"It should be a pretty easy and laid-back evening," Chef Jason Dady said as he finished going through the details of his five-course menu to the front of house staff at Sarah Simmons' City Grit. And while each course was a cacophony of origins and elements, his team was a pretty easy-going assembly line during the actual dinner, firing off the five courses with precision and focus but in good fun, while 50-ticketed diners sat upstairs.
Simmons's "culinary salon" is quite the machine. She shares an old school building in Nolita with WRK Design, who uses it during daylight hours as an antique and clothing store. At night, the tabled items get stored away in exchange for mason jars and wine glasses, and guests mingle at communal tables (often with their prices tagged for purchase) in adjoining rooms. There's a friendly glow about the place when it's full up, and you'd have no idea how much foot traffic is happening below, where full sheet trays of plates are run through passageways littered with places for a misstep, up a stairwell to where Simmons waits to doll out plates to servers.
Along with hosting her own themed dinners throughout the month, Simmons welcomes guest chefs from around the country to showcase their menus for a New York audience composed primarily of curious eaters and industry insiders. She hopes—along with allowing them to bring a bit of their regional flare to her New York kitchen—that these evenings expose them to the vast majority of media hounds the city is host to without breaking their own restaurants' bank. In that light, we spent the evening with Sarah, Jason and their assembled teams to catch exactly how everything works.
While Simmons often brings in chefs she considers the unsung heroes of the industry, Dady is no stranger to achievement and success; he's credited with changing the culinary landscape of San Antonio by providing restaurants that fill in what's been missing. In 2001—at the ripe age of 24 but with heavy training and culinary roots behind him—Dady opened his first restaurant, The Lodge Restaurant at Castle Hills, which offered one of the city's first tasting menus. Five more have followed since, including a small plates and wine bar and a food truck, along with some heavy accolades and two stints cooking at the James Beard house.
"The whole idea at one of our restaurants—Bin 555—is that there are no rules. We can cook whatever we want, whenever we want, depending on how we're feeling. It doesn't matter if it's French or Spanish or whatever it is that we want to do. When we wrote this menu it was very much in that spirit—what do we want to cook for these people, and how can we have fun with it?"
Dady started with an amuse of a savory macaron, layered with bone marrow mousse and a concentrated Luxardo cherry jam. Five courses followed, combining ingredients brought in from Texas with those Sarah sourced for him here. A few surprises were discovered in the process—the addition of Nutella to baba ganoush lends an extra layer of depth, for example—but overall Dady's focus was on a blending of flavors from different origins and just having fun with it.
Click on the slideshow above for a behind the scenes look of the full meal.