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Fall 2011 Dining Guide: True Wit — Ryan Smith, Empire State South

Ryan Smith (Credit: Empire State South)

Ryan Smith (Credit: Empire State South)

Here’s what I had to say in the original letter:

Show some wit: Each dish should be a story well told, even if it’s one that has been told many times before. Maybe you are making a beet and goat cheese salad, or macaroni and cheese. Instead of cutting the beets into wedges, you might sliver them into carpaccio rounds. And with so many La Brea truffle oil pit versions of mac and cheese around town, wouldn’t it be fun to envision one that is surpassingly light and delicate?

Here’s whyI think Smith exemplifies this quality:

Southern food is big. Pork is big. Cured meat is big. Farm-to-table cooking is really, really big. We all need to give Ryan Smith, the executive chef at Hugh Acheson’s Empire State South, a hand for not only sidestepping the clichés of contemporary Southern cooking but for giving it a fresh, urbane perspective. Let other restaurants tout their country ham; Smith makes his own “city ham” — a house-cured cooked version (think prosciutto cotto) that he pairs with fresh ricotta and pickled watermelon rind for a flavor that feels both new and nostalgic. It’s just what you want from a plate of pig. Speaking of which, don’t miss his house bologna, which arrives in juicy seared cubes over a pool of crisped rice, corn kernels and chanterelle mushrooms. A tremulous poached egg, ready to ooze, sits poised on top. What do you want with bologna? Mustard, of course — a weirdly fitting side dish of bourbon mustard that lends a banjo twang high note to this wonderful business. Count on Smith to give your every expectation of farm-to-table Southern cooking a fresh twist.

Cider-glazed pork chop with apples, collard greens and rutabaga (credit: Becky Stein)

Cider-glazed pork chop with apples, collard greens and rutabaga (credit: Becky Stein)

3 comments Add your comment

FoodFan

September 22nd, 2011
10:54 am

I couldn’t agree more. Had the bologna last time I was there with the crisped rice, poached egg, and super-spicy mustard, and wow. What a strange and delightfully interesting combination of seemingly-random ingredients that couldn’t have gone better together. One of those dishes – among many there – that makes you slap yourself with a “why hasn’t anyone thought of this?!” moment.

And the best wine list in the city.

AnotherFoodFan

September 22nd, 2011
12:32 pm

Overrrrrrated.

Tomatocult

September 27th, 2011
10:23 am

This guy is a monster, a true bad-ass on the dining scene. Hugh gets most of the credit as the chef. But who’s really in the kitchen day to day, ordering, receiving, writing menus, cooking, staffing, executing, organizing, and cleaning? The answer is Ryan. I don’t know him. I’ve never met him. And I’m not a member of his family. But I am a huge fan of restaurants and an even bigger fan of watching how restaurants are run. Loved the mention of Robert Phalen as well, another talented individual. But how did Josh, from Abbatoir get overlooked? Can we make this list go to eleven, Spinal Tap style?