You can learn a lot if you spend an evening hanging out at Morandi, Keith McNally’s much maligned Italian restaurant in the West Village. At dinner there last night with my friends Jonathan Gold (he’d just picked up his Pulitzer Prize for criticism, the first one ever given to a food writer) and cake designer extraordinaire Margaret Braun, whose Cakewalk is the most gorgeous book on cakes ever (I would say that even if I hadn’t worked on it), here’s what I picked up.
* That restaurant critics and East Village restaurateurs can get paid A LOT of money for the books they’re going to write.
* That Mario Batali and Del Posto chef Mark Ladner, whom we’d just missed, like outdoor seating.
* That Morandi chef Jody Williams, whose food I’ve always loved but who has received less-than-stellar reviews, was on her 99th straight day at the restaurant.
* That Jody hadn’t read the less-than-stellar review by Frank Bruni in the New York Times, though she’d heard excerpts—Jonathan didn’t believe she hadn’t read it, Margaret did. (I'm assuming she read Keith McNally's response to that review.) And that she knows that people are taking bets on how soon she’ll leave—but won’t comment.
* That, whether because she’s a masochist or because she doesn’t get to do enough baking, Jody is practicing her bomboloni (killer Italian doughnuts) and chocolate focaccia for the breakfast Morandi will start serving on June 4.
* That the last time Jody saw her former boss Giorgio DeLuca—owner of Giorgione, where she used to cook, and cofounder of Dean & DeLuca—she almost ran him over on her bicycle (by accident).
* That her salt cod baked in milk and served on a bed of creamy polenta is, as Bruni noted in his review, absolutely divine. “This is the way you dream cod will taste,” observed Margaret.
* That when Sarah Jessica Parker and Bravo’s executive blogger Andy Cohen (or the guy who could be his twin brother) walk into Morandi—presumably after seeing Legally Blonde on Broadway, which Andy's blogging about today—no one pays much attention.