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Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone are side by side, spitballing ideas for new dishes. But the two young chefs are not shouting above the din of the kitchen in their tiny, two-year-old New York City restaurant, Torrisi Italian Specialties; rather, they are speaking sotto voce in the Brooke Russell Astor Reading Room in the Beaux-Arts main branch building of the New York Public Library. Torrisi and Carbone have been coming here frequently of late, poring over the library's extensive historic-menu collection.
Carbone studies the massive, circa-1917 menu of Luchöw's, the German-American restaurant that used to sit east of Manhattan's Union Square. "Broiled bear chop!" he stage-whispers.
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Torrisi puzzles over the similar-vintage menu of Fleischmann's, a workingman's feeding spot on 11th Street that was owned by the same family that made Fleischmann's Yeast. "Farmer's chop suey," he says. "Only in America."