Sometime in August I got an email from Starchefs to fill out their industry survey and become eligible for a drawing for a free ticket to attend this year’s Congress. Midway thru September I was informed I had won free entrance. In the process of signing in for my ticket, I noticed I could sign up for the Somm Slam (I attended one session last year). In order to attend this I had to fill out another series of questions to find out if I could be one of the judges.
The person organizing the Slam got in touch to let me know I was selected as a judge and was eligible for a free ticket to the Congress, as well as some of the wine and cocktail seminars. Clearly I was destined to go to this event again.
My wife, Lucy, loves New York and I offered to have her join me so we could hang out each evening and she could reconnect with friends and family during the day. The friends I usually stayed with were in Spain on vacation but they were nice enough to let us use their new apartment in Chelsea.
We arrived Saturday afternoon and had made plans to meet my British cousin and his wife who live in the burbs of NYC and who I hadn’t seen in about 25 years at DBGB in the Bowery. This is Daniel Boulud’s Grand Brasserie and the acronym is intended to be reminiscent of the Punk Club CBGBs which was also located in the Bowery. The only possible similarity other than the acronym and the proximity to the old club are the long lines for the four bathrooms that the 200 plus patrons must share and the rather loud music that provided the soundtrack to our evening. The space, however, is attractive and youthful. The tables and booths are concentrated for volume, the different kitchen stations surround the diners as well as shelving with various copper pots and pans donated by top chefs from around the world and dry goods which I assume are to be used by the cooks. The overriding theme is an ode to the sausage and features an around the world tour on the menu of the noble sausage.
Daniel Boulud has collaborated with Gilles Verot a famous Chacutier from Paris to create this international collection of stuffed goodness. We tucked into the menu and quickly began to feel the vibe of our waiter who was clearly more interested in maximizing his tips that night than providing a cozy environment for us to make up for 25 years of missing conversation. We wanted to begin with a series of appetizers and charcuterie and then order the main courses, but the waiter insisted that the kitchen didn’t like it that way. So we ordered everything all at once.
Much to his dismay we weren’t planning on leaving anytime soon and we set up our claim with no intention of moving. A group of Japanese sat next to us and soon a 3 foot long whole stuffed piglet arrived at the table. Photos all around and then they devoured most of the animal, followed by a hearty Japanese rendition of Happy Birthday at dessert. Then they were gone and the table was turned in about 5 minutes. The human landscape changed all around us with as much ease and speed.
The food was excellent albeit with small portions at seemingly inflated prices. The charcuterie was worthy of French standards and Gilles Verot has done an excellent job at training the kitchen staff at handling the finer points of forcemeat cooking.
It was an overall enjoyable experience but seemed to be a departure from the hospitality and comfortable vibe I enjoyed the previous year at Bar Boulud. This had a turn em and burn em feel that made me feel like one of the Saturday night out of town rubes that Anthony Bourdain, whose plaque and copper pot laid vigil on our table all night, described in Kitchen Confidential.
It was great to catch up with my cousin and his lovely wife and we continued to revel at a trendy lounge not far from the restaurant. The night finished trying to hail a legal cab and eventually compromising by taking an off license cab driven by a Liberian.
We collapsed in our bed to a spectacular view of the illuminated Empire State Building.