By Nicholas Harary
They told us at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) that it would take nerves of steel to run a 4-star restaurant.
Maybe that’s true; it isn’t easy to put a calm face on the chaos that goes on behind the kitchen door.
In fact, it takes a touch of craziness to run a 4-star restaurant. It takes a lot of craziness to renovate the same restaurant without closing one single day.
Let me tell you what went on behind-the-scenes of the restaurant in early May.
Melissa and I decided we needed to completely change the look of the restaurant one year ago. The front room renovation went off without a hitch as there was minimal construction; we just changed the chairs, fabric, carpet and paint – done in a flash. The tricky part was always going to be the rear dining room.
I set the standards sky-high, first asking my friend, the uber-talented artist Robert Kuster, to create a new chandelier that would rival the one he made for our front room. Next, I had our designer come up with a unique plan, one that would make people request to sit in the “new” room. The tallest order would be finding a builder that had a touch of the crazy, one that would willingly accept a job that needed to be done in six days when most guys said it would take 30. Enter Rick Cifelli, my master builder extraordinaire. He must have been chef in a past life.
In addition to the front room and Bar N running at full tilt during construction, I allowed the rear room to be fully booked for Mother’s Day. There was just something in Cifelli’s eyes when he told me it could be done, that he had a plan. Like I said, a touch of the crazy. My staff rode me for the week. They couldn’t believe I would book a room that was stripped down to the bones exactly 144 hours before the first seating on one of our busiest days of the year. Rick had a crew of 15 guys show up on the Sunday morning before Mother’s Day to gut the room.
They then started four straight 24-hour workdays to rebuild what took only three hours to tear apart. There were two shifts, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. On Tuesday or so (the week is still a blur) I noticed an older guy up on a ladder and asked Cifelli, “Who invited Rodney Dangerfield to the party?” He said, “That’s my dad. He’s been retired for years. I only bust him out on the big jobs.” This is where I started feeling really good about our chances.
So, I was feeling lucky but my staff definitely was not.
Every day, it was, “How’s it going up there?” or “Do you really think we’re going to make it?” or “Uummm, you know we have 240 people booked for Sunday, right?” Like I said, nerves of steel or just plain crazy – does it really matter?
The pinnacle moment happened Friday at 4:30 p.m. Robert was on scaffolding hanging his art, Rick’s 15 guys were all doing their thing, the curtains were being hung, the carpet was being laid and just then the moving guys show up with the new furniture. It was amazing to see so many trades working toward one common goal. Only through sheer hard work and determination we finished the newly christened “Fire Lilly” room at 5:30 p.m. on Friday… a whole day early.
I honestly don’t think the room could have turned out better if we had a year to complete it.
Very much like the team that completed the Fire Lilly room in record time, the team at Azienda Agricola Giovanni Almondo is all about fathers and sons. Well, in the case of the Almondos, it’s a three generational affair, with a grandfather, father and sons working side by side, making some of the best white wines in Italy. Small production, incredible European demand and up until the last couple years, lousy American importers, have kept these brilliant wines a secret in the States.
In February, we did a great dinner with Stefano Almondo, Giovanni’s grandson. He was a pleasure to work with and I’m pretty sure he loved the scallop dish enough that my allocation on Italy’s greatest white wine, the Arneis Bricco delle Ciliegie, is set for at least another 10 years. Between this sold-out dinner and last year’s offer on the 2011 Ciliegie, Almondo wines are no longer a secret to those in the know.
The 2012 offering is wildly aromatic with lush, peachy fruit and a stony, mineral freshness that makes it so good with food. In the restaurant, we pair it as we would with great white Burgundy but it’s a great choice for a summer white, flat-out delicious by itself as an aperitif or a terrific complement to spring asparagus, grilled shrimp or steamed lobster.
Log onto www.restaurantnicholas.com to order.
The Wine: 2012 Arneis Bricco delle Ciligie
For generations, the Almondo family has tended vines of Arneis, the noble white variety of Piedmont. Their six hectares are at elevation, averaging 350 meters. The old vines of the single vineyard, Bricco delle Ciligie, are rooted in sand that covers an old ocean bed. The wine dazzles right out of the bottle, with great aromas of white flowers, almonds and a touch of sage. The mid-palate has layers of concentrated peach and citrus fruit with a mineral streak and a long finish. The production is tiny, 300 cases or so, so don’t miss it as it is truly one of Italy’s great white wines.
Nicholas Harary is the owner and executive chef at restaurant Nicholas in Middletown.
In 2011, Restaurant Nicholas launched its Nicholas Wines program. Each month, Nicholas Harary selects one to two wines to sell in the online store (www.restaurantnicholas.com). Chef Harary’s long- lasting, personal relationships with winemakers and his commitment to storing wine at 56 degrees from Day One equates to unique access, value and quality for Nicholas Wines customers. Wines can be ordered by the bottle and/or case and shipped or picked up at the restaurant.