First this was going to be a review of New York City restaurateur Danny Meyer's new book, Setting the Table. Then it was going to be a mouthwatering account of the food served at a party Monday evening that Danny and Audrey Meyer threw for their friends, colleagues, and extended family to celebrate the publication of the book. Then I realized that I could make this post about both those things and an exercise in shameless self-promotion for Serious Eats.
First the book. Setting the Table is an uplifting, revealing account of Danny Meyer's journey from precocious product of a privileged Saint Louis upbringing in what sounds like a fairly dysfunctional but absolutely fascinating family. Meyer learned early that what made him happy was discovering great food of all kinds and celebrating those discoveries with other people, which he calls the new paridigm of hospitality. It's not a traditional self-help book, and there's a refreshing lack of self-congratulatory yada-yada. Meyer's enthusiasm and passion for what he does is contagious, and it carries along the narrative in a way that few other books of its kind do.
Danny Meyer's great innovation as a restaurateur is this: You can be serious about food without being pretentious, patronizing, and off-putting. At every one of Danny Meyer's restaurants, from the Shake Shack to Gramercy Tavern to Blue Smoke, customers are made to feel welcome from the moment they walk in the door to when they leave after paying their check. As a result, most often you really do feel like you're taking a little vacation from your life when you eat there.
The party was the same way. Although there were a couple of hundred people there, it felt like an intimate, very personal gathering. The menu, according to Meyer, was all inspired by foods he talked about in the book:
Quail Eggs in a Hole: As good as eggs in a whole get.
Mini-Lobster Rolls: Just about as good as the ones at Pearl
Pasta with Fennel Sausage and Cream: Union Square Cafe Executive Chef Michael Romano himself was cooking the pasta to order.
Pasta with Bread Crumbs and Bottarga: Ditto
French Fries: Served six at a time in shot glasses
Mini-Shake Shack Cheeseburgers: These made me want the Shake Shack to stay open all year. According to Al Gore, this should now be possible.
Fried Calamari: A little greasy and not crunchy enough.
Whole Pig: Deelish!
Beef Ribs: The Surprise of the Blue Smoke room at the party. I'm going to order these next time I'm at Blue Smoke.
Baby Back Ribs: A little tough, mostly because they don't reheat well after they've been cut up.
Macaroni and Cheese: I hate to admit it, but I didn't have any.
Three kinds of crudo: I liked the Arctic Char and the tuna best.
Key Lime Pie: Great. Just sweet enough and oh so creamy.
Walnut-Cranberry Pie: A perfect blend of sweet-tart.
Mini Chocolate Cupcakes: These were moist and fluffy.
Mini Ice Cream Cones: The mint ones rocked.
Brownies: A little too sweet for me.
Tart Flambé and Robiola-Filled Focaccia: Tasty but a little tough.
Overall it was just a great, great feed (well, the fried calamari was a little soggy), and more important, it all clearly meant a lot to Danny and the assembled multitudes. Danny loves the pleasure derived from eating good food and sharing it with the people he cares about most.
And I guess that's what I hope we do at Serious Eats. We may not do it as smoothly as Danny, whom I call Mr. Smooth. Not yet, anyway. We haven't been doing it as long as Danny, so it's a little messier here at Serious Eats. But our goals are the same, to provide our community of serious eaters with a forum to celebrate eating and cooking and to talk about great food.
I hope we can deliver the same kind of hospitality at Serious Eats. If Danny Meyer can do it at eleven restaurants, we should be able to do it at one website. And reading Setting the Table should jumpstart the process.
Photograph from the Union Square Hospitality Group