Insatiable Critic: Any Way You Slice It

Costata: Any Way You Slice It

 

By: Gael Greene

 

It did occur to me that maybe Costata, Michael White’s sleek new showcase for his obsessive take on meat, might not be the best choice for a “girls night out.”  Sorry about the “girls” thing. That was my friend Pamela talking. I immediately tried calling it “our women’s night out” not to offend Gloria Steinem. But let me not be accused of gender profiling either. Of course women eat steak.

 

“You must be at least four people so you can order the Tomahawk rib eye and still taste everything else,” my pal warned, reporting in from a friends and family tasting. “Rapturous,” was how he summed it up. But these three particular dames – unlike the vegan, gluten-intolerant and calorie-counting size 0’s I count among my friends – were ripe for the challenge.

 

All three of them are two-fisted martini drinkers, approving the $16 tariff here compared to $21 elsewhere around town, specifying labels: “Chopin. Not too dirty.” “Grey Goose. No vegetables.”  I ask for my Passione Tequila Arrabiata “not too sweet.” Tangy with citrus and passion fruit, it’s perfect.  “I love this drink,” I announce. I think I said it each time I took a sip, drinking slowly, a big drink with a whole hot red pepper crouching at the bottom, wanting my drink to last.

 

I notice I am the only one actually eating the soft, almost sweet focaccia swathed with a pesto-like slick of lardo, rosemary and sage. Maybe they are saving themselves, contemplating demolishing that rib eye. I don’t actually like the bread myself, just nervous, waiting – food is taking a while to come.

 

First pitch, we’re surrendering, loving the satiny stickiness of Spanish prawn crudo, lipstick red, a double order, $32. With my finger, I pick up rivulets of oil and a dab of something brown from the crystal platter: the shrimp heads smashed into a paste with white wine afloat on Ligurian olive oil. A coral sauce.

 

Lana has to have the swordfish, firm and sweet, under a gravel of crushed pistachios.  “You never see swordfish crudo,” she notes.  But now we’re all swooning over the sea scallops, sliced very thin, sweet and gooey on a celery root puree, under a cloak of black summer truffles and bits of celery root dice. Scattered celery leaves add their own special flavor.

 

Michelle has to have soft shell crab.  Who can blame her?  It’s such a short season. We could have it twice a day. This one is divided in four, dusted with semolina flour for frying, tossed with fennel, radish and small cubes of peppery soppressata sausage.

 

I’m about to order the razor clams, piled into their long shells with fennel and more of that feisty sausage, when my eye lands on the word “marrow.”  I must have the bone marrow panzanella, whatever it is.  It is, I’ll borrow the exclamation, rapturous. The bowl circles the table evoking ecstatic cries. Fatty little globs of marrow on crisp whole leaves of  gem lettuce and radicchio, tossed with balsamic, shallots and diabolically wicked croutons – sloppily torn shards of bread, soaked in rendered marrow, red wine vinaigrette and veal demi-glace, then toasted.

 

We manage to avoid a schism over the 44 oz Tomahawk rib eye, named for its extra long bone. We had planned to remove a few of the rarest slices and send the rest back for more fire to please some “medium rare” demands. But the animal arrives and is deemed acceptable all around.  (Oh, maybe it could have been rarer, if not for the challenge).

 

Once we discover how irresistible Red Bliss potatoes can be, roasted and fried with chili flakes, and how compelling the artichokes alla giudia, the pastas are mostly abandoned.  I like the semolina cavatelli with braised oxtail and Fontina better than the humble rigatoni alla Contadina, with firm little meatballs of prosciutto and mortadella. Appetizer portions would have been more prudent, I realize, seeing how much is uneaten. I’m definitely not leaving even half a Red Bliss.

 

At some point, there is a second round of martinis. Salute, Ladies. Needless to say, we greet dessert in high spirits.  I prefer Robert Truitt’s chocolate tartaletta [sic] with hazelnut praline to the slightly pallid apricot and lavender crumble.  I’m not a panna cotta fan, but the gossamer beauty in the roly poly glass with watermelon granite and pistachios is a masterwork.

 
White’s appetite for conquest is Napoleonic. With Butterfly, the Wisconsin supper club he’s opening any minute in Tribeca with mixologist Eben Freeman, and the uptown riff on Morini he’s planning for the Centolire space on Madison Avenue, plus Chop Shop in London, he and his partner, ex-Merrill Lynch player Ahmass Fakahany, couldn’t resist grabbing the old Fiamma triplex where they met twelve years ago. White was 29 then, harvesting three stars for Steve Hanson, and left when the two fell out. Now, at 41, he’s back as owner.     
 

Whatever you think about the poetry of emotionally-fraught homecomings – General MacArthur’s, Dorothy from Oz, Scarlett at Tara – this was never an easy space.  Now it’s been gussied up with mahogany walls, a chandelier from Murano, and exuberant paintings by Nasser Azam, a London artist. There are 45 seats on the ground floor, 60 after an elevator ride to the second, a private dining space on the third.

 

White wanted a steak house. It had to be more and better than any beef fanatic imagined. As soon as he signed the Soho deal, he started putting away sides of Black Angus to age in Pat LaFrieda’s New Jersey locker.  “Other restaurants are selling 21 to 28 day aged meat for  $160 to $190. I’m selling 40 to 50 day aged meat for $120,” he boasts. “The steak you had was aged 50 days,” he tells me. “Last week we sold 124 chops. Now we’re selling 60 or 70 a day.”

 

I complain about paying $3 or $4 for sauces – porcini, black pepper pancetta cream, béarnaise.  “We have to charge,” he protests. “We roasted 80 lbs of veal bones and used a couple of cases of red wine for 20 quarts of bordelaise.”

 
Right now, you’re likely to catch the chef saying hello to regulars in the dining room. He’s thinner. Spreading himself thin, you might want to say. I spied Jerry Della Femina and Jeffrey Chodorow, at separate tables last Thursday. Any minute, White will be off to make sure the fried chicken and mashed potatoes at Buttefrly have that classic Wisconsin saveur. PJ Calapa, the chef de cuisine at Ai Fiori, will continue to double at Costata. 

 

I wanted to send you this first impression even though the service is still a little green.  It took several minutes for the hostess to fetch an umbrella from wherever it was stashed. But I don’t mind a few fumbles. I can’t wait to return.

 

206 Spring Street between Sixth Avenue and Sullivan Street. 212 334 3320. Dinner nightly 5 pm till midnight.

 

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