Chef-O-Rama Drama at Sweet Grass and 42


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You might have been perplexed last week when you saw that Sweet Grass Grill was closed. On a Saturday night, too, and with no private party in sight.

Turns out that Sweet Grass Managing Partner David Starkey and Chef Tommy Lasley fell out in a nasty, nasty argument. I’ve only heard Starkey’s side of the story so far, so I can’t really discuss the particulars, but I will say that the feud was sparked by a disputed Friday paycheck. The scene apparently escalated until Lasley stalked out on Saturday morning, trumping Starkey by taking most of his kitchen crew along with him. Starkey had no recourse but to close Sweet Grass Grill to search for Lasley’s replacement.


Photo of Sweet Grass’s Gustaf Mabrouk (formerly, of 42)

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Bellota at 42 – A New Direction for a Troubled Restaurant

Six days later I heard from Starkey that, “Sweet Grass Grill welcomes guest chef Gustaf Mabrouk, formally the chef de cuisine at 42 the Restaurant in White Plains. The award-winning chef will be leading the kitchen as we move to find a permanent replacement. His menu will be changing daily while it slowly expands. Our new direction will focus on simpler food where high quality, locally sourced ingredients really shine. We hope you’ll take advantage of this rare opportunity to enjoy the cooking of our visiting chef. See you soon.”

Okay, I’m listening, but then who’s cooking at 42? Turns out that Mabrouk left 42 because Chef Anthony Goncalves is rethinking 42’s ultra high-end concept, and—just as I was scrambling to catch up—Goncalves re-launched 42’s bar, lounge, and mezzanine dining room as Bellota at 42. Bellota promises to be a more casual tapas restaurant named in honor of Spain’s ultra-premium jamon, which is made from acorn-fed pata negra porkers whose nutty flavor haunts the fevered dreams of foodies, including me. I’ve seen a couple images of Bellota at 42, and I see none of 42’s heavy, luxe linens on newly bare tables—plus, intriguingly, a scatter of tree trunks now slightly screen 42’s overwhelming view. A daring move but, ultimately, I think, one of genius: the wood suggests the forests where the pata negra frolic and fatten. Additionally, the tree trunks relieve what, at night, can be an overwhelmingly cold, black expanse of glass. (42’s impressive view is still on show, but the wood’s minimal screen helps make the room feel more intimate.)

But, okay, I’m with you so far. You’re thinking, but what about Peniche? The backstory here is that, when Goncalves moved to 42 (which opened in partnership with the Cappelli Group), he turned his popular WP hang, Trotters, into the chic tapas bar, Peniche. Though I’ve always seen it busy—and its reputed $1.2 million post-Trotters redesign is lovely—Peniche’s partners, Anthony Goncalves, Mark Avallone, and John Tesone filed for Chapter 11 in September, 2010. Since then, Goncalves has reputedly extracted himself from Peniche—and it’s a good thing, too, since Bellota at 42 will be trying to peel off some of Peniche’s tapas-crazed throngs.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted and need a jerez to calm my nerves.

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Sweet Grass Grill’s David Starkey Responds

The restaurant world is a crazy one, and E.D.P.’s here to report on the scene – hopefully, in a lively and readable way. However, it’s important to realize that I’m reporting about real people, whose feelings – and sometimes, reputations – might get dinged. (Readers – remember that in your comments, too!) My last post affected a few chefs and restaurateurs, one of whom, David Starkey, contacted me. He pointed out two inaccuracies in my post. One: I imprecisely said that David Starkey and his former chef, Tommy Lasley, had a “nasty, nasty argument.” According to Starkey, Chef Lasley walked out after a texted exchange over one cook’s pay. Two: only one other cook left at that time. Later, the same cook returned claiming that he wasn’t feeling well and only went home at the exact moment of Lasley’s departure. In the face of a rudderless kitchen, Starkey “chose to close” – I reported that he was forced to – because, according to him, “I did not want to risk disappointing customers.”

Here’s what David Starkey has to say about Chef Lasley: “We parted ways. I wish it could have happened in a two week time span but it happened suddenly on a Saturday morning. I don’t care what share of the blame is assigned to me, the restaurant and all of its employees deserve more respect from its chef. He should have given two weeks notice. It is a standard professional courtesy we certainly would have afforded him no matter what our differences.”

Starkey continues, “On the positive side we have been joined by a great professional, Chef Gustaf Mabrouk. His work to quickly turn around the kitchen and create a new menu was nothing short of heroic. While it was unfortunate Tommy left as he did, we are very excited about the new direction of the restaurant. It remains loyal to the farmers who have worked with us since opening and to our customers who know our commitment to sourcing locally will never change.”

Besides Chef Mabrouk, whose menu can be found here, Starkey is also welcoming a new manager. Says Starkey, “Peter Basha, who just started his first week when Tommy walked off. He is a CIA graduate, experienced chef as well as a former instructor at the CIA in FOH operations.” Basha is replacing Theresa McCarthy, with whom Starkey opened Sweet Grass, and who still remains part-owner.

So – lots of Chef-o-Rama and GM drama – but if we know David, he’s already on track.

Get Your Drink On!

These local events will warm your cockles—and who among us doesn’t like warm cockles?

Cocktail Flight Night at Eclisse
Wednesday, November 10, 5pm – 7pm

Westchester’s newest Persian has a secret weapon hidden in the guise of mild-mannered Danielle Madeira. This serious mixologist is brewing her own Falernum and making her own grenadine from actual, fresh pomegranates (rather than red chemicals.) Drop by Wednesday, November 10 and get a flight of three of her best—served in miniature glasses, so you can slip off your stool and walk away. On order are Eclisse martinis (made with Crop organic cucumber-flavored vodka, Martini &Rossi Bianco vermouth); Pomegranate Margaritas (made with house-made grenadine, Avion tequila – made famous by Entourage – Cointreau, and fresh lime); and the Sandstorm (made with Mount Gay Rum, house-Made Falernum, ginger, and fresh citrus).

Holiday Heavy Hitters at Wine Geeks of Armonk
December 8, 7pm
$35 “for education materials” (which, I think, is wine, right?)
Derek Todd will help you sort out the variables of pairing wine with holiday foods, which tend to jumble big flavors and get served to disparate palates. (And what do you do with that aunt that only drinks Berenger white zin?) Whether it’s feast of the fishes, rib roast, or prize goose, Todd and company will help raise your wassail in style. (Also, Todd will be on hand to counsel on holiday wine gifts.)

Kelso Brewery at Birdsall House
TONIGHT! November 8, 6pm
Great minds think alike. Kelso’s fabulously charming brewmaster, Kelly Taylor, will be dropping by Birdsall House to show off his wares. Look for Kelso’s Pale Ale, St. Gowanus Lager (fermented with a Belgian yeast strain), Satisfaction session beer, Carol Garden Wiit, Kellerfest, Flemish Red, and a special surprise gravity keg. And that’s just the beer. Folks, as I predicted, the kitchen at Birdsall House keeps getting better and better. This modest beer hall has turned into one of my all-time favorite restaurants.

Why I Love Birdsall House, Chapter 1: Pork and Beer
(in which our heroine samples barley wine and yields to the sinister charms of charcuterie)

A hearty greeting, a modest table, and — be still my heart — projected scenes from Fritz Lange’s Metropolis and Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane. Folks, you could not get me out of this place with a crowbar, and that was even before the barley wine and charcuterie. Let’s just say that if this dish were a man, I’d accompany it to the men’s room: we’re talking pork terrine with lemony mustard-seed caviar, spicy lamb sausage with red-onion jam, and a seared bacon lardon with apple butter and mesclun. I LOOOOVE Birdsall House.


Our Best of Westchester Party is July 24!

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Unveiled: A Boutique Bridal Brunch is February 25!

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