Patria Chef Learns ABC’s
When chef Douglas Rodriguez’s restaurant Chicama opens on Jan. 29 in the ABC Carpet & Home building on Broadway and 18th Street, he’ll be just a couple of blocks from Patria, the Latin American-themed restaurant on Park Avenue South where he became a New York culinary star. But Mr. Rodriguez probably won’t be stopping by his old stomping grounds for a friendly drink.
A source close to the situation told The Transom that Patria’s owners recently sent a letter to Mr. Rodriguez’s lawyer, informing him that the chef was no longer welcome at Patria. The source said Mr. Rodriguez had apparently prompted the letter when, several weeks ago, he parked himself at Patria’s bar and reportedly became rather belligerent. “He was out of control,” claimed the source. “He was threatening chefs, saying he was going to take people from Patria to Chicama …”
“I don’t know who gave you that information, but it’s not true. That did not happen,” said Mr. Rodriguez, who added that he did not want to talk about Patria, but rather only about Chicama.
His sensitivity is understandable. Although the Cuban-American Mr. Rodriguez has said that he left Patria last October to open another restaurant, called Unico, in a town house on East 32nd Street, sources familiar with the situation said he lost his gig at Patria because management deemed his attempt to open another eatery a breach of contract. One source said Mr. Rodriguez did not tell Patria’s owners of his plans for Unico until the day he signed the contract on the new space-at which point he reportedly also offered them an opportunity to invest in Unico.
Unico, in which Mr. Rodriguez will be a partner with Hudson Valley Foie Gras co-owner Michael Ginor, was originally supposed to open in October, but, Mr. Rodriguez told The Transom, it probably won’t open until the summer, even though he’s currently paying rent. In addition to needing to concentrate on Chicama, Mr. Rodriguez explained that once contractors began gutting and rehabbing the 110-year-old building, which stands on 32nd Street between Madison and Park avenues, “the budget tripled in a matter of months.” Sources familiar with the situation estimate that Mr. Rodriguez needs at least another $1 million to complete work on Unico.
It was during this search for additional funds that a mutual friend of Mr. Rodriguez and ABC Carpet & Home co-owner Evan Cole put the two together.
“We made kind of a deal where I would help him here [at Chicama] and he would help me at Unico,” said Mr. Rodriguez. He explained that Mr. Cole would not be kicking in any money, but rather would be outfitting Unico with “furniture and fixtures, like rugs, lamps, chairs and tables.”
Restaurant industry sources told The Transom that Mr. Rodriguez’s decision to enter into a management contract for Chicama with ABC Carpet & Home, while putting Unico on the back burner, has not sat well with his partner, Mr. Ginor. But Mr. Ginor, who said his role with Unico is “more on the advisory side,” would only say: “Doug has a phenomenal palate and is a brilliant chef.” He did admit, however, that “my wish is that someone who is supportive of Latin culture would come in and support Unico as a patron of the culinary arts.”
Even in a business that moves at a breakneck pace, the speed at which ABC’s husband-and-wife owners, Evan and Paulette Cole, have managed to change restaurants and concepts is startling. If Chicama does open as scheduled, it will have been only four weeks since the previous restaurant that occupied the space, a rustic Italian eatery called Colina, closed.
Indeed, according to a spokesman for the restaurant, “It’s been only seven weeks” since Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Cole first got together. In December, after talking over the concept, Mr. and Mrs. Cole and Mr. Rodriguez flew to Peru to experience the local cuisine and to buy the artwork, Peruvian icons and furniture that will decorate the space.
Since Colina closed on Dec. 30, the décor and lighting have been changed, and a ceviche bar and eucalyptus-burning grill have been installed. In addition to ceviche of fish and shellfish, which a copy of the menu acquired by The Transom boasts is ” the food for the millennium,” Mr. Rodriguez will cook up such dishes as aji de gallina, or Peruvian hen stew, and achiote-marinated baby goat.
Sources said those most surprised by ABC Carpet’s abrupt change of restaurants were the proprietors of Colina, who included Nick & Toni’s co-owner Jeff Salaway. “They essentially threw them out,” said one source. “They’re not completely done,” said another, implying that the divorce between ABC and Colina could end up less than amicably.
Steve Fass, vice president of restaurants, food and housewares for ABC, declined to comment on Colina. Of Mr. Rodriguez he said: “We had an opportunity to get a three-star chef, and we took it.”
Mr. Salaway would only say, “They decided to make a change,” adding, “Admittedly we had a bad start,” referring to a spate of reviews in The New York Times and the New York Post that trounced Colina. But, he said, “We felt that things were looking good. We’re disappointed, but it’s their place.”
The birth on Dec. 23 of Naomi Rose Bellow to 84-year-old writer Saul Bellow and his 41-year-old wife, Janis Freedman, got the Transom thinking. Could Mr. Bellow have complemented his Nobel Prize with another celebrated measure of accomplishment: an entry in The Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s oldest father?
After all, Mr. Bellow beats Pablo Picasso and Charles Chaplin, who had children in, respectively, their 60′s and 70′s. Even Anthony Quinn, that emotive fertility totem, was a mere 81 when his 13th child was born in 1996.
Alas, Mr. Bellow cannot claim the honor. Not because of some sturdy 96-year-old Uzbek in Kazakhstan, but because, according to Guinness World Records marketing assistant Neil Hayes, the organization doesn’t monitor oldest pops as a category. “There are a whole host of issues, but basically it all comes down to proving that the man is the father,” Mr. Hayes explained in an e-mail to the Transom. “As we need precise information, this would necessitate blood samples to be taken from the infant and the alleged father and this is not in our best interests to insist upon.”
A call to Mr. Bellow’s literary agency seeking comment from the author produced no response. Mr. Bellow’s son, Adam Bellow, declined to comment on the birth of Naomi Rose. “I think it’s been adequately covered,” he said.
Stipe Takes Plunge
Michael Stipe obviously understands that dressing fashionably often requires great sacrifices of human comfort. Though it was seasonably warm in Sarasota, Fla., on Jan. 15, the R.E.M. frontman swanned into a local restaurant-in-progress, the State Room, wearing a big red woolen ski cap and matching red long-sleeve shirt. Were it not for the purse that was draped on his arm and the luminescent jewelry he was wearing, Mr. Stipe could have been mistaken for a gigantic nipple (albeit one in need of a shave).
The recording artist and film producer was taking part in the Sarasota Film Festival, and attended the State Room party to present actor Stephen Dorff with the festival’s Young Lion Award. At the party, a photographer tried to get Mr. Stipe to pose with another rocker, AC/DC lead singer Brian Johnson, who lives in Sarasota, but the R.E.M. singer refused. That didn’t seem to bother Mr. Johnson much, though. The singer, who immortalized “Back in Black,” told one partygoer: “I got to tell you, mate, I don’t like him, and I don’t like his fuckin’ music.”
Mr. Stipe did attempt to connect with other members of the crowd when, according to witnesses, he screamed down from the mezzanine-level V.I.P. room for everyone on the dance floor to take off their clothes. As an incentive, said one source, Mr. Stipe yelled that Mr. Dorff had already doffed his duds (he hadn’t). “It scared the hell out of me,” said one of the restaurant’s proprietors, Philip Mancini.
No one heeded Mr. Stipe’s request-at least not at the State Room. A select group of people were then invited to an after-party at the home of Mark Famiglio, one of the festival’s organizers and underwriters. There, the Transom hears, approximately 30 people, including Mr. Stipe, took off their clothes and got into Mr. Famiglio’s pool, which turns into a Jacuzzi. ( Get the skimmer! ) Asked if this was true, Mr. Famiglio would only say, “Someone may have had a hat on.” That must have been Mr. Stipe.
The Transom Also Hears
… The millennial angst of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia is not for everyone. About two hours into the film’s matinee screening at the East Hampton United Artists theater on Jan. 17, one silver-haired woman in the audience got up from her seat, presumably to go to the ladies’ room. As she moved into the aisle, the woman sitting next to her asked: “Are you going to slit your wrists?”
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