After Hours: Band On the Run
Chef Mario Batali leads his posse on a late-night restaurant crawl that begins with Korean pork ribs and ends with spicy panini.
When chef and Food Network superstar Mario Batali wants to go out late at night—as he is famously wont to do—he has no shortage of people to keep him company. His inner circle includes the New Yorker staff writer Bill Buford and R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe, but his most frequent cohorts are the players in his New York City restaurant empire. They are Joe Bastianich, his business partner; Jason Denton, his partner in Lupa and Otto and proprietor of 'ino; Mark Ladner, chef at Lupa and a partner in Otto; and Andy Nusser, chef at Babbo. A typical outing with the shorts-wearing Mario involves stops at several downtown restaurants. "I used to hit six or seven places a night, minimum," he says. "But now that I've been almost everywhere, I'd rather go to the spots I like best and camp."
9:45 pm | Do Hwa Mario and Joe sit down at the L-shaped bar in the vaguely glamorous Korean restaurant; an old Orson Welles movie plays on a wall next to a DJ mixing Talking Heads. Mario likes eating at the bar: "When you work in the restaurant business all day, the last place you want to sit is the dining room," he says. Jason and Mark show up just as the dishes begin to arrive: crisp zucchini-and-scallion-laced pancakes, pan-fried kimchi mandu (kimchi, pork and beef dumplings) and Mario's favorite, deji kalbi, spicy garlic-and-ginger-infused pork ribs that he orders every time he visits Do Hwa. "It's a welcome change from Italian," he says. "And this place has a great downtown vibe—highly unusual for a Korean restaurant."What Mario Ordered
• Spicy Korean Glazed Ribs
• Kimchi and Pork Dumplings
• Zucchini-Scallion Pancakes
• Beef-Stuffed Chile Peppers
11:00 pm | Giorgione As Mario and his crew take the 10-minute walk from Do Hwa to Giorgione, the popular Italian restaurant where Mario's long-time friend Jody Williams is the chef, a few people on line to get into a nearby nightclub stare at them; one of them yells, "Mario, make me some pasta!" "Please," adds another.
At Giorgione, the group sits down at a zinc table near the front, but Mario pops up to greet the publisher of Guitar Player magazine, who recently interviewed one of Batali's heroes, Jimmy Page. Jody brings out prosciutto-wrapped melon, and Mario eats his in two bites. "That's the bomb, baby," he proclaims. Dishes start piling up, including a fava bean salad, tossed with mint and pecorino. "Jody's take on Italian food is different and better than anyone else's, sometimes even mine," Mario says. He samples carciofi alla giudea (deep-fried artichokes) and sighs. "If you only have one artichoke in your life," he says, "let it be Jody's."
"It's the pizza guy's third day," Jody announces, bringing out a crisp, thin-crusted squash-blossom pie; Mario had wondered about the person in the dishwasher's uniform manning the wood-burning oven. "He can't speak any English," Jody explains, "but he's good." She's known Mario for almost two decades, since they both worked together at the Four Seasons in San Francisco. "He's always a party," she says fondly. "But usually I have to leave before the table dancing starts."
What Jody Sent Out
• Fava Bean Salad
• Prosciutto and Melon
• Marinated Tomatoes
• Deep-Fried Artichokes
• Squash-Blossom Pizza
Midnight | Giorgione Andy arrives, followed soon after by Giorgio DeLuca, a cofounder of the store Dean & DeLuca, and Giorgione's owner. He turns up La Traviata on the stereo—loud. Meanwhile, Jody wonders about dessert and hoists a supersize jar of Nutella. Where did she get it, everyone asks. "Not from Dean & DeLuca," shouts Giorgio over the music.
"If you're really into opera, cranking an aria at midnight when the alcohol's flowing may not be the best way to do it," Joe says, as they leave the restaurant with Jody.
12:30 am | 'ino The group takes up a big percentage of the tiny wine bar. Jason remembers that Mario came to 'ino every night for six months after it opened, in 1998. "And I never got tired of the panini," Mario says nostalgically. His favorite: cured pork with spicy peppers and arugula.
The group reminisces about their best meals. Mario recalls one at Flower Drum in Melbourne, Australia: "It was a series of entire animals, served in multiple ways." Talk veers to local hangouts. "Back in the day," Mario says, "we'd eat turkey burgers three times a week at Blue Ribbon." "With Haut-Brion," says his friend Tony Acinapura. "Absolutely true," says Andy.
Andy is amazed at Mario's stamina. "The only time I've ever seen him hurting was after a 12-course tasting menu at a three-star restaurant," he confides. "I've never been seriously hurting," responds Mario, "for the record."
What Mario Ordered
• Coppa Panini
• Truffled-Egg Toast
• Portobello-Grana Panini
1:30 am | 'ino Mario's got to leave; he's getting up with his sons in a few hours. "Four used to be closing time," he says ruefully. "But not when you have two kids."