Culinary Adventure

Our Mission was to travel to NYC and hit three Union Square Hospitality Group restaurants in one afternoon. Mission accomplished!

New York City-We Came We Saw We Ate The first great book I read about the restaurant business was Setting the Table by Danny Meyer. He used the term “enlightened
hospitality” in describing the philosophy that has allowed him to be one of the
most successful restaurateurs in the ultra competitive New York City restaurant scene. We have all
been to what is supposed to be the latest and greatest restaurant with the
trendiest food and hippest décor- only to be disappointed because it was stiff,
too formal, and the chef and servers were doing you a favor by allowing you to
pay a lot of money for the pleasure of dinning with them for the evening. On
the flip side there are places where everybody knows your name, they are nobody
is this friendly type friendly- but the food is a joke. Danny Meyer took the
best of both melted them down, shook it up, and ended up with enlightened
hospitality. Whether it is at 11 Madison Park-a food lovers  paradise where you sit down and the chef
prepares a 5 course tasting menu or at shake shack- think the best fast food
burgers and shakes you have ever had but ten times better- enlightened
hospitality is king! In a nut shell here it is. Treat every person that walks
through your door like they are your long lost best friend that you haven’t
seen in years. If you think on it for a minute it is a pretty damn good way to
live life. Be nice to people-your friends, your co workers, the fish monger,
the beer salesperson, and especially the customers. After all they are the ones
paying your bills. Holy cow, this guy gets it. If I do not have an answer for
an issue that arises I ask myself one question. WWDD? What would Danny do?!?! After a long time of telling myself that I need to check this guy out we decided to roll on down to see it in action. We being my wife
Jennie Kay, yes that Jennie Kay, the best hair dresser and make up artist
around. She had a trade show to hit, so I guess I have to thank her for giving
me the excuse to make this epic field trip to experience a slice of culinary
and hospitality greatness. Altum Athletico and Roma Neighborhood Farms co-founderRory Hennessey took the trip as well. We were joined in The City by Jeff Mroz
the second member of the Altum Team. First stop Drop Jennie Kay off at her show
to do her thing.OK now we eat. Stay with me now…First stop Gramercy Tavern- 42 east 20th st.
We decided to sit in the bustling bar area. From our table we had a great view
of the bartender mixing cocktails using homemade syrups and some of the
prettiest ice cubes you have ever seen- trust me, perfect ice is a big deal.
There is also a beautiful open kitchen with a wood fired brick oven and a
copper faced hood vent that adds a great visual aesthetic to the room. I
started with a Beet and Quinoa salad that also had some spicy greens and water
cress. It was simple and straight forward- we were off to a great start.  The beet juice gave the quinoa a light sweet flavor combined with the spicy greens that was out of this world. For my next course I had a Meatball with Manchego cheese, which was as flavorful as it was tender. It came served over what reminded me of pureed potatoes au gratin. Again it was outstanding. I thought that it may be a bit on the heavy side but it was not. Call me crazy but savory flavor of the dish went quite well with
the sweet home made limeade that I ordered. I don’t drink so pairing wine with
the food I eat is a non issue. My beverage of choice tends to be milk-especially
if I am out to eat because restaurants typically have whole mike behind the bar.
Whole milk in a chilled pint makes my toes curl. Had to get a little bit nuts
and go with the limeade because I knew it would be made fresh to order with
quality ingredients- it even came out with a mini carafe of simple syrup. My
partners in dine made some fantastic selections as well. Rory raved about his
pork shoulder that was just about falling apart right before his eyes. Jeff was
equally impressed with his Arctic Char that came out over a bed of quinoa with
chopped asparagus and candied pistachios. As I mentioned before, there are
places all over the world that can match that food, but very few can combine it
with the level of hospitality required to be truly great. With all due respect
to our server who did an outstanding job, the bus boy was the star of this
show. In most cases the bus person should never be noticed. Never seen never
heard-just make the magic happen. In his book Restaurant Man, Joseph Bastianich
refers to his bus people as “ninjas” and the “backbone of the restaurant”. That
is a lot of responsibility for what is typically an entry level front of the
house position. I said before that they should not be noticed, but we were
there with the sole purpose of noticing everything. Water never got below half full; he never asked us if we needed a refill, it just got done. Jeff got up to use
the head and his napkin was promptly folded awaiting his return. At Gramarcy
they serve bread one slice at a time to you. This guy was all over it- finish a
piece he was there with another before we were done chewing. There was never
once a piece of service ware on the table that did not belong. This guy smiled
and even thanked us when he would take something off the table. You my friend
are a ninja! Wow that was great one down two meals to go.  Lunch number two was at Union Square Café -21 East 16th St. The café had a bit of a different feel as we arrived on the late side of the lunch hour. The patrons here seemed to be enjoying a more leisurely lunch with friends, as to what seemed like more of a business crowd back at Gramarcy As expected we were greeted warmly by the hostess and escorted to our table upstairs, or should I say up ladder. The stairs were very narrow and quite steep leading to a nook of a dinning room with about five or so tables with a short wall overlooking the bar and one of the downstairs dinning rooms. I am sure there have been people who think these stairs are a bit of a pain in the ass, but we all thought they added to the charm of the restaurant. I looked back and chuckled a bit as my two six foot five athletically built companions rotated their shoulders sideways for the ascent.
The menu though not huge had a varied selection with something for every
palate. We had to start with the garlic potato chips. Why would not order some
god damn potato chips on a visit to one of the best restaurants in NYC?!? You
guessed it they were fantastic. As were the lamb chops that I and the Tuna that
Jeff had (that is three fish dishes for Jeff with in an hour-but who is
counting?). I apologize for glazing over the food that Jeff and I had, because
it deserves better. It was truly excellent. Rory made the decision of the day
in selection of the Saffron Pappardelle with osso buco ragu and Parmigiano Reggiano. Now we havesome world class pasta here in RI up on The Hill in Providence, sorry guys, this crushed it. I can almost taste it as I write this and I am getting a bit miffed that I can not dig my fork into it right now. Don’t feel too bad for me I am sitting in the office at Brick Alley Pub as I write this and there is a plate of Cajun fish tacos with my name on it in about thirty minutes. So here is the play whenyou head on down to Union Square:Garlic chips, Pappardelle, Lamb to finish and that’s a wrap. As we were finishing up our meal we struck up a conversation with our waiter Mark (who was clearly on the ball, had a love for his craft, and was well trained) and we let him in on our culinary itinerary for the day. First it was a bit of disbelief followed by a bit of jealously that we were in the midst of a food lover’s paradise. I use the term food lover over foodie, because the self proclaimed “foodie” is inherently a pain in the ass. They always know how to do it better- ya sure you do buddy. I was reading a review recently about Babbo, a restaurant masterpiece owned by Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali in which the authorproclaimed that she could do a better osso buco than Chef Batali. Just becauseyou watch a cooking show or two does not make you James Beard. Where was I? OK one more…Shake Shack here we come. Shake Shack is a perfect name for this place- it is a concession stand set up in Madison Square Park.They have burgers, shakes, and that’s about it. Well they may have a thing ortwo more, but why the heck look. It is pretty simple. Get in line order a shackburger or four a big ol’ chocolate shake, wait for your name to come up, grabit, and kill it. It is simple, straight forward and that is that. Wait forrandom occurrence of the day….. As we were neck deep in burger heaven thepresidential motorcade drove right by. Mr. President, thank you for traveling to NYC to check on us.One more stop in the city and thenback home. Eataly is located right across the street from Shake Shack so we decided that we owed it to ourselves to check it out. What is exactly is Eataly? I don’t know if it has a category, but I will try to paint a picture.Take out your big stock pot and throw in your local farmers market, add your local butcher, cheese monger, fish dude, fresh pasta shop, fine imported coffee, and cured meats. Stir it all up and add a restaurant for each of the items that I listed above. Ya you read that right the place had like ten little
restaurants inside it. As it turns out we could have probably spent an entire
day in there. What a great trip! The next one isin the works-give us a year or so as we are still digesting. Going to check out a few of Chef Batali and Bastianich’s places, should be great. As I mentioned above This trip was inspired by Setting the Table. Bastianich’s book restaurant man will be our next guiding light. Until next time. See you down at The Brick soon.
MattPlumb www.brickalley.com www.romafarms.com

PS:       The pizza in New Haven on our way back up 95 was also out
of this world. Don’t Judge me- I hadn’t eaten since my third lunch!

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