Yesterday, we spoke to chef Joe Dobias, and got an earful. But one question does not an interview make. In Part 2, we discuss the most “surprising” restaurant he’s recently dined at and what’s next for the toque and his girlfriend and business partner, Jill Schulster.
You’re very outspoken about who should and shouldn’t be involved in the food world. Do you think restaurant critics should have restaurant work experience? Culinary school background?
I don’t think, just like critiquing dance (I use that because Jill is a dancer), when the person comes out with their review of a show, they don’t necessarily have to have ever been on the stage. Some of the choreographers, they’ve never danced per se. They just have a vision, whatever it is.
I think the same thing is true with food writing, as it is with any other journalism: The education of yourself is more important if you’re in your craft. If you’re backing up your writing with plenty of facts, with plenty of meals there. Not just one meal somewhere. You can make a review that’s an opinion, or show your knowledge à la Pete Wells’ review of La Mar Cebicheria. People took it as a shitshow. He wasn’t saying that. People are like, “Oh, he panned the hell out of that.” And it’s like, “You didn’t read the whole review.” He was simply explaining how the restaurant has serious problems, but he says, “Here is what I really expected out of a Peruvian restaurant giving me Latino food in New York.
I think that that is a little bit more what I’m talking about as opposed to the people who write and are just like: “Walked past at 8 p.m. and this place was dead, hahahaha. They’re going out of business.” That’s just bloodlust where you want someone to go out. Like how people were tweeting about Romera. That was disgusting, honestly, because despite what anyone thinks, the amount of work that goes into opening a restaurant is similar to nothing, honestly. Even if you have money. The stress involved and absolute angst involved in “Am I going to make it?” There’s a lot of shit to do before you ever open the door, and people don’t take that seriously.
Your menu touches on some Jewish-American cuisine. What are you doing for Passover?
Passover is our biggest three days of the year. It’s kind of a funny thing, because I’m not Jewish, and we never opened a Jewish restaurant. I think that what I started doing was fiddling around with a lot of things because of Jill’s parents and Jill herself.
With Passover, the first year we did it was 2008, and we did it because Jill’s parents couldn’t have us to the house because we had to be at the restaurant. So we were like “Why don’t we just do Passover the night before Passover and call it progressive Passover?” It was not religious. We made it really fun; we put an iPod list together with songs, the Times wrote about it, and I think they even sold it on iTunes. It was a really cool thing, and it all came out of a really honest approach.
We’re almost booked for Friday and Saturday. And I’m very blessed — this year the James Beard House is going to do Passover dinner for the first time in, I don’t know how long, 10 or 20 years. And we were invited to do that dinner, so the second night of Passover we’ll be doing the Beard House dinner. We obviously will have the restaurant still open; Jill’s sister is going to come and run the seder. It’s very family-oriented. We make the whole dining room look like Jill’s parents’ house. We have a lot of tchotchkes, and we sort of overdo it a little bit. Candelabras and whatnot.
Any restaurants recently that you’ve really enjoyed?
Not to be within the indoctrination of what we’re discussing here, but
Kutsher’s [Tribeca]. I was very surprised. I went in with the same stereotypical views like, “Oh, a Catskills-born restaurant with Jeffrey Chodorow behind it? Yeah, I don’t know.”
Any thoughts on a third place? What’s next in JoeDoe/JoeDough world?
We have two serious ambitions. One would be to renovate the original restaurant and add a more ambitious wine program. … I always kick around the idea to do a vegetarian restaurant. In the East Village. I know there are East Village vegetarian and vegan restaurants, but I don’t think anybody approaches it like I approach food. We want to do a bar, but we’re not going to do it in the East Village. There are so many bars in the East Village.