In spite of mounting evidence that our Spanx-wearing, lipo-loving, diet-crazed citizenry just might be a species as obsessed with its own body image as the average Angeleno, you wouldn’t know it from visiting our restaurants. New York, you see, has entered a new, deep-fried era, one fueled by tankers of canola oil and littered with reams of brown-paper blotters that rest underneath all the toothsome fried morsels that chefs are sending out to the hottest tables in town. Or haven’t you noticed the flotillas of arancini, the armadas of patatas bravas, and the temple of tempura that has sprung up on Carmine Street? A confluence of culinary circumstances (a great surge of tapas bars and Italian small-plate joints, combined with the righteous triumph of gluttony over moderation) has landed us in this finger-licking situation, even as Mayor Bloomberg targets trans fats as public enemy No. 1.
But who needs trans fats when we’ve got other, better methods? Schmaltz, for instance, or duck fat. Both are making “healthy” comebacks. The newly relocated 2nd Avenue Deli is serving gribenes as an amuse-bouche of sorts. Fritti monopolize Italian menus everywhere from Bar Stuzzichini to Centro Vinoteca, taking the form of nutty little panelle or crisp cauliflower wedges or, in the case of Morandi, pork-stuffed olives. At Abraço, a new East Village coffee bar, you can have your macchiato with a plate of ricotta fritters or some risotto balls, both fried to order. Tía Pol’s little sister El Quinto Pino has raised fried fish sticks to an art form, and at the new French wine bar Solex, you can pop foie gras cromesquis—deep-fried balls of liquid liver—into your mouth like M&Ms.
New Yorkers, of course, are a diverse bunch, and they like their fried food low (as in PDT’s bacon-wrapped deep-fried hot dogs) and high (the cubes of hollandaise sauce that Wylie Dufresne miraculously deep-fries to accompany his new, outré take on eggs Benedict).
Still, the fry craze is no surprise to seasoned chefs, who are schooled in the wisdom that fat is flavor and crunch never hurts. No one knows this better than Josh DeChellis, who has opened what may be New York’s first tempura bar, Barfry, where delicate batters encase everything from Skookum oysters to chicken-fried steak. Frying is Barfry’s raison d’être, its modus operandi. It’s also something of an unlikely ecofriendly selling point: Twice a week, the old oil gets picked up and converted to biodiesel, helping make New York not only crispy, but green.