Editor's note: The is the second piece in a series in which Sara is chronicling the process of opening a new restaurant, Porsena. You can read the first piece here. Or click here to try her Abruzzese-style pasta with lamb sausage and bitter greens.
While I wait for the gas to get turned on, there is a kitchenful of stuff to buy, and one way I am trying to do that is with restaurant auctions. In this economy there are a lot of them. Today I go to my first one, a dreary little Italian restaurant in the West Village that had been in business since 1978.
It's pouring rain and humid, which doesn't help cheer anything up. Sebastian, my chef de cusine (or bureau chief as he prefers to be called), shows up with me for the preview inspection. First thing I notice is that they have an A from the health department in the window. It's a pretty new letter-grade system that just went into effect, and everyone is sweating about it. I'm surprised because the place is a little dingy to say the least. The dining room has been emptied out and on the tables around the edge are stacks of kitchen smallwares: pots and pans and ladles, plates, full salt and pepper shakers, really beat-up shitty aluminum pans. Moët & Chandon champagne buckets, cheap glasses, stainless steel creamers.
We see an industrial electric cheese grater we want and a beautiful wooden butcher block that looks basically unused. "It's maple," whispers Sebastian. "How high will we go?" The refrigeration is old and cruddy, the espresso machine nothing special, there's really nothing else we want. I'm hoping the old guys are psyched to be selling everything and planning a relaxing retirement back home in sunny Abruzzi, but I might be projecting. We wander out to the bar area and Sebastian starts measuring the bar fridge even though it's clearly way too big for us. This brings him to the attention of two repulsive older goombas who seem to specialize in buying up large equipment at auction, cleaning it up, and reselling it. They ignore me and whisper away at him, pushing their business cards into his hand.
Somebody actually buys the shitty sauté pans and the salt and pepper shakers still full of salt and pepper. It's kind of boring and sad. I notice how stained and grubby the carpet is. We actually get the cheese grater and the butcher block for the price we wanted to spend. I am amazed. Most of the people bidding seem really seedy, but there are one or two clean-cut serious restaurant people who are not hungry, surprisingly, for the same things I want.
Just like that it's all over. We pay and leave. We have a wine tasting to get to, and I am saddened by the overall grimness of the situation, the cheap hustlers, the sad old men, the lack of beauty attached to a cuisine and a vocation that can be so stunningly beautiful.
Recipe: Abruzzese-Style Pasta With Lamb Sausage and Bitter Greens
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