Daniel Boulud inevitably an intense but basic roast chicken in the West Village. Missy Robbins East Village ramen. And for Hugue Dufour, only those pristine oysters in Grand Central Terminal will do.
At their stoves, New York's starred chefs are very different from you and me. But when they're ready to inhabit mode, they favor the casual and even the simple. Frequently they return to the same couple of places and order the same thing - again and again.
Though they could dine anywhere, and certainly proprietors of New York's most distinguished restaurants would personally cook anything for them, many culinary luminaries choose when they . Is it that the of their complex restaurant lives (and the high degree of difficulty represented by their own menus) draws them to plain instead of ? Or do the challenges of running kitchens, , partnerships and highly public personas demand the occasional antidote of comfort food? All of the above. When he a restaurant where he can feel truly comfortable, Boulud doesn't the duck terrine with apple confit from the menu at his restaurant Daniel. He settles into a wicker seat at Barbuto, in the West Village.
Chaotic communal tables
There, in a restaurant with roll-up doors and concrete floors that was once a garage, he orders the chef Jonathan Waxman's deceptively unadorned but deeply flavorful roasted chicken with its salsa verde of capers, anchovies, garlic, parsley, arugula, basil, tarragon and sage. "It's all so fresh, so simple, so well done," Boulud said of Barbuto. "It's my security place, where I feel at home." He takes friends and family there, as well as other chefs, like Thomas Keller of Per Se.
Similarly, Robbins the $31 bollito misto of brisket, tongue and duck at A Voce at Madison Square Park, where she is the executive chef. Instead, she goes downtown to the chaotic communal tables and of cooks at Ippudo, in the East Village. She has ramen, pork buns and the signature foot-long whole cucumber with sesame-oil dressing. "Sometimes I want to just go and eat," she said, "and not be Missy Robbins."
Marcus Samuelsson, the executive chef and an owner of Red Rooster Harlem, tries to lose his own fame, too.
"You look for something easy, a place where you can be anonymous - and just be," he said.
He keeps returning to Charles' Country Pan Fried Chicken at 151st Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, a bare-bones, 14-seat takeout place with a nonfunctioning ATM.
"I just feel happy there," he said. After on his bicycle from his Harlem apartment, a mile to the south, he orders the celebrated heritage $9.50 fried chicken with collard greens and candied yams at $2.50 each. Sometimes he'll have the black-eyed peas, okra with tomatoes and corn, banana pudding and sweet tea. "I just want to come back again and again," he said.
The authenticity of the chef Charles Gabriel's egg-washed, , -fried chicken was the "home base" when Samuelsson created his own buttermilk-and-coconut-milk pan-fried chicken at Red Rooster. And when Samuelsson craves a more luxe experience, he (like Boulud) heads to Barbuto for Waxman's roast chicken, which is seasoned with the comfort "of friendship," Samuelsson said, since "Jonathan and I have cooked together many times."
Always the same banquette
As for Waxman, he has his own favorite: Minetta Tavern, in Greenwich Village, where he invariably orders a dozen oysters and the $18 with shallot confit, which "is in half and roasted, and addictive," he said. Like him, some chefs opt for slightly more luxurious destinations.
For Eric Ripert, the executive chef and an owner of Le Bernardin, the special spot is Balthazar in SoHo, "because it feels so comfortable to me, it is like home," he said. He has been going since it opened in 1997. He always sits at the same banquette and usually has the seafood plateau, the steak tartare and the crisp, salty frites.
Maialino is also a high-end spot, but it is the seeming simplicity and rock-solid consistency of the braised suckling pig with malfatti pasta there that draws April Bloomfield, the executive chef of the Spotted Pig. The dish "comes across as not ," she said, "but it has so many layers, and it just makes you feel good inside." She likes to claim one of the round tables for lunch on days off, and invariably takes a glass of verdicchio, "which is very ."
Dufour, a proprietor known for his restaurants' informality, chooses the hauteur of vaulted Guastavino ceilings when in relaxation mode. Dufour, the executive chef of the popular diner-style restaurant M. Wells in Long Island City, Queens, which lost its lease last summer, said his favorite escape is the Oyster Bar in Grand Central. "It's my place," he said. "I always stop there, once a week, sometimes more. We usually decide to go there ."
He occupies a beige at the U-shaped synthetic there with friends and his wife, Sarah Obraitis, and on occasion savors the $10.95 clams casino.
When he was cooking the of his former diner, Dufour creating like the $16 General Tso's with cherries, black pepper and mustard greens. But at the Oyster Bar, "give me two dozen oysters and three, and I am a happy man," he said.
"It's comforting there," he added, because "you don't have to talk with anyone about when you're opening another restaurant." Make that two: the first, in June, at PS 1 in Long Island City; later this year, he'll open an 80-seat steakhouse there.
Getting hungry just talking
It isn't that these chefs don't crave their own food. Waxman spoke for many when he explained that "you can never eat at your own restaurant because you find yourself paying attention to everything."
Boulud, however, said that as a practical matter, "I usually eat in my own restaurants all the time. It's a miracle when I can get out."
But sometimes it just a yearning for the familiar. "Since I'm working all the time, I don't have all that much chance to go to new places, so I tend to return to my favorites," Robbins said about Ippudo. "You have to wait in line a really long time. But the food is good enough so it doesn't matter."
She will probably sit under the bamboo-tree sculpture. "I'm getting hungry just talking about Ippudo," she said. "I just might go there tonight".*