Entries in Zak Pelaccio (14)


Fatty ’Cue (West Village)

Note: Fatty ’Cue (West Village) closed in May 2014. Fatty ’Cue (Williamsburg) and Fatty Crab (UWS) had closed previously, after founder Zak Pelaccio left the company. The West Village Fatty Crab is the only remaining member of the brood.


Zak Pelaccio’s brood of of Fatty Restaurants has now hit five with the arrival of a second Fatty ’Cue in the West Village, a slightly more upscale version of the the popular Williamsburg joint.

For the record, there are Fatty Crabs in the West Village, the Upper West Side, and on St. John, Virgin Islands; and also a chain of kiosks and food trucks called Fatty Snack. The new Fatty ’Cue was formerly the pop-up Fatty Johnson’s, and before that the unsuccessful Cabrito. Pelaccio calls the whole brood Fatty Crew.

If there’s a sense of monotony and a lack of range, it’s offset by Pelaccio’s uncanny sense for tailoring his restaurants to the neighborhoods they’re in. Pelaccio and his P.R. manager told Sam Sifton that this Fatty would offer “a slightly more grown-up menu and service style. . . .” Sifton added, “the seating will be comfortable and cozy, he said, and the room ‘will be quieter.’”

That’s all true. No one would call any Pelaccio restaurant formal, but the new Fatty ’Cue is more upscale than the UWS Fatty Crab, and considerably more grown-up than the original Fatty Crab or the Williamsburg ’Cue. It takes reservations and isn’t marred by the occasionally amateurish service that plagues the other locations.

At least, that’s my sense after two visits last week to a restaurant that is not yet a fortnight old. If they can keep it up, this could be the most enjoyable of the lot.

The cuisine is the same Southeast Asia-meets-barbecue theme of the Williamsburg restaurant, but there are very few dishes in common. The menu is in five sections, lightest to heaviest, though to call anything light here would be a bit of a joke. Plates range from $9 to $48, but most are under $20 and are suitable for sharing.

On my first visit, I ordered two dishes. This was the first time in my experience that a Fatty kitchen actually seemed to understand the concept of pacing a meal. Until now, Pelaccio’s restaurants were known for sending out food at the kitchen’s convenience, not the diner’s. Have they learned a lesson, or did I just get lucky?

I loved the Heirloom Tomato Salad ($13; above left) with pepper, fresh coriander, charcoal, and olive oil, resting in a pool of kimchi water. This is a typical late summer dish, but the spices and seasoning seemed just right. Heritage Pork Ribs ($12; above right) were juicy and enormous. One might complain at paying $6 a rib, but I couldn’t have eaten much more.

On my second visit, I ordered just one item: Deep-Fried Bacon ($18; above) with sweet and spicy salsa verde. It’s hard to come up with a bacon dish I don’t like, so bear that in mind when I tell you this one is excellent. The bacon is tender, with a crunchy crust from the fryer. Non-bacon addicts might be advised to share this one with a friend, but I was happy to eat it myself.

There’s a modest beer and wine selection, but I stuck with cocktails. The Chupacabra ($12;  tequila, chili-infused domaine de canton, fresh watermelon, lime) and the Smokin’ Bone ($13; bourbon, smoked pineapple, lime, chocolate bitters, tabasco) both pair well with the food. I’m especially fond of the latter.

I sat at the bar both times. On Wednesday at about 6:30 p.m., the restaurant wasn’t at all crowded. At the same time on Friday, I got the last free bar stool, and the hostess was quoting walk-in waits of an hour or more for tables. Service was the best I’ve had at any Fatty establishment. The bartenders were knowledgeable about the food and happy to explain the odd combinations of ingredients at length.

I don’t want to over-sell Fatty ’Cue, but in the early days it is the most enjoyable Fatty restaurant I’ve been to, with both food and service a cut above its brethren.

Fatty ’Cue (50 Carmine St. between Bedford & Bleecker Sts., West Village)

Food: *½
Service: *½
Ambiance: *½
Overall: *½


Update: Fatty Crab

I had dinner with a friend on Sunday evening at the West Village Fatty Crab. I’ve written about both Manhattan Fatty Crabs before (here, here), and my opinion of the franchise remains the same: very good food, poor service.

It seems to me that at $111 for two people (before tax and tip), replacing silverware and plates between courses ought to be automatic, not something you have to ask for. And the least they could do is to reprint an outdated menu that is dog-eared from over-use.

That $111 bill, by the way, included a $40 bottle of Tempranillo that paired well with the food. But most of the wine selections were well above $50 a bottle.

What saves Fatty Crab, and the reason I would still go back if I’m in the neighborhood, is that the food remains complelling, even if overpriced: $13 for two small pork buns? $12 for a bowl of broccoli? A dish new to me was a wonderful deep fried whole striped bass ($24).

The restaurant was full on a Sunday evening, which means that Zak Pelaccio has no reason to change.

Fatty Crab (643 Hudson St., btwn Gansevoort & Horatio Sts., West Village)


The Burger at Fatty Johnson's

Fatty Johnson’s is a pop-up restaurant [now closed] from Zak Pelaccio of Fatty Crab / Fatty ’Cue fame. The cartoon figure in the logo might be Samuel Johnson—I am not sure. When Pelaccio explained his idea to the Times, he didn’t really clear it up.

It replaces his goat-centric restaurant Cabrito until he figures out what to do with the space, which he told the Times will offer “a slightly more grown-up menu and service style.” The bartenders at FJ are sticking with that story, saying that renovations will begin around March 1. It will still be “Fatty something.

According to the website, the menu changes daily. Several of the dishes are what Pelaccio called “ham centric,” as if that were a surprise. The other night, he was offering a mean-looking cassoulet (I mean that as a compliment), perhaps suggestive of the more Frenchified cooking style that he has in mind for the permanent restaurant that will be coming next.

I had come for the cheeseburger, which Robert Sietsema of the Village Voice loved so much. There are options with ham and a fried egg on top, but I didn’t think a burger needed all that help.

My favorite burgers have a thicker patty than Fatty Johnson’s, but this one isn’t bad at all. It had a nice, crunchy crust and a faintly smoky flavor. The staff said that it has a 70/30 beef/fat ratio, which is more fat than most burgers. But then, this is a fatty joint, after all.

The fries, or rather, fried confit potatoes, were too greasy and not crunchy enough for my taste, although that didn’t stop me from finishing them.

The burger is a trifle expensive for what you get. It’s $14 by itself. The ham and egg, if you go that route, can punch it up to $18. Neither option includes the fries, which are an extra $7. In contrast, the Minetta Burger at Minetta Tavern—a better product at a better restaurant—is $16 and it includes the fries.

Fatty Johnson’s is a bare-bones space right now, as a pop-up is meant to be. It was close to empty at 6:00 p.m. on a Saturday evening, but the staff said that it normally fills up after 8:00. A number of well known “guest bartenders” have been featured. Nobody famous was on duty when I visited, but we had a good dialogue about cocktails, as the expression goes.

Fatty Johnson’s (50 Carmine St. between Bedford & Bleecker Sts., West Village)


Fatty ’Cue

Note: Fatty ’Cue (Williamsburg) has closed. The space will became “Fatty Lab,” a test kitchen and private events space. Fatty ’Cue (West Village) later closed, as well. In addition, Zak Pelaccio is no longer affiliated with the Fatty restaurant chain.


Four years ago, on the way to dinner at Dressler, we took a brief walk around South Williamsburg and suddenly found ourselves in no-man’s land. As I wrote at the time, “I’m not saying it is scary—only that it looks that way.”

The area still doesn’t look pretty, but with hipster bars and fancy salons dotting the landscape, it’s getting better all the time. In this formerly desolate area, chef Zak Pelaccio has installed the latest member of his fatty family, Fatty ’Cue. It’s the third member of the brood, after Fatty Crabs in the Meatpacking District and on the Upper West Side.

It wasn’t easy. Once announced for a Fall 2008 opening, Fatty ’Cue didn’t appear until March of this year. I don’t know the reasons, but getting the permits for a barbecue smoker is notoriously difficult, especially in an historic neighborhood full of buildings that pre-date modern construction codes.

The restaurant is a mash-up of the faux Malaysian cuisine offered at the other Fattys, and Texas barbecue supervised by former Hill Country pitmaster Robbie Richter. Sam Sifton, who awarded one star in the Times, wasn’t kidding when he said that, “No one else is cooking like this anywhere.”

The service and atmosphere very much resemble the other Fatty restaurants. Except for the barbecue smoker, so does the cuisine.

The menu is in two parts—snacks ($3–12) and specialties ($11–22)—but they all seem to be appetizers, more or less, delivered to the table as they’re ready, and designed for sharing. Most items are a mixture of proteins from the barbecue smoker and Asian-inflected condiments. For example: “Hand Pulled Lamb Shoulder, goat yogurt with Vietnamese mint, house pita.”

At plate-sharing places, it’s always difficult to gauge how much to order. I had two of the snacks and two of the specialities (again: these distinctions seem arbitrary), and it was a shade too much food for a solo diner. One fewer plate probably wouldn’t have been enough.

The server recommended a salad as a foil to the barbecue. Cucumbers ($6; above right) with smoked chili, brown rice vinegar, and toasted sesame seeds, fit the bill admirably, but they were nothing special on their own.

’Cue Coriander Bacon ($11; above left) is awkward to eat. You’re supposed to slather the steamed yellow curry custard on toast, then put the bacon on top of that. Perhaps you can guess from the photo that this didn’t quite work out. The bacon was just fine, but $11 is a lot to pay for five small pieces. An order of bacon at Peter Luger, down the street, is something like $2.95. You get more, and it is equally good.

Like the other Fatty restaurants, Fatty ’Cue serves dishes that obviously require a knife (in this case, for spreading the custard), but doesn’t supply one. I’m sure they have knives, but this isn’t exactly Le Bernardin, where you have but to flick an eyebrow, and a server appears instantly. So I used the fork as a spreader. When the server re-appeared to clear the plate, he picked up the fork and hesitated slightly before making the right decision to replace it.

Fazio Farm Red Curry Duck ($14; above left) was the dish of the evening, the best duck I have tasted this year—plump, tender, luscious, and yes, fatty. It came with a curry sauce on the side, but I quickly figured out that it was superfluous—as sauces invariably are with the best barbecue. In any case, those large pieces of duck didn’t readily fit in the dipping bowl.

Brandt Farm Beef Brisket ($18; above right) was the least successful dish, and like the others, ill-conceived. The meat lacked the deep marbling of the best brisket at Hill Country. There were a couple of moist pieces on top, but those below (not visible in the photo) were dry. You’re supposed to make sandwiches with the steamed buns, adding red onions and chili jam, but I ran out of buns before I ran out of brisket. Once again, a knife would have helped, as the remaining pieces of meat did not yield to a fork alone. Finally, I gave up.

There are some wonderful cocktails here, especially The ’Cue (Wrey & Nephew overproofed run, smoked pineapple, citrus, Tabasco, Pernod), featured in this week’s New York, and a bargain at $8. However, they were slow in coming. Every booze run to my table and others within earshot was prefaced with, “Sorry, but the bar is really backed up.”

Notwithstanding that, the servers and runners were helpful and knowledgeable about the food. Meal pacing is often a problem at small-plate restaurants, as indeed it was on our last visit to Fatty Crab. This time I lucked out, and everything came out (except the drinks) at exactly the pace I wanted. Based on other reviews I’ve seen, this will not happen to you, unless the stars are in alignment.

I wasn’t encouraged when I walked in at 6:30 p.m. on a Friday evening, to find a loud bar nearly at capacity. But the space is on three levels, and the higher you go, the more pleasant it gets. The hostess seated me a table on the quiet (relatively speaking) third level, which has only five tables. I suspect it gets much louder later on: they are open until 4:00 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays.

While no dish at Fatty ’Cue is expensive on its own, the costs mount in a hurry. I paid almost $90, including tax and tip, for four small plates and three cocktails. That might be more than most people would want to pay in a casual restaurant that is not conveniently located, for food that is certainly interesting but is also uneven.

Fatty ’Cue (91 S. 6th St. between Berry St. & Bedford Ave., Williamsburg)

Food: *
Service: *
Ambiance: *
Overall: *

Fatty 'Cue on Urbanspoon


Review Recap: Fatty ’Cue

Today, Sam Sifton gives a onespot to the latest member of Zak Pelaccio’s fatty tribe, Fatty ’Cue:

The food is incredibly good. Fatty ’Cue is a restaurant worth traveling to visit. To expand on the playbook of awesome, Malaysian-ish cooking on display at the Fatty Crab restaurants in Manhattan, Mr. Pelaccio’s Fatty Crew — with Corwin Kave as executive chef and Andrew Pressler as chef de cuisine — has added to their roster Robbie Richter, the Queens-born pitmaster who helped start Hill Country in 2007. Fatty ’Cue offers smoked crabs and smoked lamb ribs, coriander-dusted bacon and pieces of pig.

Sifton nails the place, but I am starting to tire of his stereotypes:

…a biker bar for the kind of bikers who don’t ride Harleys in leathers and boots, but stripped-down Schwinns in boat shoes and skinny jeans.

…it sure would be funny to roll up to the place with a white-shoe lawyer, some actuarial accountant from Tucson or dramaturge from the Upper West Side…

…Fatty ’Cue might be uncomfortable for those who hear more music at Lincoln Center than at Southpaw.

And also his obscure “look how clever I am” references:

It recalls, almost perfectly, what the Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa called the magic of the present moment.

But by the low standards that currently pass for New York Times criticism, this one passes muster.


Fatty Crab on the Upper West Side

Update: Fatty Crab on the Upper West Side closed in September 2012. A branch of RedFarm has replaced it. The West Village Fatty Crab remains open.


There is something deeply frustrating about chef Zak Pelaccio’s peregrinations. Fatty Crab in the West Village was a much deserved hit (our review here), but nearby Five Ninth (which he has since left) was always uneven, and Chop Suey (where he consulted) was a joke. Heaven knows how his next venture, Fatty ’Cue, will turn out.

Last year, he opened a second branch of Fatty Crab on the Upper West Side. Unlike the downtown branch, it takes reservations, and it is more than double the size (70 seats vs. 30). Fatty UWS looks a bit nicer than Fatty WV, but it’s still über-casual. We saw a few diners who, perhaps deceived by Frank Bruni’s two-star review, looked surprised by the gritty surroundings that are atypical for a purportedly serious restaurant in this neighborhood.

The servers look like college students, but fortunately they know the menu well and give good advice. The cuisine is vaguely Southeast Asian, but much of it is filtered through Pelaccio’s American perspective. In that respect, he reminds me of David Chang, who actually claims to be serving American cuisine at his Momofuku restaurants, despite the obviously Asian roots they sprang from.

The Fatty menus in both locations are similar, down to the way they are delivered—loose sheets on a clipboard. The UWS location has a few more selections, but those in common are the same price at either place. There are several categories—Snacks, Noodles/Soup/Rice, Specialties, and Vegetables—but these divisions hardly matter, as everything is served family-style, for sharing. Most items are between $10 and $20. If you order three to five dishes for two people, you’ll spend between $50–80 before beverages, tax, and tip. We ordered four dishes, and felt stuffed.

It didn’t help that the food was practically thrown at us, as if we were contestants in a speed-eating contest. As I’ve noted before, these family-style restaurants generally want to turn tables. The food comes out when the kitchen is ready, not when you’re ready. Everything we had was at least suitable for sharing—not always the case at such places—but a couple of dishes were practically impossible to eat without knives, which aren’t part of the default place setting. When we pointed this out, a server most oddly brought out just one knife.

Wanton Mee, or Wet Wanton ($17; above left), was a delicious mix of noodles with shrimp and pork dumplings. Fatty Duck ($17; above right) was a bit challenging to eat, but worth the effort.

Bacon ($15; above left) was unexpectedly spicy; Short Ribs ($25; above right) a bit bland. Actually, those short ribs were the exception: most of these dishes deliver plenty of heat.

There is a wine list, but we felt that beer would pair better with this food. We each had one, and would have had a second if it had been possible to flag down a server.

Most of the food is very good—quite a bit better, in fact, than the surroundings and the service. But this restaurant isn’t actually near anything, and it’s annoying to travel this far, only to be rushed through the meal.

Fatty Crab (2170 Broadway between 76th & 77th Streets, Upper West Side)

Food: *½
Service: Satisfactory
Ambiance: Satisfactory
Overall: *


The Payoff: Cabrito

Today, as we half-expected, Frank Bruni files a largely redundant one-star review of Cabrito:

Visited on its best nights and judged by its best dishes, Cabrito is the Mexican restaurant so many of us dreamed about for so long … .

Much of the time, that is. There’s a qualification in the first sentence up top and a digression right here because Cabrito is afflicted by an inconsistency that’s puzzling, even maddening, in the sense that you don’t want anything challenging the exhilaration you can so easily and rightly feel about this special place.

There are dishes that don’t seem, by nature, to rise to the caliber of others, and dishes that aren’t dependable from one visit to the next.

In the wagering department, we took a literal “roll of the dice” on two stars, and lose a dollar on our hypothetical bet, while Eater wins $2.

  Eater   NYJ
Bankroll $108.50   $128.67
Gain/Loss +2.00   –1.00
Total $110.50   $127.67
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 50–23   51–22

Rolling the Dice: Cabrito

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni reviews Cabrito, the West Village Mexican place helmed by Fatty Crab alumnus David Schuttenberg. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 4-1
One Star: 2-1 √√
Two Stars: 5-1
Three Stars: 500-1
Four Stars: 20,000-1

The Skinny: When we heard about this review, our initial reaction was, “Why bother?” It seemed like an obvious one-star place, which in Timesspeak usually means “uneven.” Julia Moskin more-or-less delivered that verdict in a May 2008 Dining Brief. Why give it more ink, just to deliver the same message a mere eight months later?

The only other clue comes in Frank Bruni’s year-end retrospective, in which he says that Cabrito’s “best dishes — including the carnitas with salsa verde and the roasted poblano peppers in cream — match those at just about any Mexican restaurant in New York.” If he thinks Cabrito is a category-killer, it just might be enough to push it over the edge to two stars, provided there aren’t too many duds on the menu.

To be sure, the Eater odds accurately reflect the probabilities, but we think two stars are definitely in play here. This review will almost certainly be an “enthusiastic one” or a “two with caveats.” He has more often done the latter than the former.

The Bet: Our record when we literally “roll the dice” has been mixed, to say the least. Nevertheless, we’ll go out on a limb and predict two stars for Cabrito.


Chop Suey


Note: Chop Suey closed in October 2008.

The chef Zak Pelaccio has come a long way since he was a cult hit at the Chickenbone Cafe in Williamsburg. His fans followed him to 5 Ninth in the Meatpacking District (from whence he later departed), and then to Fatty Crab a few blocks away.

Since then, he has turned his solid reputation into self-parody, cashing in one “consulting chef” gig after another. Chop Suey is the latest of these. It features one of Pelaccio’s trademark multi-Asian menus, along with one of the best views in the city, assuming you find it charming to look out on the bright lights of Times Square. Frank Bruni did, awarding one star in The Times.

chopsuey_logo.pngChop Suey is more than just a great view. The Renaissance Hotel did a lovely job with the renovation. The décor is stylish, comfortable, and understated—as it should be when you’ve got the most famous view in America. With only 78 seats, a majority of which were empty at 8:15 p.m. on a Saturday evening, you can actually have a quiet and unhurried meal here.

If only the food matched the view

That assumes the food is worthwhile, which it isn’t. Pelaccio’s menu seems phoned in. That’s the problem with a “consulting chef” who doesn’t stick around to edit out the clunkers, or even to ensure his vision (if he had one) is faithfully executed. We had three appetizers and three entrées between us, and there was only one item I’d recommend. That’s too low a ratio of successes to failures, especially when dinner for three runs to almost $250 (including tax and tip).

chopsuey01a.jpg chopsuey01b.jpg
Crispy Rock Shrimp (right); Curry Leaf Fried Chicken Wings (right)

Crispy Rock Shrimp($18) would have been unobjectionable, but a bed of stringy, cold, allegedly braised pork belly was just strange. Curry Leaf Fried Chicken Wings ($15) seemed no different to us than the Hooters variety.

chopsuey02a.jpg chopsuey02b.jpg
Steamed Rice Cakes (left); Atlantic Halibut (right)

If you saw Steamed Rice Cakes ($12) on the menu, would you expect something resembling the photo above? I sure didn’t. I’m a simple guy: “rice cake” implies “rice” and “cake,” and the dish included neither. But it was the evening’s only hit. There were gnocchi in there, along with spicy pickled vegetables and a Korean pork bolognese.

Moving to the entrées, an Atlantic Halibut sous vide ($28) was lovely enough, although boring. I detected none of the promised Prosciutto di Parma, and the clam medley underneath it was pointless.

chopsuey03a.jpg chopsuey03b.jpg
Ginger Chicken (left); Beef Short Ribs (right)

My son wasn’t fond of the Ginger Chicken ($32), also cooked sous vide, nor of the ginger tempura dumplings that came with it. Beef Short Ribs ($30) were a horror show: sliced too thin, overwhelmed with chili sauce, and not tender enough. We thought it was impossible to ruin short ribs. Now we know better.

The other “consultant” at Chop Suey is pastry chef Will Goldfarb. Perhaps he has done a wonderful job with the desserts…but perhaps not. We weren’t willing to roll the dice again.

With this wonderful space and this gorgeous view, the Renaissance Hotel deserves a far better restaurant than this. It’s time to fire the consultants and start over again.

Chop Suey (714 Seventh Avenue at 48th Street, 2nd floor of the Renaissance Hotel, Theater District)

Food: Disappointing
Service: Acceptable
Ambiance: Wonderful
Overall: Not Recommended


The Payoff: Chop Suey

In today’s Times, Frank Bruni awards one star to Chop Suey. He finds the view better than the food:

…sometimes food isn’t the primary consideration in deciding where to eat, and some restaurants have persuasive charms beyond the perimeter of the plate. Chop Suey is all about setting, a second-floor perch in the Renaissance Hotel that juts like a ship’s prow into a bold, brash sea of light.

As expected, he’s not impressed with the idea of consultant-chefs, Zak Pelaccio and Will Goldfarb:

The erratic results underscore the question of just how engaged such consultants get: of whether, once they’ve lofted a few ideas and cashed their paychecks, they feel any real pride of ownership or bother to follow through. I have my doubts. Chop Suey didn’t assuage them.

But there are enough winners to justify a star:

In intent, most dishes are more distinctive than the lowest-common-denominator tourist grub prevalent in this patch of town. Some are more distinctive in actuality, too.

The char siu — roasted pork with Hong Kong noodles as thin as angel-hair pasta — is described on the menu as “twice caramelized,” and the dominoes of tender pork demonstrate why. They have crisp, sweet surfaces and corners.

Crisp pie-shaped slices of scallion pancake are given some fruity zip by an Asian pear mostarda. A thick, juicy hamburger forsakes the usual condiments for kimchi, which does the trick. It’s a Korean Whopper.

As for Korean gnocchi, Chop Suey rushes in where Momofuku Ssam Bar earlier trod, serving steamed rice cakes with a spicy pork Bolognese of sorts. They don’t fall far short of their idols.

We and Eater both win $3 on our hypothetical one-dollar bets.

              Eater       NYJ
Bankroll $80.50   $91.67
Gain/Loss +3.00   +3.00
Total $83.50   $94.67
 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 36–15   36–15