This Week’s NYC Happenings: Open Market, Film Feast, The Big Cheesy

MONDAY: Meat & Greet At The Meatpacking Fundraiser
Diane von Furstenberg and Theory’s Andrew Rosen are among the boldface names coming out tonight for the Meatpacking District Improvement Association’s inaugural fundraiser. Highline Stages will host, with the whole neighborhood on hand for sampling. The Misshapes and Nancy of LCD Soundsystem are on DJ duty. Food and booze will be provided by the likes of Catch, Bagatelle, and Serafina. Joie, Jay Godfrey and, of course, VF highlight the sample sales.

Open Market at Highline Stages (440 W. 15th St., the Meatpacking District) starts 8pm, Monday the 18th. General admission tickets are $150. To learn more about the event space, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

TUESDAY: A Reel Cool Time At Nitehawk
Nitehawk Cinema takes dinner and a movie to a new level as part of their Tuesday night series known as “Film Feast.” Chef Sarah Nguyen of Marc Forgione lays out five courses of French cuisine while you enjoy the Parisian flair of Amélie. Absinthe will be paired, d‘accord.

Film Feast’s Améliescreening is at Nitehawk Cinema (136 Metropolitan Ave., Williamsburg) at 7:30pm, Tuesday the 19th. Tickets are $95. To learn more about the cinema, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

SATURDAY: Say Cheese
Pop-up competition The Big Cheesy returns with seven melt masters squaring off at Openhouse Gallery. Returning champs Melt Shop will defend their grilled cheese crown against the likes of Murray’s Cheese Bar, ’wichcraft, and Sons of Essex.

The Big Cheesy at Openhouse (201 Mulberry St., Nolita) runs from noon–7pm on Saturday the 23rd and Sunday the 24th. Tickets are $25. To learn more about the gallery and event space, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

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New York Openings: Mehtaphor, ‘wichcraft, Pelea Mexicana

Mehtaphor (Tribeca) – Graffiti’s Jehangir Mehta expands his empire. Where else are you going to get oysters with Pop Rocks? ● ‘wichcraft (Chelsea) – Sandwiches and cocktails from the Craft crew, inside the Starrett-Lehigh Building. ● Pelea Mexicana (Tribeca) – Massive, upbeat Mexican ready to fight a difficult Tribeca address.

The Dish: ‘wichcraft’s Spaghetti & Sweet Sausage

What: Spaghetti & Sweet Sausage with rapini, tomato, and shiitake mushrooms Where: Flatiron location of ‘wichcraft, the most mellow of Tom Colicchio’s Craft eateries in a two block radius. Ideal meal: The super laid back upstairs dining area makes ‘wichcraft the perfect suppertime setting for a non-fussy meal. It’s small and relatively quiet, so great for catching up and getting to know your date (if that’s your intention). Because: Like most items on the dinner menu, the spaghetti is understated and executed with relative perfection. The rapini doesn’t overpower the savory flavor of the sausage, and the shiitake mushrooms are of the melt-in-your-mouth variety. Tastes like: A delicately-balanced combo of sweet and salty over buttery spaghetti noodles. Bottom line: The plates aren’t gigantic, but they’re enough food to be filling if paired with breads and sides. At $11, you can’t really complain much. Especially if you’ve paid $9+ for a lunch sammie here.

BlackBook’s Work Week Lunch: Union Square & Flatiron

Every day without fail Senior Editor Nick Haramis comes over to Assistant Editor Ben Barna’s desk and debates lunch. They aren’t necessarily arguing about where to go, they’re arguing about logistics, how quickly they want to eat, type of food and, most importantly, the length of walk, since the selection of good eating around Union Square is sprinkled throughout the Flatiron, Gramercy and even Greenwich Village. Here, a list of what is getting Seamless Webbed, called in and brought back to the BlackBook offices during the workday lunch.

Office image BlackBook Media 29 East 19th Street, 4th Floor (Park Ave. & Broadway) Eating Hood: Union Square, Flatiron, Nearby: ABC Carpet, Pipa, Starbucks on the corner.

Union SquareDogmatic– Saucy gourmet dogs in toasty baguette jackets about which our Vice President of Content Chris Mohney says simply “luv.” Sunde Johnson, our Quality Assurance Engineer, usually gets one beef and one asparagus dog since “one will not fill you up.” Get your sausages in beef, chicken, pork, turkey, lamb or asparagus form. Smother it in cheddar jalapeno sauce, horseradish mustard, truffle gryere, chimichurri, sun dried tomoto feta or mint yogurt. Handmade sodas in summer are quite nice as well. Tip: Johnson has an aversion to bringing messy food to her desk. “I get jalapeno cheese sauce on the side, a lot of people get the sauce in the actual bun, but it can get really messy.” ●Republic– Minimalist fave of Partnerships and Promotions dude Andrew Berman and myself. Only vaguely communist, which is more fun than the full-bore thing. Andrew is a fan of #15- the Vietnamese Vegetable Noodles (cold rice vermicelli, mint, broccoli, celery, carrots, tofu egg, shallots, bean sprouts, peanuts) while I’m a Glass Noodles person myself (#33 sauteed chicken, green & red bean noodles, carrots, celery, bean sprouts, onions, sesame seeds, ginger dipping sauce). Tip: If you are ordering with some picky eaters from your office, remind them of the sandwich shop in the front which takes advantage of the Baogette and Vietnamese sandwich trend. ●Coffee Shop– Wanna-models, PR flacks, and the occasional leather ‘n’ jean diehard pack this vast diner space, and during the daylight hours we like to take out to take a gander at all of the hungover club people. Our high-ups visit it for other reasons of course, to talk business on lunch breaks. Mohney makes his pilgrimage “never for coffee,” but confirms its “still decent for small power lunch.” If I’ve been surviving on Lean Cuisines all week I’ll begin to crave the Sesame Chicken & Bok Choy Salad with shredded crisp tortilla. Tip: Spring time wait for tables on the patio are horrendous. Send your intern to camp out if you’ve gotta impress a client. ●Chop’t– The lines are as long as Disney Land’s, but nothing beats having your salad chopped within an inch of becoming soup. You might feel like you’re an old Italian woman ordering Pancetta (I said finely sliced not beer coasters buddy!) but nothing feels as good as not being able to taste your bean sprouts, but knowing they’re there. Barna usually “makes it as cheap as possible” and orders a standard DIY salad with four toppings, and I echo this sentiment. Other lovers: Haramis (after months of convincing him that the worms they found in the salad were at Tossed, not Chop’t) and Berman who goes Greek from time to time. Tip: They have cans of Fresca, which is a highly sought after commodity in this office. ●Laut– A favorite of Features Editor Willa Paskin and Marketing Manager Julie Fabricant, who prefers the Tom Yam Gung soup, featuring lemongrass spicy broth with been sprouts, bamboo shoot, mushrooms, basil, mint and cilantro. The red and green curries, which come with a combo of duck, shrimp and beef for $14, chicken, pork and squid for $13, vegetables and tofu for $11, red snapper, salmon and scallop for $15, or soft shell crab and mixed seafood for $16. Tip: Escape from work to this cozy place if you can, it’s a nice mental retreat and still bustling enough to keep you off the Blackberry. ●Ennju– A fave of the adventurous eaters in the office, a grab-and-go for Japanese fast food. Kimchi, weird looking salads and imported candies round out the surprisingly big selection. I usually go for the spicy tuna rolls and pick at the small salad bar. Tauginas swears they have some of the best udon noodles in the area and Mohney is in it for the solid selection of quick sushi. Tip: Place slows down and gets all cafe-ish after the lunch rush.

Nearby Picks: Union Square Cafe, Blue Water Grill, Havana Central, Lillie’s, Hallal street meat on the corner of 17th and Broadway, City Bakery Soup & Sandwich

image Flatiron‘wichcraft– Not to be confused with Craft and Craftbar that also takes up residence in the area, this fast and fab ‘wich shop satisfies the inherent foodies in the office, on days we can afford to splurge. “Try the Smoked Ham breakfast sammich,” Tauginas advises, “it’s a baguette with butter, avocado and ham.” Dan Murphy orders the Gruyere Grilled Cheese and tomato soup religiously. Tip: If you want to escape for a work lunch, this sandwich shop has a hidden restaurant space where you can sit down and enjoy a ‘wich during lunch and a selection of small plates during the dinner hour. Nearby: Craftbar, EquinoxEisenberg’s– Julie Fabricant and Willa Paskin’s favorite “Jewish deli food” as described by Fabricant, who orders the corn beef and chopped liver on rye or pumpernickel. Good portions and a hefty breakfast menu. Tip: The sides are really cheap, so if you’re having one of those days where you can’t decide what you want, load up on cottage cheese, fruit salad, knish, or stuffed derma. ●Azuki Sushi– Rises above the sushi masses with an offer you can’t refuse, really, one that you can afford. The bento boxes from Azuki can be seen on any given desk throughout the week. Stupid fresh fish that stays fresh through delivery. Sushi, Teryaki or sashimi boxes fill you up and are under $10. Old Town Bar– “When beer is required” says Mohney. Chi-town-esque oasis near Union Square, proudly lubricating the locals since 1892 and the BlackBook staff since 2007. If you need a room big enough for a media company to get boozed up, the upstairs is the perfect size for the occasion. ●Shake Shack– Is it worth standing on line forty-five minutes for an undersized, over-salted burger? Yes, friends, yes. And with whisps of forty degree weather, we’re biting at the chomp for the grand Madison Square Park opening. Tip: If you have interns, barter with them to stand in line as a proxy in exchange for free shakes.

Nearby Picks: Houston’s, World’s Best Sandwich Cart (on 20th between Park and Broadway).

Photo: mightysweet.com

Sweet Potato & Goat Cheese: A Bewitching Side From ’wichcraft’s Sisha Ortuzar

Even a humble sandwich shop is, in Manhattan, prone to the haute treatment. Since 2003, ’wichcraft has been laying out gourmet takes on what goes between two slices of bread. Of course, that’s only the beginning. This year, founders Tom Colicchio and Sisha Ortuzar published a book on the subject, ‘wichcraft: Craft a Sandwich into a Meal — And a Meal into a Sandwich. And Ortuzar has turned the upstairs of the Flatiron ‘wichcraft into a destination dining spot. The menu is market-driven and the combinations are creative, like short rib with romesco and grilled scallions, or a trippy fluke ceviche with green mango and watermelon. In that spirit, Ortuzar passes along a side dish that’ll class up any Thanksgiving spread.

It’s an unlikely combination of sweet potatoes, goat cheese, and black olives. I would have thought the olives would skew things in a briny direction, but a little time in the oven tempers them perfectly for this dish. The goat cheese intensifies the creaminess, making for a savory, sophisticated improvement over the marshmallow indignity usually imposed on sweet potatoes this time of year.

Sweet Potato & Goat Cheese Gratin with Black Olives 2 lbs sweet potatoes 3 oz butter, unsalted 1 large shallot, finely chopped ½ cup creamy fresh goat cheese 1/2 cup niçoise olives, pitted 2 tbs olive oil 4-5 basil leaves, finally chopped Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Bake the potatoes at 350˚ until they are completely cooked, soft on the inside (about 35-45 minutes, depending on size). Once they are cool to the touch, scoop out the potato and discard the skins. In a heavy-bottomed pan, over medium heat, brown the butter until it starts turning a hazelnut color and has a nutty fragrance. Add the chopped shallots and allow to cook for about a minute, being careful not to burn the butter. Pour the butter onto the sweet potato and mix. Season with kosher salt and pepper to taste. Place the pitted olives on a small baking sheet and “roast” in a 400˚ degree oven until they are hard and brittle, about 20-25 minutes. Be careful not to burn. Once the olives are cool, chop them with a knife into small pieces, and mix with the olive oil and the basil. This could be done well in advance. Place the sweet potato mix on a baking dish, so that the sweet potato is about 1” thick. Spread the creamy goat cheese over the top, covering most of the potatoes, but leaving the edges uncovered. Bake at 400˚ for about 10-15 minutes, until the cheese and potatoes start to brown in some spots. This gratin wont brown like a traditional potato gratin–the colors of the sweet potatoes and the goat cheese will still be very present. Spoon the olives and basil over the cheese and serve. Serves 4 as a side dish.

If you’re looking for a wine pairing, ’wichcraft’s list of reds is a good place to start. They serve by the glass, half bottle, and bottle. The vintages are Familia Mayol, Malbec Lujan de Cuyo ’07, Vina Echeverria, Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva ’05, Rocca di Montegrossi Chianti Classico DOCG ’05, and Domaine du Murinais, Crozes Hermitage ’06.

Industry Insiders: Katie Grieco, Crafty VP

As vice president of operations and new business development of Craft Restaurant Group, Katie Grieco works shoulder-to-shoulder with famed chef and Bravo’s most recognizable Top Chef personality, Tom Colicchio. Overseeing the Craft, Craftbar, Craftsteak and ‘wichcraft locations nationwide (New York, Dallas, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Las Vegas) Grieco often has her hands full. She gets the job done one restaurant at a time.

Describe a typical day on the job. After the last five years being in this growth mode at Craft, opening on average a restaurant a year, a regular day for me would be normal office daytime hours. My job is dealing with developing new projects. If we’re opening a restaurant in Atlanta, then I’m working with the architect on the design, choosing materials, figuring out table layout, working on hiring managers for particular locations or working with the graphic designer. On any given day, I’m confronted with human resource issues. Someone needs to be hired or fired or counseled. I get involved with that when it takes place at the management level. I’m in constant communication with Tom. When he’s in town, it’s about sitting in his office and keeping him up to speed on everything that’s going on and asking his advice on certain decisions.

It sounds like you’re never out of things to do. No, never. It’s fun that way, and I appreciate the lack of routine because I think it keeps me inspired to continue learning.

Did Tom’s involvement in Top Chef change the dynamic of the company? The only way it changed the dynamic of the company is that it brings a group of people into the restaurant who might not have otherwise come. The show has an enormous fan base, and Tom has an enormous fan base. He gets all sorts of letters of praise, and people who watch the show and know Tom think, “Oh I should go and see what it is that he really does and understand how he is as a chef and why it makes him a good judge.” That’s certainly the main reason why he wanted to do that show in the beginning. He thought, “People know me in New York, but they don’t know who I am in Dallas, and so, if I can do this show it can get the word out about Craft.” It had nothing to do with wanting fame or notoriety in the celebrity sense. His involvement in the show has really achieved the goals that he set out to meet. It’s been a welcome addition to the Craft world.

Are you a Top Chef fanatic? I watch the show religiously because of Tom but partly just because I love it. If I had no involvement in the restaurant business, it would completely turn me off from being a chef. Many years ago, I had visions of being a chef which is sort of why I got into this business.

You started off as Tom’s personal assistant? I got my masters at Cornell in hospitality management, and when I got out, I wanted a management position somewhere. I had no service experience and was not ready to be a manager but signed on to be Tom’s assistant. I thought Gramercy Tavern seemed to be the place I wanted to work. It was probably the best decision I’ve ever made. It got me a career that I love, and I met my husband ant Gramercy Tavern. Tom has given me so much autonomy well before I even deserved it.

Where do you eat and drink outside of Craft? One of my favorites is Lupa. I also like Boqueria. My husband, Paul Grieco, is also in the restaurant business so we go to his restaurants, Hearth, Terroir and Insieme.

Since both of you are in the restaurant business, are you competitive? I suppose some people on any given night are thinking, “Should I go to Hearth or should I go to Craft?” But not really. I think we target different parts of the market, and we’re in different enough neighborhoods.

Has Craft’s emphasis on using local foods wavered at all recently? It hasn’t changed at all. We still have the same priorities as far as using local ingredients and the highest quality ingredients we can find. The recession has made us think of different ways to use the ingredients. For example, we use fava beans for a different use at Frugal Fridays than when we use them at Craft. We can never change the focus of seasonal, high quality ingredients. We could go out of business if we ever did because that’s really what Craft is all about.

Recent positive trends in the industry? When the downturn first happened, I was sitting in management meetings and saying, “Lets not look at this as punishment, let’s look at this as an opportunity to do something great and different and new.” The restaurant business is never easy. It used to be like, if you opened your doors you could makes some money or be trendy enough for a little while. Now things need a shake. There are just too many, and having this opportunity to let the good people rise to the occasion and do some new things has been a lot of fun.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure? My guiltiest pleasure is watching America’s Next Top Model. It’s horribly embarrassing.

What’s your dream spot for a Craft location? I’d have to say London. We’ve talked a lot about it, and we’ve always thought that London would be such a perfect city for a Craft.

Finding Cheap & Chic Eats at ‘wichcraft

Lately, dining out in Manhattan has been feeling a lot like dining in a high school cafeteria. The seats at the popular table are filled with everyone who is anyone, and unless you have Daddy’s Porsche or are cheer captain, you’ll never get to sit. Which is why it has been so difficult to round up my friends for a proper meal in this city. Suggest a reservation, and you’ll receive reservations. “What a headache,” one friend, a spunky PR princess purported. “It’s too expensive to eat anywhere these days, if you can even get a reservation at a good place … it’s like a fucking aristocracy.” No doubt the economic downturn has affected many of my comrades’ fun-funds, making the all-important New York dinner an endangered species. Our “industry” has peer-pressured us into thinking that the only bite worth eating is one we can barely afford, so how do you convince the industry folk that cheap eats can be chic eats?

Last night I gathered a group of fellow editors, stylists, foodies, fashion PR persons, and nightlifers and made a reservation at ‘wichcraft to prove that dinner can be done, and be done well, even if it isn’t a recession-proof McNally favorite.

“So, what is this, like a sandwich shop?” A friend, we’ll call him D, asks as we gather on the street corner near the Gramercy outpost. We must have been too busy taking out loans for our next dinner at the Waverly Inn to notice neighborhood staples like ‘wichcraft adjusting to meet the needs of their patrons in this less-than-balmy economic climate. The go-to lunch spot has introduced a seriously under-hyped new dinner menu in the hideaway upstairs. Chef Sisha churns out creative, hefty plates like blackened beef short ribs, served with a bright tomato salad and pitch-perfect horseradish cream, and the marinated eggplant & goat cheese — a vegetarian favorite — for a puny price. In fact, all 19 dishes on the menu are under $11. Many of last night’s attendees, even the reservation-wielding fashion editors, were dumbfounded to find that Tom Colicchio’s standby sandwich shop had the capacity to produce such refined plates.

Even more surprising: the ambiance of the second floor dining room provided a simple elegance that allowed for dinner-party-caliber seating (there were 15 of us), intimate date nooks, and even some table hopping. Tiny tea lights, stark artwork, and clean lines dominate the space, allowing the focus to fall on your food and friends. “How did you find this place?” someone asked, sure that this was some secret dining club, or fabulous new speakeasy. Aside from the fact that you’ll get some serious street cred from foodie friends, the place stands out for a number of different merits. Reactions were documented.

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Subject: Steven Rojas. Occupation: Man about town (really, a director at Archetype Showroom). Favorite Restaurant: Employees Only. So, how were the drinks? We had white wine for the table, which was plentiful and very good. The dishes are shareable; how are the portions? Each seemed perfect, not too filling, but also hearty I guess you could say? Like, I was interested to try a little bit, and then ended up eating the entire dish? A dish like the meatballs with garlic seemed small, but we split that between two people, and we felt stuffed. How is the food in general? Interesting items, but so good. It was almost surprising that I found myself cleaning the plate of something called pork & pickle. The avocado & radish salad was strangely delicious — a perfect opener and a great alternative to an appetizer salad. I really loved the blackened beef short ribs. The horseradish crème was not overpowering. Is the vibe of the dining room conducive to a group dinner? Yes. But it’s sort of what you make it. We talked about vulgar things, got drunk, and I got some hot girl’s number. It could also be a fun date place. There’s something romantic about sharing plates. How are the prices? I have no idea how I can pay $9 for amazing, creative ceviche here, and $19 for it at another restaurant. It seems like the more creative you get with dishes, the more expensive it is, but I would have to disagree in this case. It seems like I ripped the place off, instead of the other way around, which is the usual. Who would you bring to a place like this? Well, we had a big group, but for $16 bottles of wine, I foresee some after work happy hours. And I’m already planning on taking someone here for a date.

The Bottom Line: With friendly wait staff, a hidden dining room, $16 bottles of wine, and creative food pairings that impresses even the most faddish of guests, perhaps we’ll be able to put focus on great neighborhood favorites the next time we dine, rather than the new hot place.

The Top-Earning Chefs

Stephanie Izard might be bragging to all her friends that she’s some kind of a top chef, but everyone knows the real top chefs are the top-earning ones. Forbes, pathological ranker of wealth, has listed the top ten best-paid chefs. It used to be that Wolfgang Puck was the only celeb chef around (Spago is the tits), but with the rise of the Food Network and shows like Iron Chef, what you do with duck confit can get you just as noticed as the famous mouths you feed.

Rachael Ray sautéed into the top spot with some old-fashioned Oprah endorsements, a few TV shows, a book or two, and of course, an FHM spread. No restaurant needed. Mario Batali, who plops in at number 7, has had some success on TV — but his riches come from his 13 restaurants, Babbo and Lupa, among them. Renegade gourmand Anthony Bourdain makes an obvious appearance (#10), although his show No Reservations is probably more responsible than his string of Les Halles eateries. One of the faces of Top Chef, Tom Colicchio, is also listed, but not just as a judger of food. He also dishes it out at Craft, Craftsteak, and ‘whichcraft in NYC. Sushi emperor Nobuyuki Matsuhisa is fourth, the reason being the first four letters of his first name.