New Taste of the Upper West Side starts tomorrow, and we couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than to chat with an ultimate food girl crush of ours, Gail Simmons. Simmons will be hosting the four day soiree, so she took us to one of her favorite Upper West Side spots – Boulud Sud – for dessert and decadence. There was much to be talked about and tasted, so we didn’t waste any time. Just when you didn’t think it was possible to fall any more in love with Gail Simmons, you’re about to find out that it is…
TNP: We’re so excited about your event at the end of May and I just wanted to take a little tour of the Upper West Side with you and ask you about some of your favorite spots. We always start out by asking what someone’s ideal food day would be. So, if you had your ideal food day on the Upper West Side, what would it be from start to finish?
GS: I like that. I just feel like I should tell you that I do not live on the Upper West Side. But, I frequent the area for many reasons – friends, the park, restaurants…So, if could eat a whole day on the Upper West Side, I might do brunch at RedFarm [UWS location opening soon]. I love dim sum and I think RedFarm makes such good dumplings and dim sum of all kinds. So I’d start there. I would do lunch at Ed’s Chowder House or Lincoln, if I was a little bit south. Fancy but gorgeous. The food is so good and the space is so incredible. I would have dinner at Boulud Sud. It’s one of my favorite restaurants and I love that it’s all so Mediterranean – and towards the eastern part of the Mediterranean that you don’t always see classic flavors from. I love that there’s Turkey, Greece and even Lebanon incorporated into their menu. It’s delicious. I would have an afternoon snack at Shake Shack, which would include a Concrete [mixed ice cream] and a burger. I would lay off the fries just to make it a light snack because I would still have to eat dinner. Then I would probably go to Jacques Torres for a little bit of chocolate along the way as well. And maybe a little late night sushi at Blue Ribbon Sushi…That’s if I get hungry around midnight or so.
TNP: So do you mind just telling me a little about the Best of the West event at the festival?
GS: I’m hosting the event and it’s honoring Danny Meyer and his Shake Shack business partner Randy Garutti for all their contributions to the public of New York and to the restaurant community on the Upper West Side. It’s going to be a lot of great food. All of the money raised from the ticket sales goes to the Columbus Avenue BID street beautification project to keep the Upper West Side beautiful and safe for everybody. It’s the sixth year of the Taste of the Upper West Side event in general. I’ve never participated in it before but when they came to me to talk about it, I jumped at the chance to.
TNP: Do you think that the Upper West Side was always amazing food-wise, or do you think this is a recent thing? What do you think caused that growth?
GS: I think that it’s been brewing for a long time. The area actually has a really long and classic history. It’s a very livable neighborhood with access to the park and the Hudson River. It has great schools, a really lovely sense of community and is obviously family-based. It has quite a growing population too. So you would think that there would always be professionals, especially in the last couple of years. I love seeing this trend – of all these young chefs who have restaurants downtown moving uptown. I think that’s what’s new. Restaurants like Blue Ribbon, RedFarm and Shake Shack – all of these restaurants were downtown. Even Daniel Boulud. Fifteen years of his career were very much anchored in the Upper East Side. Everyone sort of began gravitating towards the Upper West Side. There’s always been a foundation, but now I think people are migrating there because I think people are growing up and realizing that it’s just a great opportunity to see families who are really interested in eating well. There are also all of these huge food purveyors [on the UWS] who have always had such high-quality food – Fairway, Citarella, Zabar’s.
TNP: If you could pick a couple of your favorite chefs up there, who would you pick?
GS: I think that the restaurants I mentioned before, obviously. Jean Georges. Is he considered Upper West Side?
TNP: Yes, definitely.
GS: Or even Jonathan Benno at Lincoln. That was a huge project. It’s sort of interesting that Lincoln Center is such a hub of New York City for opera, ballet, theater, orchestra, jazz and there were never really strong restaurants around it. But in the last couple of years we’ve seen Lincoln, Bar Boulud, Boulud Sud – I think those are great. I also love Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto; it’s such a great place. It’s casual, comfortable and so delicious. And the product is amazing.