“We want it to be about the food,” said Michael Ferraro, executive chef at Delicatessen, the trendy yet critically trashed restaurant at 54 Prince Street. “We want to turn this into a food restaurant, where people are not just coming for the scene and because it’s cool.”
Behind him, in the background, a camera crew was setting up for a television shoot.
“The Real Housewives are filming here tonight,” explained Mr. Ferraro, referring to the popular Bravo reality TV show. “They usually come in for dinner and drinks without the film crew,” he added.
This week, the fresh-faced 28-year-old chef hosted multiple tastings of his newly revamped menu—its fashionable cover art by photographer Terry Richardson left untouched. He has wisely ditched the stylishly designed faux-deli’s previously ill-conceived reuben fritters (“It’s kind of like David Burke gone bad,” he said), but decided to stick with its trademark cheeseburger spring rolls. Albeit with a few tweaks: “Just a different ratio on the cheese sauce, a different cheese blend.”
Mr. Ferraro has further attempted to expand the meaning of “international comfort food” beyond the deep fryer. He highly recommended the tuna tartare and grilled mahi mahi. “Fish is my thing,” the chef said.
On Monday night, March 30, Mr. Ferraro spoke with the Daily Transom about the “huge task” of trying to bring some respectability to Manhattan’s most loathed new restaurant of the past year.
“I just did a Soho neighborhood event with other restaurants in the neighborhood, and when we walked in, everybody’s like, ‘Oh, Delicatessen’s here,” Mr. Ferraro said. “They probably thought the food was not going to be great. But it ended up really great and they’re like, ‘Wow, we’re definitely going to give Deli a second chance.’”
Mr. Ferraro was hired back in October in the wake of some disastrous zero-star reviews by both the New York Times’ Frank Bruni and New York Magazine’s Adam Platt. He brought with him a total of eight cooks from his prior restaurant, Fresh Tribeca.
“I knew coming in it was different,” said Mr. Ferraro, whose résumé includes stints in some rather well-respected eateries, including Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Mercer Kitchen and Gary Robins’ Biltmore Room. “It’s not the fine dining road that I’m used to. But I’ve really embraced this. I’ve been able to have fun with it.”
His seared scallops topped with quail eggs might not immediately scream “comfort food.” Yet, he is quick to point out: “The grits on that dish are comfort to me.”
This past February, Delicatesssen owners Mark Amadei and Andrew Glassberg further enlisted the help of hospitality consultant David Rabin and consulting chef Franklin Becker to assist in the massive restaurant makeover project.
Mr. Ferraro said the team effort was already paying off. “People have said a lot of nasty things about this restaurant, but 90 percent of the things that I’ve been reading lately are great,” noted the chef, who is constantly checking diners’ comments on Yelp.com.
“I think within a year everybody will forget about the first five months of this restaurant,” he boldly predicted.
Will the critics come back for another taste?
“If we’re fortunate enough to get another chance, that would be great,” Mr. Ferraro said. “It may happen, it may not. Some people don’t get a second chance so soon. But, at the moment, it’s really just about pleasing the customers.”