If the PacoJet is the ice-cream machine of the dessert avant-garde, then the old-fashioned, massive, nearly unbreakable Coldelite ice-cream maker is the 1972 Cadillac to the PacoJet’s 2008 Prius. At the very old-school Seymour Burton, chef Josh Shuffman inherited the machine from the restaurant’s former owner, Sammy Kader. “We could never have bought one like this,” he says. “I don’t even know how they got it into the basement.” The Coldelite produces four ice creams a night: caramel, bourbon chocolate, vanilla, and a changing special — usually blueberry or rum raisin. Like everything else at Seymour Burton, the ice creams couldn’t be any simpler or less challenging, or any better. Not that Shuffman will take credit for it. “It’s all the machine. I’m out of my depth! I’m not a dessert chef. But the best you can do as a chef is to find something that works and stick to it.”
Related: If It's a Frozen Dessert at P*ong, Blame the Pacojet
It’s a tricky business to make chung fun, or rice noodles. They're sticky and dense, and the dough is typically thicker than most Chinese noodle dough. Steaming it is problematic, but the ever-inventive Joe Ng at Chinatown Brasserie has come up with a streamlined solution: a customized dough cooker that’s a cross between a crêpe pan, a steamer, and a colander. “It works exactly like a steamer, except it’s flat,” says Ng. “We lay some very thin fabric in over the holes, and the dough is cooked very fast, like in 30 seconds. It takes up less space than an ordinary noodle cooker, and we change the fabric constantly.” For a machine that takes up so little space, it's very efficient, he says. “I designed it myself and gave it to the manufacturer to make. No one else has one like it.” As for how well it works, the only solution is to eat the rice noodles at Chinatown Brasserie and judge for yourself.
There’s a lot at San Domenico to attract the eye, like the Italian aristocrats or the celebrities periodically perched at table nine (Johnny Depp and Keith Richards ate there the other night). But the most striking thing in the restaurant remains the immense antique Berkel proscuitto slicer, a gift from Friuli to owner Tony May after September 11. “It’s the Ferrari of slicing machines,” May says. “It’s a simple machine, but it’s a jewel. It was a great gift.” Built in 1941 and powered by hand, it has a razor-sharp slicing edge that turns with the measured pace of a roulette wheel on its final spins.
In the wonderful world of pasta, there is the fresh (usually made with eggs and rolled-out), and there is the dried (usually eggless and extruded). And then there is the unusual hybrid of sorts that Marco Canora has recently introduced on his Insieme menu. While surfing the Web, as all blog-obsessed chefs are wont to do, Canora discovered an old Venetian–style hand-cranked pasta extruder known as the Bigolaro, a.k.a. the Torchio, and if he had his doubts about its decidedly low-tech looks, the price, at $280, was right. The rustic gadget, which was patented in 1875, clamps on to any sturdy tabletop, and although it requires the strength of two Greco–Roman wrestlers to operate, the results are worth the effort.
Jean Georges isn’t a restaurant known for its attachment to experimental cuisine; if anything, J-G Vongerichten’s highly formal flagship is considered a bastion of old-school tablecloth dining. But Vongerichten has always been in the gastronomic vanguard, and he and chef de cuisine Mark Lapico are among the city’s most ardent admirers of the CVap oven, a controlled-humidity technology they use so much that there's three of them in the kitchen.
Hemant Mathur of Dévi is the Yo-Yo Ma of tandoor cooking, a virtuoso whose instrument is the traditional clay oven. Many menu highlights come from it, from the lamb-stuffed tandoori chicken to the naan and roti breads — all of them delightfully marked by the searing heat of Mathur’s three-year-old modern clay oven.