Beef Stroganoff – photo by Adam Macchia
First Taste: Primary Food & Drink
Ok, here’s an admission: I have never been to either of Chef Graham Elliot Bowles’ Chicago restaurants. In fact, I came to know Bowles not from the deliciousness of his food, but from his role on the Fox cooking-competition program, MasterChef. OK, here’s another admission: I have difficulty watching MasterChef. The show’s Darth Bastianich, zoom-zap camerawork, and Super Bowl graphics make it the no-substitution Rollerball version of foodutainment. It’s like watching 42 minutes of Pow! Bam! Another crushed soul! Wheee!
Still, there was something about Chef Bowles—and not just his tattoos and signature, white 3-D glasses. I remember promising myself that I’d visit his two restaurants, Graham Elliot and Graham Elliot Bistro, when next I was in Chicago. But, hey, my book got in the way and now I am talking to you having not stepped foot in Chicago since MasterChef debuted. You can imagine my pleasure when I heard that Bowles planned to open Primary Food and Drink in Greenwich, CT. Finally, Bowles would be within my reach without having to endure the usual shocking transgressions against my overhead bins. (I mean, the one above my seat is mine, am I right? Am I right?)
I dropped into Primary and I have to say, it’s got the whole town of Greenwich abuzz. There were people in furs clamoring for seats that were simply not available. Reader, do yourself a favor and make a reservation. You can’t imagine how delicious it feels to leave couples wrapped in vicuña and sable standing at the podium while you are quickly shown to your seat. If you are hoping that Primary features amped up décor à la the MasterChef production values, you might be disappointed. It is a beautifully lit and subtly appointed restaurant that’s most notable for its open kitchen, hanging sphere light fixtures, and large format, black and white photographs of the Beatles in all their Hard Day’s Night lovability. There are the 19th century-ish barstools, Carrera bar, walls of bigged-up subway tiles. On the floor, you’ll find a nostalgic pattern of smaller, blue tiles. Basically, there’s nothing revolutionary in the design of this very pretty space. PS: if you can afford those sables, you can purchase the same Beatles photos at a gallery on Greenwich Avenue two doors down.
The menu at Primary is impossible to classify by culture; like all American food, it takes its cues from multiple landscapes. Look for tweaked-up, stylish takes on (dare I say it?) continental cuisine—an eclectic cuisine served in old-fashioned restaurants often so dreadful that no nation would own them. There’s the firm lobster schnitzel ($39), a compressed cake of lobster chunks breaded in panko, sautéed, and served with shaved asparagus, lobster bisque, cauliflower mousse; there’s also deconstructed Caesar with romaine hearts, Spanish anchovy, Parmesan fluff and brioche “Twinkie” ($13). Look for beef stroganoff ($35) with braised short rib, black trumpet, crème fraîche, and truffle coulis to appear alongside modern standards like fluke sashimi ($15) with nori, bok choy, grapefruit, and “soy paint.” Also, at Primary, you’ll see winking, uptown nods to down-and-dirty Americana like the “Buffalo Chicken” ($14), a very classic and delicious roulade of chicken breast amusingly paired with celeriac slaw, crumbled Roquefort, and dabs of buttery, orange hot sauce.
First tastes are not critical reviews—I visited only once and that was within the restaurants first few days of opening (and that’s way too soon to judge). But I will say that the killer dish of the evening was an impossibly perfect toasted gnocchi ($13) that was silken and slippery, yet offered a tantalizing resilience to the bite. Beyond its incredibly sexy texture—Reader, eating this gnocchi was like French kissing pasta—it was dressed in lightly crisped foraged mushrooms and brown butter. Mmmnn. Perfectly dreamy.
Toasted Gnocchi – photo by Adam Macchia
Don’t miss Primary’s excellent list of American wines that slings some pricy sable/vicuna-friendly heavy-hitters along with well-priced, by-the-glass picks. Also, look for local- and CT-brewed beers on tap plus the French Quarter cocktail—a sort of less sugary Sazerac made without absinthe. To end, we shared a plate of apple and caramel beignets with a delicious rosemary sorbet that was as precious and fragile as the first dusting of snow. Oh, pounce, people, pounce.
Shea Gallante’s Italian Kitchen Closes, L’Inizio Debuts
When I saw that Chef Shea Gallante was shopping his Italian Kitchen at 698 Saw Mill River Road in Ardsley earlier in the year I was a little heartbroken even though I had to recognize that that small Ardsley space had always been a stepping stone for Gallante. Turns out, the space’s new owners are Scott and Heather Fratangelo who were behind Spigolo on the Upper East Side. The couple plan to also serve Italian food—I’ll be checking it out soon, so keep your eyes peeled.
Warm Roasted Oysters at RiverMarket Bar and Kitchen
Folks! Heads up! It’s that Christmas/New Year’s break when knocking back oysters and Champagne is completely de rigueur. Swing into buzzing RiverMarket Bar and Kitchen, the new spot by the Crabtree’s Kittle House team, and check out these, all warm and briny and make prettily pink with red verjus. They’re just the festive slurp to ring in the New Year. Happy New Year and thanks for reading!