex Street Market fruits and vegetables.
 
Tell me about Cocktail Bodega. 
Cocktail Bodega serves liquor-blended smoothies and spiked fresh-squeezed juices, with a creative and innovative take on traditional street food by my dude, Chef Roblé.
 
Where does the Bodega part come in?
Bodegas represent a strong sense of community within the Lower East Side, and with the use of fresh fruits and fresh vegetables in the cocktail program at Cocktail Bodega, the name Bodega seemed like a natural fit.
 
Will cocktail bodega specialize in any particular spirits or cocktails?
Throw a little vodka into your strawberry-mango smoothie, or have some rum with fresh vegetable juice, that’s what Cocktail Bodega is all about.
 
What’s your favorite cocktail to get there?
My favorite cocktail is the Gin Hulk: Hendrick’s Gin, freshly juiced apple, freshly juiced cucumber, freshly juiced spinach, lemon squeeze, and a cucumber garnish.
 
Other than your own venues, where do you like to go out in New York?
When not at Sons of Essex, I have my Lower East Side comfort zone. Barrio Chino, Les Enfants Terribles, Fat Radish for dinner, 169 Bar, Epstein’s, and Motor City for cocktails.  Throw me anywhere with my friends, a beer, and I am good.
 
To what do you attribute your success? Any secrets you can share?
I think it’s important to put your staff and team first, and lead by example.  When you walk into Sons of Essex, you aren’t coming because of the owners, you are coming because of the atmosphere and vibe, the customer service, and of course, most important – the food itself. All of this is a shared vision. I laid out the foundation and the operations, but the staff executes all the deliverables for the customer experience.
 
What do you like to do in your spare time to relax and recharge?
Bikram yoga is my relax & recharge time, checking out Hester Street Fair on Saturdays for good grub, hanging at Tompkins Square Park to chill, checking out an indie film at the Angelica or Sunshine … all help me balance the work week.
 
[Photo: The Lo-Down]

Pack a Precious Picnic for the 2012 Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic

If you’re without plans for the 2nd of June, and you dig posh picnics and polo ponies, we highly suggest the fifth-annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic held at Liberty State Park, less than thirty minutes from BlackBook’s humble offices. Gentlemen dress thee dapper. Ladies, avoid stilettos, as the field may be loamy (May we suggest these.). Go forth and lighten your rigid summer schedule with some quality time with NYC’s most regal citizens. Naturally, you’ll need some snacks while you’re watching the action, but this is no backyard barbecue. That’s where luxury goodie purveyors Silkstone come in.  

Pre-order your custom ambrosial picnic pannier ($130) fashioned by Silkstone and NYC’s endemic duo Ben Towill and Phil Winser, of The Fat Radish and Ruschmeyer’s. In it you’ll find a bodacious banquet to buddy up with your bubbly. Packed with artisanal meats and cheeses, a summer bean salad, and a sandwich sampler which will include thick cut hickory-smoked ham, gruyere, caramelized onions and cornichon butter (this ain’t no PB&J party). Nosh on some strawberries and North Fork potato chips between matches while you clink your flutes and chat upon blonde blankets under canary canopies. 
 
It’s the perfect wedding of effervescent sips, alfresco dining, and stud-ly steeds. In fact, with such an elegant marriage, perhaps Will and Kate will make an appearance. Ok, now we’re starting rumors.
 

What Can You Afford At Frieze Art Fair?

The New York art world exists in little pockets across the city.

There are the galleries in Chelsea, the museums along Fifth Avenue, the studios dotting Bushwick and now, the art fair that ate Randall’s Island.

That’s right, it’s Frieze, the American version of the British art spectacle (born from a magazine of the same name) that has artsy types from curators to performance weirdoes to—the horror!—regular people gearing up to cross the East River and check out what the fair, opening its inaugural U.S. appearance today with 180 exhibitors has to offer.

According to Amanda Sharp, who created the fair with Michael Slotover, it’s going to be as big as possible. Literally.

“We actually can’t build a bigger fair on that site—it’s built to its maximum size from year one,” she told ArtSpace. “It’s quite a shock when you walk out there and realize quite how big it is, but then I feel very comfortable with it because I know that the quality of the galleries is so strong.”

Indeed, galleries from blue-chip galleries like Gagosian and Gavin Brown’s Enterprise will be showing off their wares—and likely attracting some serious collectors. But what’s in it for those of us who aren’t looking to drop a year’s salary on a doodle?

Food. Namely stands from NYC favorites like Roberta’s, The Fat Radish, Frankies Spuntino, The Standard Biergarten and Sant Ambroeus as well as a mess of food trucks. And also culture!

A half-day ticket will run $25, and considering art lovers can take a relatively inexpensive ferry across the river to check out the fair – in a spot most New Yorkers rarely visit, nonetheless – a rare opportunity to see world-class art, travel by boat and eat artisan pizza with some of the city’s wealthiest collectors suddenly seems like a deal.