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Will Craft-y Exec Chef Damon Wise Ditch the Colicchio Mother Ship?

For years, Damon Wise—executive chef in charge of celebrity restaurateur Tom Colicchio’s expansive empire of Craft restaurants—has dreamed of opening his own ultra-fancy fine-dining establishment in the old-school New York tradition. “Penguin suits, stylish service,” he told The Observer. “I think a lot of that stuff is going to be forgotten before long. You barely have to wear a tie or a coat when you go out to eat at a restaurant anymore. My thing was, it’s nice when you get dressed up to go out to eat. Even though it’s expensive to eat in New York City New York City: see New York, city.
New York City

City (pop., 2000: 8,008,278), southeastern New York, at the mouth of the Hudson River. The largest city in the U.S.
, it’s kind of fun when you’re waited on hand and foot and, at the end of the day, it’s well worth the money.”

So much for that, bucko buck·o  
n. pl. buck·oes or buck·os
1. A blustering or bossy person.

2. Irish A young man; a lad.

[Alteration of buck1.]
! “Now, it’s going to be impossible to do,” said Mr. Wise, referring of course to the sluggish world economic situation. “People don’t want to pay that kind of money.”

They are lining up, however, at the flagship Craft restaurant’s private events space at 43 East 19th Street on Friday nights for Mr. Wise’s Damon: Frugal Friday, a makeshift eatery serving an eclectic array of some 30 small-portioned items, priced between $5 to $9 a pop. Think rough doodling paper instead of white tablecloths; warm oysters and meat on a stick replacing big-ticket suckling suckling

In mammals, the drawing of milk into the mouth from the nipple of a mammary gland. In human beings, it is referred to as nursing or breast-feeding. The word also denotes an animal that has not yet been weaned—that is, whose access to milk has not yet been
 pig and dry-aged porterhouse; and cranked-up classic rock and hip-hop rather than ambient Muzak. The easygoing eas·y·go·ing also eas·y-go·ing  
a. Living without undue worry or concern; calm.

b. Lax or negligent; careless.

, stripped-down aesthetic is readily apparent to all who enter. A homemade cardboard sign is affixed af·fix  
tr.v. af·fixed, af·fix·ing, af·fix·es
1. To secure to something; attach: affix a label to a package.

 to the otherwise ornate front door with strips of bright blue painter’s tape.

“Somebody from the press called and said they wanted our logo and press packet for this. And, it’s like, there’s no logo! It’s low-budget, man!” Mr. Wise said.

“We’re just trying to get a pizza stone,” he added, checking his watch around 4:20 p.m. on a recent Frugal Friday—barely enough time for a quick trip to the culinary superstore Sur La Table Sur La Table, Inc. is a privately held American retail company based in Seattle, Washington, that sells gourmet cooking utensils and related merchandise, such as appliances, food, and cookbooks. . “The pizza dough we’re using is not quite as crispy as I’d like to get it.”

With his frazzled hair and dark-rimmed specs, Mr. Wise, a 37-year-old Brooklyn resident, is the kind of guy who’d look right at home at a Phish concert. Not grilling cheese sandwiches for ticket money in the parking lot, though. In fact, despite a predilection for phrases like “Let it rip!”, he is quite the gourmet.

Born in Baltimore, Mr. Wise has a résumé that includes stints at Gramercy Tavern, Lespinasse and Philadelphia’s posh Le Bec Fin.

His classical training shows on the Frugal Friday menu, where crispy chicken wings with cabrales cheese is about the closest thing to generic comfort food. Tiny jars of chicken liver pâté and guinea hen rillettes Rillettes (French for "planks") is a preparation of meat similar to pâté. Originally made with pork, the meat is cubed or chopped, salted heavily and cooked slowly in fat until it is tender enough to be easily shredded, and then cooled with enough of the fat to form a paste.  are among the more popular items. Even the tiny 6-inch pizzas are somewhat exotic: One is topped with ricotta ri·cot·ta  
1. A soft Italian cheese that resembles cottage cheese.

2. A similar soft cheese made in the United States.
, black cabbage and a truffle truffle (trŭf`əl) [Fr.], subterranean edible fungus that forms a mutually beneficial (symbiotic) relationship with the roots of certain trees and plants. The part of the fungus used as food is the ascoma, the fruiting body of the fungus.  viniagrette; the other with mortadella mor·ta·del·la  
A smoked Italian sausage made of ground pork and beef and cubes of pork fat, flavored with wine and spices.

[Italian, feminine diminutive of murtato,
, cauliflower and fiore sardo.

“I think you should definitely eat the duck hearts,” Mr. Wise recommended. The small $9 bowl of tender offal offal

1. nonmeat edible products from animal slaughter. Includes brains, thymus, pancreas, liver, heart, kidney, tripes, sausage casings, chitterlings, crackling rind.

2. by-product of milling, called also weatlings, middlings. A high-protein supplement for herbivores.
 is served with duck egg and farro. “It’s simple, man, and delicious,” he said. “I put it on thinking, ‘Oh, nobody will order this.’ Lo and behold, it sells pretty well. I was very surprised.”

For a guy usually relegated to the sidelines at Mr. Colicchio’s charity events or the occasional brief cameo on the celebrity chef’s popular television series Top Chef—“people told me I didn’t smile enough,” Mr. Wise said of his most recent appearance on the show—it is a rare opportunity to showcase his own tastes and talents.

And yet despite a three-star rave from New York magazine and frantic Twittering twit·ter  
v. twit·tered, twit·ter·ing, twit·ters

1. To utter a succession of light chirping or tremulous sounds; chirrup.

 about his chicken livers, Mr. Wise insisted he wasn’t setting out in search of critical acclaim. “I’m just trying to make wholesome food that people can enjoy at a decent price point,” he said. “I don’t want to go under the microscope and be criticized for, ya know, my steak stick with preserved tomato. You know what I mean? It’s steak and a tomato, that’s it! It’s just fun to eat and delicious.”

Still, the success of Frugal Friday is begging the question of when Mr. Wise might go out on his own. “All my buddies—all of them: ‘When are you going to do it, dude? You gotta do it, dude,’” Mr. Wise said. Now the only question is if shirts will be required. “I’ll start with the wholesome restaurant, low price point, and then spread out from there. I have a whole umbrella of concepts that I’d like to do. Just a bunch of fun stuff and have a bunch of people come on board that want to have fun with food and not really look at it so seriously, but make it taste good and filling for people.”
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Author:Chris Shott
Publication:The New York Observer
Date:Feb 17, 2009
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