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Fiamma

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A Star Swap for Alto & L’Impero; No Amore for Richman at Fiamma

The Times’ verdict is in on Alto and L’Impero, and it’s the expected three and two stars, respectively. Lost in the Alto upgrade is the hard fact that L’Impero now enters the dreaded two-star limbo into which Frank Bruni puts any place neither transcendent nor mediocre. Personally, we would have had it at four and three. [NYT] Alan Richman admires the new Fiamma (former home to Mike White) in a cool and distant way, finding the food busy and not at all Italian, although not exactly lousy by any means. No one will read this review and want to spend money to eat at Fiamma. [Bloomberg] On the other hand, Restaurant Girl’s three-star review reads like a perfume ad, it’s so loving: “Like an artist, he paints deeply flavored ragu onto a pappardelle canvas, finished with tender ribbons of venison.” Ew! But Steve Hanson must be happy. [NYDN]

Virginia Pig Farmer Is the Toast of the New York Pork World

It sounds like a fairy tale: Some Spanish hogs, brought over by Spanish colonists in the sixteenth century, take over an island off the coast of Georgia and run wild there for hundreds of years. Feral and boarlike, they are also about the best tasting pork imaginable, and cousins to the world’s most celebrated ham. Is it a fable, conjured by the heated imagination of foodies? Or an eye-opening truth, as irrefutable as a piece of gamey and rich roast pork? We’re happy to say that it’s the latter. Bev Eggleston, of Eco-Friendly Foods in Virginia, has started selling his amazing pork to a handful of New York restaurants, and soon he may be giving the Spanish a run for their money in the ham business.

Kudos to Park Avenue Autumn; Jeers to the Five Guys

Park Avenue Autumn's gimmicky concept might have turned Frank Bruni catty but for the fact that Craig Konketsu's cooking is so flawlessly brilliant. The place got two stars, and the review reads like three. [NYT] Paul Adams must be a happy man today just for the headline he came up with for his positive review of the cheese-centric newcomer Casellula: “The Cheese Stands Alone.” It sounds like it does, too, with what might be the best macaroni and cheese going. [NYS] Peter Meehan puts the Five Guys, and their deliberately dried-out, overrated burger, in their place; Julia Moskin gives Market Table its first praise, a measured and thoughtful mini-review. [NYT]

Trabocchi Reinvents Porchetta at Fiamma

Porchetta
Fabio Trabocchi gained fame, and a James Beard award, for his modern Italian food at Maestro in Virginia. Now, he's Michael White’s replacement at Fiamma, and his contemporary take on porchetta, the most intensely rural and down-market of dishes, is a fair example of Trabocchi’s style: “In Italy, porchetta is a pig on a spit with wild fennel. It’s either boned and stuffed in a meat-loaf shape or opened up, like a book, on a spit. It’s something we tried to reinvent with a modern version without losing the original flavors.” As always, mouse over the different elements to see them described in the chef’s own words.

Primehouse Opening in Flatiron; Trabocchi Siphoned Former Staff to Soho

Carroll Gardens: New wine bar Black Mountain Wine House on Union Street is filled to the brim with lovely sipping ladies. [Eat for Victory/VV] Flatiron: Diddy has closed Justin’s because it’s not big enough. [NYP] Stephen Hanson’s steakhouse, Primehouse, opens Monday. [Zagat] Harlem: Fall registration is open for free proper-dining lessons at “New York City’s only tuition-free etiquette school for children,” the Development and Finishing Institute. [Uptown Flavor] Soho: New Fiamma chef Fabio Trabocchi “brought with him 12 members of the staff of Maestro, in McLean, Va., his previous employer" in order to ease his New York transition. [NYT] Upper East Side: David Burke's Hudson Valley Foie Gras ‘PB&J’ Tourchon is pushing it. [NYO] Williamsburg: The best way to be sure your beef is prime is to eat at a top steakhouse, and lucky for you, according to “Amy Rubenstein, whose family owns Peter Luger, the shortage is over.” [NYP]

Matthew Kenney Is Alive and Well and Selling Food in Midtown

East Village: A customer who complained to the waiter who took her drink at Butter was apparently told “We’re just doing our job here” and “Look — I’m clearing a full drink right now” before being referred to as Babygirl. [Eat for Victory/VV] Fort Greene: The Fort Greene Park Conservancy Gala Wine Tasting will be held on October 1 in the rooftop gardens of the Forte Condo project. [Clinton Hill Blog] Hell’s Kitchen: Gaucho Steak on Tenth Avenue at 51st Street now serves egg empanadas and chocolate-banana-macadamia-nut pancakes for weekend brunch. [Grub Street] Midtown West: Former Pure Food and Wine chef Matthew Kenney has opened a lunch spot on West 45th Street called FreeFoods NYC, and though the food isn’t free, it does come in compostable containers. [Mouthing Off/Food & Wine] West Village: Ruth Reichl on the haute Italian at Fiamma: “lovely experience; whether it is one that New York will want is another question.” [Choptalk/Gourmet]

Colors Workers Rebel; Whole Foods Getting Into Craft Beer

The workers of Colors, originally envisioned as a co-op for orphaned Windows on the World employees, have sued the restaurant and the advocacy group that runs it, claiming that in fact none of them actually own any part of it. [NYP] Related: Marxist Meals Served at Co-op Eateries Whole Foods will be opening up a craft-beer bar with tap brews sold in carryout growlers — in September. [NYS] Animal activism has come of age, which is good news for calves, old hogs, and other unlucky beings that might otherwise be facing unspeakable fates. [NYT]

Scott Conant Takes Leave of Alto, L’Impero

It looks like Scott Conant, one of the city’s top Italian chefs, will be leaving Alto and L’Impero. Neither restaurant will confirm, but a high-level source with professional connections to Conant and Chris Cannon (co-owner of the restaurants) tells us that former Fiamma chef Michael White will replace Conant in both kitchens. The decision to part was supposedly pretty friendly, though based on longstanding disagreements between Conant and Cannon on how to move forward with their partnership. L’Impero will maintain its focus on southern Italian food, Alto on northern, but our source expects that White will introduce new menus by mid-August.

B.R. Guest and Buy Our Restaurant Group

We hear from one of our most reliable sources that a very, very big restaurant deal is about to go through. According to him, the B.R. Guest group, owners of fourteen big Manhattan restaurants including Atlantic Grill, Fiamma, and the Dos Caminos locations, are about to be sold to zillionaire Barry Sternlicht of the Starwood Capital group. B.R. Guest denies it, but apparently, owner Steve Hanson has been looking to unload the group for some time and is already doing business with Sternlicht, a former hotel magnate now wheeling and dealing in private equity and real estate. Looks like we're about to be somebody else’s guest.

My Wife and I Demand to Know What Happened to Fiamma

Dear Grub Street, My wife and I dined the other night at Fiamma in Soho. The big surprise was not the empty room but the mediocre food. I asked if Michael White, the chef we've followed over the years, was in the kitchen, and the waiter leaned in to say quietly that the chef had actually quit two weeks ago and that he had done so the week his Fiamma cookbook had been delivered. I have not read anything about this move anywhere. Disappointed