I think the only thing more astonishing about former Ducasse chef Didier Elena’s idea of creating a menu based almost entirely out of career-defining signature dishes from some of the world’s leading chefs – is the fact that no-one else thought of it before. The concept is about as simple as a putting together a mix-tape of all your favorite songs. The hard part must have been trying to convince two dozen celebrated culinary masters to permit strange cooks in a foreign kitchen to loyally, faithfully and reliably deliver their coveted hits without the benefit of regular oversight, approval or rejection.
In addition, the generously open kitchen at the NoLIta based Chefs Club had to be decked out with every conceivable kitchen appliance and gadget in order to facilitate the fastidious preparation of entirely dissimilar dishes. Whatever. What counts is that they actually pulled it off. But let me state quite categorically that anyone who thinks they can simply order something made famous by the likes of Eric Ripert (Le Bernadin), Daniel Boulud (Restaurant Daniel), Ori Menashe (Bestia), Margarita Manzke (Republique), David Kinch (Manresa), Curtis Stone (Maude) or Marcus Samuelsson (Red Rooster) without having to dine at any of their formidable establishments, is as unacceptable and unforgivable as spending a weekend on the Vegas strip satisfying the need to ever visit the real Paris, Monte Carlo, Venice, Egypt, the Bellagio or even New York for that matter. (Don’t get me started…)
If you consider for a moment what a humungous asset it would be to open a restaurant knowing you already have 25 award-winning dishes by 25 highly accomplished chefs locked up, the rest should be easy, right? And by all means the gorgeously seductive Rockwell-designed room on the north side of the Puck building with its rustic brick ceilings, moody lighting, monochrome marble tops and a massive salt rock precariously suspended above the dining area, should pretty much seal the deal. I would also suggest that the meticulous crew do a masterful job of delivering on all the chefs’ expectations. How do I know? Only eight crumbs of our appetizers remained after a faster disappearing act than a litter of hungry puppies could have mustered. Can you blame us?
Was it Curtis Stone’s heavenly saffron aioli that accompanied his tender and succulent Charred Octopus, or Diego Oka’s magnificent Lobster a la Piedra drowning in a scrumptiously spicy leche de tigre (tiger’s milk) that took top honors? And by how much did Alex Stupak’s innocent-enough-looking Vegetable Crudite with the most earth-shatteringly amazing smoked-cashew dip trounce Matthew Aita’s profoundly crispy and glorious Broccoli Pizzetta with just a hint of chili-walnut pesto? You’ll have to find out for yourself.But it’s the final stretch that gets in the way of this being a truly magical success story. I’m not referring to farm-to-table either. I’m talking about the final, final stretch. That last 50 feet: from kitchen-to-table!
As I pointed out several blogs ago, some of my pet restaurant peeves include when a waiter hasn’t yet mastered sufficient command of the English language to articulate and elaborate on the menu clearly enough for a guest’s comprehension – much less understand what it is they are trying to order. Or when a team of efficient bussers proudly delivers only 3 out of 4 entrees, leaving one of your guests with nothing but blank anticipation between knife and fork while everyone else is already harmonizing in a chorus of ooooh’s & aaaah’s.
Or the biggest disappointment at trying to smile through chef Aita’s delectable Grilled Swordfish with tangy zucchini tapenade, or having to contend with a sublimely succulent and crispy Dry Aged Duck Breast over a lighter-than-air wheat porridge by Gavin Keysen, or enduring chef Boulud’s crispy wafer-thin potato-wrapped Paupiette of Sea Bass surrounded by a standing-ovation-worthy Syrah sauce, or gritting one’s teeth until the last bite of Ruby and Sather Duke’s wonderfully tender Smoked Pork Collar with pickled peaches for sweetness, grainy mustard for fire and toasted nuts for crunch – all regrettably served well below room temperature. And while genuine, heartfelt apologies (and comp’d desserts) are always appreciated in hindsight, one has to wonder what kind of magical talent it takes to make fifty degrees disappear – just like that!