Nick Anderer, executive chef of Maialino (Gramercy Park Hotel, 2 Lexington Avenue; 212-777-2410) and Marta (Martha Washington Hotel, 29 East 29th Street; 212-651-3800), spends enough time meandering about the restaurant and bar scene on the Lower East Side to consider it a “second home” to his place in Stuy Town. So much so that he’s crowned Le French Diner (188 Orchard Street; 212-777-1577) his neighborhood joint there, and returns regularly for a mussel salad that is the best thing he ate this month — and in many months prior.
“It’s rare to find hidden gems that are small, comfortable, inexpensive, and deliver finely executed food day in and day out,” says Anderer. “Le French Diner is exactly that, which is why it’s my quintessential neighborhood spot. The tiny kitchen is run by Chef Burcu [Aydeniz], who has had extensive training in French, English, and American kitchens, so her food combines a playful use of refined technique with bold flavors and rustic presentations. It’s the kind of food you can really eat every day.
“One of my favorite dishes there is a smoked-mussel salad, which she adapts seasonally with different vegetable accompaniments. The latest version I had has celery and radishes folded into the mix. I love citrus and seafood together, and this dish shows off Burcu’s expert handling of these simple ingredients, coaxing the most amount of flavor from everyday staples. The base of the salad is a scattering of lightly smoked mussels dressed in tangy meyer lemon juice and fragrant olive oil. To create competing texture, Burcu adds crunchy radishes and celery. And that’s really it. It’s so simple and so delicious.
“Chefs who have this level of restraint are rare, but I think creating flavor-packed dishes with so few and such humble ingredients requires so much skill. Props to Burcu and Le French Diner.”
Where do chefs go to eat on their nights off? We’re asking them — and they’re divulging the best things they’ve eaten in the last month in this weekly column. Read more in the archives of The Best Thing I Ate This Month.