We interrupt our Summer Fridays programming today for a Friday Fives from our friend, sometimes editor (we very occasionally write for Gilt Taste) and soon-to-be judge on the new season of Top Chef Masters, Francis Lam. Francis is one of the best food writers out there – he’s a former editor of Gourmet Magazine and writes for everyone from the New York Times to the Financial Times. Despite such a prestigious resume, he’s not your typical dorky culinary wordsmith. The dude is a legitimate bad ass. You want proof? Check out this piece Francis wrote on what The Notorious B.I.G. taught him about food.
For his Friday Fives, we asked Francis to try and keep his restaurant picks summer themed, so he picked some of his favorite spots to dine alfresco, etc. Check out his picks below and make sure you’re following him on Twitter to keep up with the latest. Also be sure to tune into the Top Chef Masters Season 4 premiere on Wednesday, July 25th at 10pm ET/PT to watch Francis’ debut as a judge.
Francis’ “Perfect For” Picks
Punjabi Deli (114 E 1st St.) – “Punjabi cab stand, north side of Houston between Essex and Allen, basement level. Hands-down the best $2 curries in NYC. That might sound like faint praise, but I’d put them up against anything 10 times that price. There’s no menu, there are no labels or descriptions of the food, just a deli fridge case, a half-dozen microwaves, and friendly men who’ll heat up a bowl or a plate of spicy, insanely tasty “Number 3″ or maybe a “Second from the right.” Look, I don’t actually know what’s in the stuff. But I do know that there has never been a better nearly-free meal anywhere else. There’s no seating inside either, so you grab your food and make friends standing around, sweating on the sidewalk.”
Barbetta (321 W 46th St.) – “The first time I noticed Barbetta was when the late Michael Batterberry, the founder of Food Arts, told me about it a few years ago. If you never had the chance to hear Mr. Batterberry speak, he was always the best dressed man in the room, knew everything, told the best stories with a vocabulary that would make Webster jealous, and had a voice like God. Anyway, he told me how Barbetta was the first place, as far as he knew, to serve northern Italian food in New York, and how he would go there for risotto, an oasis of refinement in a city that had never heard of risotto. Purely as a place to exchange money for food, my last meal there was…fine. But you step into the restaurant, walk through the grand, ornate dining room, and sit in the patio and you can feel, for a moment, like you’re in that oasis too.”
L&B Spumoni Gardens (2725 86th St.) – “L&B is like… how do I describe it? Well, do you remember when you were a kid at the carnival and your parents took you to the food tent and everything magically tasted awesome for no good reason? Going to L&B is having that feeling again, only the park is called “Artisanal-Pickle-Free Brooklyn” and you have to be a little more careful not to look at the toughguys’ girlfriends. Go, grab a hell of a pizza (round or square, your call), grab a picnic table, and watch out for the kids squirting each other with water guns.”
Dovetail (103 W 77th St.) – “When was the last time you had to put your fork down in mid bite, pound the table from deliciousness, and go, “what in the hell did they DO TO THIS SQUASH??” If never, you should brave the Upper West Side and get to Dovetail on a Monday, when they do their vegetarian / “vegetable focused” (that is, mostly vegetables but maybe with a little bit of an assist from pig) menus. It’s summer, and they have crazy good produce to work with right now. Bonus: it costs about half as much as their regular menu, for food they’re clearly just as excited about.”
The NoMad Rooftop (1170 Broadway) – “A wise man once asked me, “When was the last time you had a good meal at a restaurant with a great view?” I couldn’t remember, and he said, “Exactly. Never. Because a restaurant with a great view never has to make great food, so they won’t.” Well, leave it to the NoMad kids to go and overachieve. Yes, it’s expensive as hell, but how many times will you get to have Eleven Madison Park- level food so close to the Empire State Building that you can see Faye Wray’s heels still stuck on a window ledge? (Oh, and by the way, “forget” to bring your sunglasses and they’ll lend you a pair of Warby Parkers before the sun sets.)”
Francis’ Twitter People
@BoobsRadley – Her name is Boobs Radley. And she only gets funnier from there.
@Mariobatali – You’ve never seen so many exclamation points!!! He gives cooking tips to followers with more gusto than anyone!! And he (slyly) does not suffer fools gladly!!!
@Jarjunbasu – I can’t tell if he invented the 140 character short story or just perfected it, but it’s one or the other.
@andrecarmellini – I tried to keep this list free of people I know in real life, but I had to break the rules for the Big Homie, AC. He’s the boss of the NYC chef scene, straight up. All your favorite hot shots – Dave Chang, the Torrisi boys, Tien Ho – worked for him. He’s not new school or old school, he just runs the school.
@robicellis – This is a cupcake and whoopie pie bakery with awesome/insane flavors. Ok, full disclosure: they made a whoopie pie flavor and named it after me. It was the greatest food honor of my life. Are you kidding? A Brooklyn food establishment has your name on something? It’s me, Frank Sinantra, and Sly Stallone. That’s one to take to the grave. But even before that, I loved reading Allison Robecelli’s tweets. She’s smart, funny, and sometimes heartbreakingly honest. Like with this one: “Your parents gave me my work ethic. My dad gave you songs about his balls.”