The Toqueland Interview: Alan Harding

The Godfather of Brooklyn’s Dining Renaissance on Discovering Smith Street, Outer-Borough Economics, & Creative Restlessness

Alan Harding, photographed outside Littleneck Restaurant, March 2012

Back in 1997, Alan Harding, who first garnered attention at Nosmo King in Tribeca, stunned New York diners when he crossed the East River and opened Patois on a desolate stretch of Smith Street in Brooklyn. The space that housed Patois is now home to red-hot Battersby and Smith is, of course, one of the premiere thoroughfares of the modern Brooklyn dining scene. Harding and his Patois partners Jim Mamary and Mamary’s brother Paul, collectively and individually, would go on to have a hand, if not necessarily a stake, in more than a dozen Brooklyn restaurants including Uncle Pho, Schnäck, and Pacifico.

Though widely acknowledged as Brooklyn’s culinary Pied Piper, Harding is no longer associated with past projects other than the Gowanus Yacht Club, a seasonal, open-air MASH unit of a watering hole in Carroll Gardens. But he’s still very much a factor out here in Kings County, currently as the chef (though not a partner) at Littleneck, a fish house on Third Avenue, between President and Carroll.

Last spring, while pondering a possible book about Brooklyn, I sat down with Harding in the open air of the Gowanus Yacht Club, which happens to be Toqueland’s favorite place to knock off early in the summer, and as he puffed on a stogie (a habit he’s since quit), discussed his pioneering of Smith Street and what’s transpired in these parts since those days. The book never happened, but I recently came across the dialogue and, with Harding’s consent, decided to share it here.

TOQUELAND: Let’s contextualize: I remember, when I lived in Park Slope twenty years ago, if we made plans with people in Manhattan, there wasn’t even a discussion about venue; the assumption was that the Brooklyn people came into “the city.”

HARDING: Correct.

TOQUELAND: And now, Manhattan people might come to Brooklyn.

HARDING: Well, you know, we decided to do a project in Brooklyn because we all lived in Brooklyn and because the city at that time was hard. It’s always been hard.

TOQUELAND: You don’t just mean financially?

HARDING: Financially and logistically and entrepreneurially and bureaucratically. For a long time, Brooklyn was off the radar as a place that the city could generate revenue from the entrepreneurship. The Board of Health never came to Brooklyn because they were so busy doing places in Manhattan. For a long time it was like this like secret little place that had people that enjoyed good food that were sick of going to Manhattan.

At Patois, there was a line out the door and they had to wait in the backyard in a tent where there was a wood-burning stove. Nowadays, if someone said, “There’s a tent in the back with a wood burning stove,” probably the first five calls would be to 311.

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Once More With Feeling: Chanterelle Comes to De Gustibus

A Rare Chance to Revisit Signature Dishes from One of the Most Quintessentially New York Restaurants, and Enjoy a Live Conversation with Chef David Waltuck

David Waltuck

Hi, all,

I’ll be wrapping up and publishing quite a few backlogged posts over the next week or two as I’m just digging out from a few short-term deadlines, as well as some travel, including a trip to Chicago for the El Bulli dinner at Next, about which I’ll be filing a report in a few days.

For the moment, however, I want to briefly mention that David Waltuck and I will re-telling the Chanterelle story in dialogue and dishes at De Gustibus in New York City Wednesday night (April 18). I’ve just learned that there are still some seats available, and encourage Toqueland readers to snap them up here.

The class will be like most De Gustibus presentations in that David will be demonstrating a number of dishes that will also be served up to those in attendance, along with wine pairings. What will be unusual is that I’ll be on the stage with him, and we’ll be discussing quite a bit between the bites: We’ll put the dishes in the context of Chanterelle’s timeline, and talk about the ins and outs of collaboration (we penned the restaurant’s book together a few years back). And, as I’ve just begun working on my own tome about the chefs of the 1970s and 1980s, an era that David and his wife Karen helped define, we’ll also engage in some storytelling about those formative dining days in New York City.

Beyond all of that, this will be a rare opportunity for fans of Chanterelle to savor another taste of the restaurant (how often does that happen?) including David’s signature Seafood Sausage.  The evening will begin with a Chanterelle amuse and end the way meals at the restaurant did, with elegant little fruit gelees. The full menu is as follows:

Cold Beet Soup with Crème Fraîche and Caviar

Grilled Seafood Sausage with Beurre Blanc Sauce

Potato Risotto with Sautéed Foie Gras

Sautéed Turbot with Peas, Pearl Onions, and Pancetta

Roast Lamb Loin with Marjoram and Mini Moussaka

Chanterelle Fruit Gelees

I’ll be skipping lunch that day, and hope to see you there.

- Andrew