Yes, if you love down home, authentic Japanese cooking this is the culinary event of the year. Vicki Freeman and Marc Meyer are doing five pop up restaurants at 33 Great Jones Street right next door to their celebrated Vic’s Restaurant. Vicki thinks her sister-in-law Maiko Sakamoto aka Exquisite Maiko is the best Japanese chef in New York and HG agrees. There is no other chef HG/BSK would rather dine with. Maiko’s stand–Oni Sauce– is one of the stars at Brooklyn Smorgasburg and Vicki has been pleading with her to do a tasting menu of all the wonders she’s tasted at Maiko’s Brooklyn home. Maiko relented and now you’ve got your chance. Maiko and Oni Sauce will be doing a 12-course tasting menu on March 23. There are two sittings: 6:30 PM and 9:00 PM. Limited seating, so act fast. Expect among many other delights: Sake steamed clams. Fluke carpaccio. Mackerel tataki. Pork belly and daikon radish stew. Reserve at Eat@onisauce.com . Cost is $75 per person. Much cheaper than air fare to Tokyo or Osaka (plus hotels, etc.). You’ll leave the Oni Sauce experience with a happy, enlightened appreciation of what Japanese cuisine is all about.
A highlight of HG/BSK’s holiday in Brooklyn/New York/ Rhode Island was a feast hosted by Restaurateur Daughter Victoria (Vicki) at her eponymous Italian restaurant, Vic’s, on Great Jones Street. Vic’s is one of Vicki’s four New York restaurants (the others are Cookshop, Rosie’s and Hundred Acres). Hillary Sterling is the chef at Vic’s and she turns out wonderful, creative, Italian food with an emphasis on local, very fresh ingredients. Comfortably seated in the sparkling dining room, HG/BSK and SJ were regaled with vegetable starters: Brussell sprouts with anchovies,chiles and lemon; squash with schmaltz (chicken fat), golden raisins and garlic; cauliflower with hazelnuts, harissa and bread crumbs. These were dishes that could turn a carnivore into a vegetarian. The veggies were followed by baby squid with pickled peppers (a glorious take on the classic Rhode Island dish) and a roasted duck leg. The pasta tasting course was original: Borsa (“little purses” filled with ricotta; Mafaldi; Tortellini; Spaghetti with clams and green chiles. Wow !! Much splendid wine and a grappa to finish. The next day, HG met Vicki for their traditional three hour holiday lunch at Balthazar. The duo had much to talk about as they dug into a giant plateau de fruits de mer: Oysters, clams, mussels, shrimp, ceviche, lobster. Fabulous. Bottles of Balthazar’s very good Muscadet. Vicki made a prior arrangement with Balthazar to pay the bill and then sent HG back to Brooklyn via Uber. Vicki, you are generosity personified.
In writing about family and Christmas, HG didn’t mention HG’s magnificent daughter Victoria. She (and super chef husband/partner Marc Meyer) didn’t make it to Rhode Island this year. Not surprising when you are running four hot and busy New York restaurants (Rosie’s, Vic’s, Cookshop, Hundred Acres). How Victoria manages to juggle being a top restaurant executive, wife, stepmother is beyond HG. She never seems ruffled. Her face is always aglow with welcome. In a city replete with tension and attitude, a Victoria-Marc restaurant is always a happy haven. (And, of course, the food is marvelous). On HG/BSK’s recent visit to New York, Victoria lavished generosity upon the duo. The Yiddish word for free loader is “shnorrer.” HG/BSK are world class “shnorrers” when Victoria is around. Gentle Readers, makes this new year resolution: Dine at Rosie’s (Mexican); Vic’s (Italian); Cookshop (Mediterranean); Hundred Acres (American regional). Say HG sent you.
Okay. Now that we strive for political correctness, there are only “waitpersons.” Farewell to “waiters” and “waitresses.” On the not-so-politically-correct side, HG has noticed that “waitpersons” in all cheap but delicious Chinese restaurants are unsmiling and peremptory. On the other hand, Latino “waitpersons” in New Mexico, whether serving in a white tablecloth restaurant or a rough hewn roadside truck, are gracious, smiling and efficient. Joyous welcoming shouts and farewells are traditional in Japanese businesses, restaurants included. Paris “waitpersons” are models of professionalism. They are not your pals. They do not announce: “Hello, I am Pierre, your waitperson for tonight.” They simply do their job and do it wonderfully — Of course they usually warm up to HG because HG expresses intense interest in every aspect of the carte and carte des vins. Waitpersons in Italy are the best. They enfold the diner, whether tourist or native, in family warmth. (Venice is an exception. Following a centuries old tradition, tourists are there for the fleecing. Tourists pay expanded prices. Venetians get a discount). Restaurateur Daughter Victoria F. makes sure service is a model of friendly efficiency at her three New York restaurants — Cookshop, Vic’s and Hundred Acres. (No, HG/BSK are not treated differently than any other diners). The old New York Jewish (must call them “waiters”) were the stuff of comedy legend. They staffed delicatessens, “dairy” restaurants and traditional kosher and non-kosher Eastern European eateries. They never smiled. Their feet hurt. They hated their customers. Even when in a nostalgic mood, HG doesn’t miss them.
Comfy Amtrak travel to New York and HG/BSK arrived at their Lower East Side hotel room for a rousing reunion with SJ, Exquisite Maiko plus the grand grandkids, Haru and Teru. A walk on East Broadway, a bowl of steaming pork and watercress soup at a Chinese eatery, brief nap, a hot shower and off to Vic’s, Restaurateur Daughter Victoria’s new venture in the same space that housed her Five Points restaurant on Great Jones Street in Noho for more than ten years. Vic’s has had much buzz because of ecstatic reviews (mentioned by HG in a previous post). When HG/BSK arrived at Vic’s they were dazzled by the new decor. Simple, Warm. Welcoming. Exposed brick. Flattering light. A ceiling that muffles much noise but allows enough to create a lively atmosphere. Tables and chairs that evoked an elegant farmhouse. And, there was Victoria, looking svelte and fashionable. She joined HG/BSK at a corner table and a perfect meal made stately progress. Chef Hillary Sterling combines imagination, precision, technique with an appreciation for down to earth tastes that evoke Italian countryside trattorias and eateries nestled on Mediterranean beaches. Her first creation HG/BSK enjoyed was a platter of crisp fried sweet onions dusted with parmesan and dried tomatoes. Pure, simple deliciousness that hit all the right notes of salty, sweet and crunchy. This was followed by little neck clams, pistachios, cannelloni beans and lovage in an intense clam broth. The sea theme continued with smoky, juicy grilled sardines adorned with thin shaved curls of baby carrot. The refreshing white wine was put aside and a fruity red was poured as three different pasta tastings were introduced. First, there was the Roman classic, cacio e pepe prepared with pecorino and parmesan. Then there were “little purses” of delicate pasta filled with ricotta, lemon and hazelnuts. The pasta finale: Tortellini filled with potato and guanciale (pork jowl) in a powerful pork brodo that sang of bacony goodness with remarkably none of the grease. There was just enough appetite left for a shared taste of some lush chocolate and snifters of house concocted limoncello (best HG/BSK ever tasted). Vic’s is a happy restaurant.The diners were visibly and audibly having a good time. And, why not? Splendid food, fair prices, pleasant surroundings, attentive service. HG advice: Reserve in advance. Vic’s is hot.
HG/BSK are going east for the traditional feasting and gifting jamboree with their joyous Anglo-Irish-Canadian-American-Italian-Jewish-Japanese family (Quick! Please have eligibles marry an African-American and a Latino so we can complete our Rainbow Coalition). Festivities will start in New York a few days before Christmas where HG/BSK will dine at Vic’s, the much-lauded new restaurant venture of HG’s daughter, Restaurateur Victoria F. Scheduled is a dim sum feast at Dim Sum Go Go in Chinatown with the SJ family (and Victoria). Also on schedule is an Uzbekistan Grand Bouffe in Queens celebrating SJ’s birthday. And, while BSK is doing some last minute shopping, HG will knock off some oysters and wine with Victoria at Balthazar, the brasserie which keeps the old time Paris traditions alive. (Yes, the best Paris brasserie is located in New York). Christmas Eve means the traditional Jewish Feast of the Seven Fishes (courtesy of SJ and Russ & Daughters). And, what surprise will Gifted Daughter Lesley R. spring on Christmas Day? Brisket? Osso buco ? Bollito misto ? Traditional turkey? And, is there a new Rhode Island restaurant to be tried? HG has heard rumors about an Indian restaurant in Bristol. Of course, there is old standby Hemenway’s which serves splendid New England oysters as well as Rhode Island clams on the half shell (best in the world), an HG favorite. Hey, food lovers, are you envious? You should be.
HG is so proud and delighted. Restaurateur Daughter Victoria Freeman (Cookshop, Hundred Acres, soon to open Rosies’s) has a big hit on her hands. The first review of her new restaurant, Vic’s, just appeared…New York Magazine gave Vic’s four stars calling the food “Big, Bold and Batali-esque.” Read about chef Hillary Sterling’s flavorful dishes and you’ll get ravenously hungry. Make your reservation now before the wait becomes interminable. Vic’s (31 Great Jones Street near Lafayette) replaces Five Points, the pioneering restaurant Vicki and husband/chef Marc Meyer opened 15 years ago. Five Points was one of the first farm-to-table restaurants in New York and its Sunday brunch quickly became a New York legend. Vicki and Marc thought it was time for a change. A redo of the decor, new name, new chef, new menu. Obviously, a very good idea. The name “Vic’s” is a bow to the past. “Vix” was Vicki’s first restaurant. She hired Marc Meyer as the chef. The rest is New York culinary history. HG/BSK will be in New York for pre-Christmas visit. Will dine at Vic’s. Looking forward.