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 make our way into the kitchen, which looks as if they were still cooking and serving dinner last night. There's oil in the fryolater and knives strewn about the counter. The dishwasher drain is filled with food waste and a guy is running a dirty mop around with a sharp smell of industrial cleaner. There are two old Italian guys cleaning out the last of the food, some industrial packages of frozen lasagna and some insipid pitted green olives. I am really puzzled now as to how they got an A. Especially since the restaurant world is abuzz over how one of the big four-star French places has recently been awarded a C, although they have two weeks to appeal and I am positive they will get an A upon re-inspection.