Clyde Frazier’s Wine and Dine is set to open tomorrow, March 16, at 485 Tenth Avenue (corner of 37th Street) in New York City. Named for a basketball superstar, it’s on the mind of most Toquelanders because of the presence of David Waltuck, executive chef and co-owner (with his wife Karen) of the late, great Chanterelle, where I got to know them both when David and I co-authored the restaurant’s cookbook. (The New York Times detailed CFW&D’s backstory on Friday.)
Today, as executive corporate chef for Ark Restaurants (a position once held by Jonathan Waxman), David has been consulting on the menu at CFW&D and will be in the kitchen for an indeterminate amount of time after opening, along with the dedicated team. However long he’s there, and in whatever capacity, it was great to see him amongst the burners again:
Though CFW&D is not yet open, my wife, Caitlin, our kids, and I had dinner at there Friday night as part of the restaurant’s Friends and Family. For non-industry readers, Friends and Family is a restaurant tradition in which the owners and chef invite–you guessed it–friends and family (and investors and anybody else whom they either feel obligated to include or whose feedback they value) to come into the restaurant as guests (i.e., gratis) as they whip the dining room and kitchen teams–and the synchronization of the two–into shape.
There’s a tacit understanding during Friends and Family: if you’re a guest, you come ready to patiently endure all the kinks that might be present at any dress rehearsal: long waits between courses, poorly conceived or wrongly seasoned food, and anything else that might go awry. It’s also customary to tip big, since the waitstaff are being paid, but are serving far fewer customers than they would were the place officially open. In other words, it’s a win-win, made memorable by the feeling that you’re seeing people you care about off on a big adventure and possibly playing a small role in their success by offering useful feedback.
To that end, some restaurateurs ask their guests to fill out a comment card, or even (I’m looking at you, Jimmy Bradley) a small booklet–like a pop quiz–at the end of the meal, soliciting notes on everything from the greeting at the door, to the bread, to the table service to, of course, the food.
A written report wasn’t part of the drill at CFW&D, but I did, as I always do for these things, send my notes to David via email over the weekend. Not surprisingly, given the caliber of this chef, my comments were pretty minor. A lot of the dishes, such as pork buns, curried onion fritters, spaghetti with cheese-filled meatballs (a surefire hit for kids based on my son’s reaction), sides such as broccoli cooked in oyster sauce, and desserts like freshly fried doughnuts and a peanut butter bombe were right on the money; others needed very little fine tuning, mostly in the salt and temperature department, which is normal at these things. But I won’t get into all that here since Friends and Family isn’t a press event, though I did get David’ s blessing before writing this post.
I expect journalists will pay more attention to CFW&D than they have to an Ark restaurant in quite a while; in addition to the Times piece, a number of ink-stained friends have been asking me when the place is opening, how my dinner was Friday night, and so on. But there’s no reason to ask me anymore: the joint opens tomorrow. Bon appétit!