Following up with Chef Andy Nusser for our upcoming Westchester Magazine Tarry Lodge review, we learned an alarming fact. Apparently, diners have been avoiding his bodice-ripping antipasto of raw fluke with shaved fennel and celery, (lightly sexed up with lemon, La Mozza olive oil and sea salt). This dish had good looks, bedroom eyes, and highly questionable morals. We craved it in carnal way.
In fact, the wistful chef informed us that due to lack of interest in the crudo, the raw fish antipasto has been changed to tuna tartare. Chef Nusser did some delicate stepping around “diners around here”, or “maybe it was the wording”, but his overall drift was that tuna tartare was about all Westchester’s could handle. “Crudo,” FYI, was a localized tradition in Italy. The dish comes to this country via the Batali/Bastianich restaurant Esca, cheffed by the great David Pasternack. The dish hit Manhattan hard, and became a justifiable draw to the Times Square Esca, where pristine raw fishes were offered in bob-bon-like array with exotic salts and the rarified olive oils. It was a genius marketing ploy to compete with the popularity of sushi, but this crew’s notions are often restaurant world fiats. After all, they invented the ubiquitous “quartinos”.
As most diners probably know by now, tuna tartare competes with molten chocolate cake as the most hackneyed dish in America. No matter how well-prepared, how delicious, how perfect, tuna tartare is as old hat as blackened Cajun anything. In this 2007/8 post by yours truly, we rail about this industry joke. Ten months later, Robert Sietsema of the Village Voice, uh, voiced the same opinion, though he adds tapas and the highly questionable prosciutto to his list of personal bugaboos. (And to mind, prosciutto is like Dr, Johnson’s London — when you are tired of it, you are tired of life.)
This substitution business pours designer salt into a barely healed county wound. Some of you might remember Colman Andrews’s positive-toward-Tarry, sneering-toward-Westchester “First Taste” in Gourmet Magazine. I objected to Andrews’s cheap shot at the county, where he quoted a waitress asserting that Tarry lists guinea hen as chicken, because “this is Westchester.” (Okay, I was mostly freaked out by the piece’s use of quotes around the word ethnic. As I enlarge in the last comment to this Eater post, this is — at best — ethnocentric). But after Tarry Lodge’s Guinea Hengate, taking the crudo away and substituting tuna tartare kinda screams of, dare we say it, pandering.
Here’s what I propose to do about this situation. In these days of renewed optimism, we must all come together as a team. Take a firm hold of some architecture in Tarry Lodge’s dining rooms (there’s a lot of stone, so this shouldn’t be too hard). Then declare that you want the crudo. Refuse to cede your seat without the dish, bring lots of friends, and use your cell phone to call flash mobs to the bar. I’m thinking a simple, loud Act Up chant should do it, like “Cru-DO!, Cru-DO!, Cru-DO!”.