When we visited One Midtown Kitchen (first time in years) we had a waitress in training. You know the scenario: The serving in training conducts the order, while the trainer hovers nearby, hands clasped behind her back, ready to respond to any situation that might arise.
Our trainee did well — showed her personality, made us feel welcome, and got the money line delivered for a clean sell.
“I like to start each table with an order of our calamari, which comes in a wonderful sweet and spicy glaze.”
“I want the calamari,” responded my 16-year-old dining companion, who was had at hello. Sweet, spicy, fried: done deal.
She looked crestfallen when the dish arrived. “That’s not calamari,” she said, eyeing the strips of breaded cuttlefish steak with contempt. Kids these days! They want tentacles. I ended up eating most of it — innocuous stuff, like strips of sweet-and-spicy foam mattress.
I recognized this dish for what it was — the menu mainstay. The item that has been a house specialty since the day the restaurant opened and would occasion massive rioting if it ever came off the menu. The last update to this dish was Richard Blais’ addition of a swipe of smoked mayonnaise along the side of the bowl before “Top” met “Chef.”
I called One Midtown Kitchen’s current chef, Nick Oltarsh, to see if he’s ever tried to take the calamari strips off.
“My sous chef has tried,” he laughed, “but you know what? It’s popular and people like it. This business is all about making people happy.”
Oltarsh occasionally offers wood-grilled fresh calamari with pork belly or chorizo as an appetizer special, which is much more in line with his own style of Mediterranean-influenced bistro cooking. If you want to taste a more Oltarshian seafood dish, try his delicious seared sea scallops with lentils, fennel and baby carrots in a saffron-kissed fish broth. With this guy running things, it won’t be years before my next visit.
- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog