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The Bodega Classic: Genteel Versus Gritty

When we wrote about the Bodega Challenge last week, our imaginations went wild with thoughts of the kind of monstrosity that would win. The idea was to create a dish from ingredients strictly available at a bodega, costing no more than $20, with extra credit given for being especially "bodegic." The winner entry, announced recently on the Brooklyn Kitchen blog, came from one aptly named Sarah Gentile. Her “Pumpkin Gobble Gobble.” was composed of apples, canned pumpkin, marshmallows, and pistachios — and though surely delish, the whole "fresh apples and other foods found in nature" seems kind of antithetical to the spirit of the bodega. But we'd still eat it.

DuMont, Smith and Mills Players Head Toward McCarren

John McCormick, the designer behind the loveliness that is Smith and Mills and Tailor, has another project in the works, and it sounds like it’ll be every bit as quirky as his own restaurant Moto. He says that Jud Longell, a bartender at DuMont, and a silent partner have acquired Theresa’s Beauty Salon at 18 Bedford Avenue at Lorimer Street (right off McCarren Park) and are transforming it into what will eventually be a bistro of sorts. McCormick says he has in mind “a nautical design, but very subtle. I wanted to make the place look like it was a sunken transport ferry — there’d be a lot of distressing and rust and metal work.” The owners, meanwhile, have toyed with the idea of an “English-butcher-shop aesthetic.” No doubt that they'll all meet at some magical halfway point that will be far cooler than anything we can conjure up. Whatever the final look, it's safe to say that empty bar seats will be rare, especially after those McCarren Pool shows.

We Called It: Coffee Cups Defiled by Crass Hilfiger Commercialism

Yesterday we predicted that the obnoxious advertising that has been slowly infiltrating the trappings of NYC street food (hot-dog-stand umbrellas, bagel bags, etc.) would soon defile our sacred coffee cups. Today we walk by the Tommy Hilfiger store on West Broadway, and what’s in the window? A blow-up of the beloved deli coffee cup, complete with Tommy’s signature next to it! It's all to promote his book Iconic America: A Roller-Coaster Ride Through the Eye-Popping Panorama of American Pop Culture. We stepped inside the store and saw the cup on a preposterous-looking T-shirt, too. So what’s next? Slice joints putting ads for Grease on their paper plates? Earlier: Street-Food Trappings Are Getting Luxer by the Second

Braving Mason Dixon: The Painfully Self-Aware Mechanical-Bull Bar

We’ve already seen the interior of Mason Dixon, but this weekend we braved the dreaded Lower Eastpacking District to see the latest mechanical-bull spot in full swing. (Don't ever suggest that Grub Street is not willing to make sacrifices for you, dear reader.) No line down the block as with the Shamlians’ other bar, Fat Baby, but we definitely got our fill of blonde highlights (girls), cropped haircuts (guys), and designer-knockoff bags. Plus a steady stream of woo-hoos and yee-haws, thanks to those $10 bull rides. We personally enjoyed the totally wasted guy who didn’t seem to realize he was impersonating the Freedom Rock commercials and who certainly wasn’t aware of this place’s problem with the neighbors when he yelled, “Turn it up, man! Make it louder, man!” Yeah, man! Chef Andrew Robertson was lurking by the bar — latest word is no food till Friday night. In the meantime, as you can see by this photo of the men’s-room door, the place is at least being honest about itself. Earlier: Yonkers Chef Presents City’s ‘First Authentic Southern Restaurant,’ Second Mechanical Bull

Del Posto's Cruz Goler to Take Over Lupa

To everything, turn, turn, turn. And so we turn to Lupa! First, a recap: As we reported last month, owner Jason Denton's mighty sword tapped the shoulders of Lupa chef Steve Connaughton, who will head Denton's as-yet unnamed new venture in Gramercy Park. But Lupa's loyal (er, cultlike) customers can rest easy in the knowledge that though the maestro is leaving in December, he'll be replaced by a damn safe bet: Cruz Goler. A ten-year Batali veteran, Goler was the right-hand man of Lupa’s original chef, Mark Ladner, and followed the latter to Del Posto, where Goler was his “go-to guy” in the kitchen. They like to keep it in the family, you see.

Theater Strike Could Drop Curtain on Midtown Restaurants

The fuel that fires the midtown's restaurant economy is, like electricity or natural gas, indispensable. It's that bustling, shuffling mass we like to call tourists, and with 27 theaters currently dark thanks to a stagehand strike, the tourism machine may be poised to shudder and stop. “The strike has a huge effect on us,” bemoans Insieme chef Marco Canora. “That's like 40 percent of our business.” Thanks to Insieme's high repute, the place gets a good seating between pre- and post-theater, but other restaurants are even more vulnerable.

Yolato Founder Donald Park Doesn't Sweat Pinkberry

Yesterday we reported that Yolato is poised to infiltrate the Empire State Building and other strategic locations around the city. Now none other than founder Donald Park tells us that he’s aiming for a minimum of fifteen to twenty outlets in the next year, including at least one Downtown Brooklyn outlet. The outer boroughs, people! The guy means business! What’s more, he’s planning to announce “a very large deal with a very large company” in the next few weeks. You know what that means — Yolato is going national.

Cold War Continues: Bigger, Badder Yolato Opens Wednesday

On guard: On Wednesday a 50 percent larger Yolato (the first one under a partnership with Lenny’s Sandwiches) opens at 145 Park Avenue between 41st and 42nd with free fro-yo gelato for all. You might want to make note of that. And the invasion will continue! By the end of the year, freestanding stores will also come to the Empire State Building (which will serve as the flagship, opening in mid-December) and 180 Lafayette in Soho, plus there are plans for a large store in the Lenny’s at 9th Street and Sixth Avenue and nine other “express” stores in other Lenny’s locations. That's THIRTEEN Yolatos for you; hope it's enough. Meanwhile, on the Bleecker Street front, Red Mango still has not opened, giving the new Pinkberry a solid two-month head start. Ritual suicide may be in order. Related: The New Cold War: Frozen Yogurt Invades New York

Taking a Stand Against Tequila Swag

A very strange thing happened today. Things started out quite normally: We got our coffee, read our headlines, wrote some stuff, tackled the in-box — and then we got to Andrea Strong's The Strong Buzz, a cheerful foodie e-mail filled with her musings about the usual food-blog fodder. But something was very wrong. Her latest newsletter was — and this is quite rare — angry. About swag, of all things:
This afternoon I received a box from UPS so large I thought it might contain one of those mini refrigerators I used in my college dorm room. It was so massive a box and so heavy that I had to get my brother to bring it upstairs for me. I had no idea what it was since I had not ordered a small refrigerator, or a compact car. Inside I discovered a ridiculous number of those Styrofoam “Esses,” (which stuck to me with static fervor) that concealed a large green wooden treasure chest (locked). When I figured out how to open it (the key was also secreted) I found that this massive blue wood box the size of a mini-fridge contained one bottle of tequila. I screamed. One bottle of tequila and all this waste? And that’s when I sat down to write.

Drunkards Somehow Just Not Feeling Steak and Cheese

It's not breaking news, but at some point in the last few weeks, the Cheesesteak Factory on East Houston Street closed after a little over a year. Let this — and the prompt shuttering of nearby De Santo pizzeria — be a lesson: It’s sometimes not enough to simply open up a place serving dubious drunk-folk food in an area full of drunk folks. And though it certainly doesn’t bode well for our fried–White Castles plan, perhaps the booze-soaked streets of the LES can accept the truth and move forward. Not likely, but a blog can dream, can't it? Related: One Cheesesteak Factory Takes the Cake

Street-Food Trappings Are Getting Luxer by the Second

Seen the airline commercial where the guy orders saffron risotto at a hot-dog stand? We were reminded of it when we saw this vendor on 13th and Broadway forgoing the usual Sabrett’s umbrella for a snazzy Campari number that looks like it was poached from outside of Morandi. Even worse, our bagel and coffee man has started handing us bagels in what look like Continental Airlines barf bags. What’s next? Pfizer ads on our beloved blue coffee cups? We’ll keep a close eye on this trend, but in the meantime, we’re only accepting bagels if they’re in proper white or brown baggies.

The Anchor: Now With Happy Hour, Restaurant to Come?

It’s never been a better time to work in far west Soho (after Grub Street HQ recently relocated to the hood, we'll openly gloat). Late-night destination the Anchor — where Lindsay Lohan was rumored to be doing blow in the bathroom right before she flew to rehab — will, for the first time, be opening early for happy hour starting this Thursday at 6 p.m., and owner Jason LaGarenne tells us that ain’t all: He and his partner James Cruickshank are eyeing a location on Greenwich Street, around the corner from the bar, to turn into a ground-floor restaurant with basement lounge. “It’s one of those old spaces,” he tells us, “that hasn’t been occupied for fifteen years.” Personally we’d love someone to revive the abandoned Art Deco diner that’s hidden away nearby, but we’re keeping its location secret in case we decide to do it ourselves.

Zeppelin Hits a Snag, Won't Open Till Later Next Year

Fall previews had Zeppelin, the forties-themed American brasserie from the folks behind Employees Only, opening in November or December, but we now have official word that the joint, to be located in a former speakeasy, won’t be throwing open its doors until 2008. And not early 2008 — we may be talking summer here. In the meantime, Employees Only’s annual Prohibition party is coming up soon — we plan to kill the pain of this news with some serious ladles of Prohibition punch. Related: Employees Only to Land a Zeppelin on 9th Street, and Eventually, Macao?

Park Slope's New Prospect Cafe Shutters?

When a borscht hall falls in the East Village, Chowhound-addled gourmands make all kinds of sound. Yet when Park Slope's long-standing New Prospect Cafe went dark earlier this week, the normally vocal locals barely made a peep. The cozy, eclectic place opened in 1985, bringing a thoughtful menu to a nabe where, at that time, "seasonal American fare" pretty much meant an ice cream truck in the summertime. "It had a super-duper sincere, handwritten-menu homey-ness that I loved," says Death by Chick Lit author Lynn Harris Adelson, a Sloper since 1994. "They were like Park Slope's Moosewood, only with meat." We've yet to make contact with management to get the whole story, but the founding owners have moved on to slinging their orange-glazed snapper and fennel tomato fondue in Rockland County, and the restaurant's phone has been mysteriously disconnected. Know more? Is this indeed the death of a neighborhood institution? Intel is welcome in the comments below. —Alec Appelbaum

John Mayer's Diet Comes With a Side of Irony

Pop crooner John Mayer has just started a mlog (meal log) on his blog, and he’s photographing everything he eats with the fervor of a Japanese izakaya denizen. Given that his snapshots are of things like, say, waffles, we don’t think he’s taking this seriously (though Endless Simmer is taking the endeavor seriously enough to call Mayer “the douchiest food blogger ever”). Rather, his spiel about the project smacks of playful sarcasm:
Americans are celebrity obsessed, and that obsession shows no signs of stopping … I’ve decided to make the most personal facet of my life public. My meals.

You Too Can Slave for an Established Food Personality!

A certain “well-known food writer/personality” is looking for an intern on Craigslist. Before we can even start to guess who it is (clue: he or she is based in Brooklyn), we have to ask: What exactly is a food personality? Are we talking about Andrea Strong or, like, Cap'n Crunch? Also, there are perks! You'll “get to work with an established food communications professional.” Potentially exciting, but — food communications? Why does this make us think of the guy from Close Encounters who plays with his mashed potatoes? While we’re scratching our heads, why don't you read the ad and help us figure out who this well-known food writer/personality/communications professional might actually be? Comments are below; we eagerly await the reveal on this one. Intern to Food Writer/Personality [Craigslist]

Have White Truffles Finally Gone Too Far?

We have some bad news. The bagel, that beloved, affordable symbol of New York cuisine, has gentrified. Chef Frank Tujague of the Westin hotel in Times Square (where else?) has unveiled the $1,000 white-truffle bagel, "topped with white truffle cream cheese and goji berry infused Riesling jelly with golden leaves." Now we love all truffles, far too much to ever be so rash as to declare them to be so over, and there may not be a thing on earth that's not improved by them (we've even considered using truffle oil as conditioner — it probably works wonders for split ends). But now that truffles are toying with the doughy purity of simple bagels, we have to wonder: Is this white-truffle thing not getting just a bit too precious?

FR.OG Had to Choose Between Death and Didier

Here’s what we know about the departure of Didier Virot from FR.OG. The fact that he’s gone and the restaurant is still there may just prove something we had heard and only half-believed: that the chef was in fact an employee and not a partner. A source tells us that that the restaurant had been struggling (not helped by its name, which every food writer with an Internet connection had sport with). Rather than just close shop — a real consideration, we’re told – owner Philip Kirsh let the chef, who made a very significant salary, go to his next job, a cushy gig at the Palm Court. Currently, the menu is being produced by the line cooks. Efforts to reach Virot haven’t been successful, but should he be up for talking about the endgame at FR.OG, we’ll let you know the score. Leaping From FR.OG [NYT]

The Box Appears on ‘Gossip Girl,’ Officially Jumps the Shark

We thought the Box lost its remaining counterculture cred when the Times, of all things, called it out on being pretty much any other club. Not so! The real point of no return came last night when it appeared, in the guise of club Victrola, on teenybopper drama du jour Gossip Girl. The place must’ve loosened its rules against interior photography, because the first scene has Chuck Bass (a son every bit as wayward as Simon Hammerstein) explaining why his father should support him by investing in the burlesque club: “No judgments. Pure escape. What happens at Victrola stays at Victrola” (until the Health Department shows up, anyway).