You won't find an ad in the dining out section of a newspaper or a listing
under restaurants in the yellow pages for the James Beard Foundation. Nevertheless,
the kitchen of this Federal-style townhouse in New York City's Greenwich
Village is where the stars of American cooking preside almost every
evening. You could eat at the former home of James Beard, dean of American gastronomy,
night after night (usually midweek) and year after year, sampling a completely
different menu each time. It began in 1985 when Wolfgang Puck prepared the first
"Great American Chefs Dinner" as a fundraiser to turn the former residence
into a center for foodies and food professionals. In the years that followed
the best-known chefs in the States—Debra Ponzet, Jimmy Schmidt, Alice Waters,
Jean-Louis Palladin, Lydia Shire and Daniel Boulard—beat a path to the brick
building to work their magic.
If you join the James Beard Foundation ($125 yearly for New Yorkers and $60
for out-of-towners), you'll receive the monthly newsletter listing all the events,
along with the complete menus, and packed full of information about books, personalities,
restaurants, workshops and wine. You'll also get a $20 to $25 dinner discount
and other benefits. A typical dinner for 60 guests begins about 7 p.m. with
drinks and the visiting chef's signature hors d'oeuvres. Meals are priced from
$55 to $125 including wine, tax and gratuity. You need not become a member to
eat at The Beard House. For people who find themselves in New
York City without a dining companion, there's no better way to enjoy a five-course
meal in the company of interested and interesting people than to join a table
at the Beard House.
For membership information, contact the James Beard Foundation, 167 W. 12th
Street, New York, NY 10011. Tel. 212-675-4984. Reservations must be prepaid
by credit card. Tel. 212-627-2308. www.jamesbeard.org
On a weekend evening San Domenico is bubbling. Every handcrafted
leather chair is taken and the hum and smiles in the restaurant indicate that
this is a happy place. The contemporary dining room with fashionably modern
lighting, beautifully framed artwork and earthenware pots crowded with bunches
of wheat looks as though it was transplanted from Milan. The designer made a
statement—strong and simple, a little showy, but not overbearing.
The chef, Theo Schoenegger, makes a statement, too. His Northern Italian cuisine
is fantastic. Polenta was smooth and creamy with just enough Parmesan cheese to give
it a perky flavor. Risotta was also well prepared with firm grains of rice and a
light tomato and prawn sauce. If you can turn out stellar versions of these dishes,
you can cook just about anything properly. This kitchen does.
Mussels and cannellini beans with chopped fresh tomatoes came in a warming parsley
broth. Crisp lightly fried sweetbreads were delicate and well paired with baby greens.
Beautifully grilled fresh salmon was perfectly seasoned and served with a delicious
sliced and browned potato tart. Spinach was barely cooked, firm and dressed with
a hint of olive oil. Ravioli stuffed with duck was an imaginative rendition of this
dish. Polenta-breaded red snapper was another imaginatively conceived and nicely
To refresh the palate after the main course, olive oil and a basket of crudities
were offered. The caramelized coconut-orange custard was as good as the crème
brulée on which some French restaurants have built their reputations. Service
was attentive with carefully thought-out touches. Bottles of sparking water were
kept chilled in a wine bucket. All the food was very rich and although the portions
did not appear to be too big, they were. To match the appetites of the 90s, less
might be better.
San Domenico, 240 Central Park South, New York, NY 10019. Tel. 212-265-5959.
Open for lunch, Monday to Friday and for dinner seven days a week. Expensive.