Josh Johnson Prefers to Eat Dinner in Bed

Illustration: Maanvi Kapur

Growing up, Josh Johnson knew he had to eat the home-cooked jambalaya, gumbo, and blackened fish that his grandmother would prepare. “It wasn’t just about me,” he says. “It would also be an indictment on her cooking if I didn’t eat it.” Now, the touring comedian — who shares his sets on YouTube every Tuesday — weekly podcast host, and new on-air correspondent for the Daily Show (where he’s also been a writer for the past six years) sets alarms to remind himself to eat. Solo eating isn’t the same as the crawfish boils from home (“It has the same energy as a barbecue — you don’t really go and just eat by yourself”), but there are perks, like eating in bed and finding better-than-expected fruit plates in venues’ green rooms: “A fruit-and-cheese plate may not always come when you want it,” Johnson says, “but it’s always on time.”

Monday, June 3
I was in Atlanta, and I started my day with a particularly large Jason’s Deli Texas Style Spud. “Texas Style” already implies a challenge to eat as much as a whole family, so starting my day with a meal like this would have you think I’m a bigger man than I am.

“Eat your vegetables if you want to be big and strong” is something I can still hear my grandmother saying clearly in the back of my head whenever I sit down to have a meal without any greens. But I did eat my vegetables, and I am neither a big man nor a strong one. I’ve returned many jars of pickles to the grocery store rather than admit that I just couldn’t open them.

To say the potato was hefty wouldn’t do justice to the absolute behemoth that was laid into the to-go tray — barely fitting, with cheese and meats pressed against the lid as if they had been fighting for freedom the moment the container was clamped shut. As soon as I opened it, I was greeted with the aroma of barbecue beef, sauce, cheddar, and butter that would have made the Lone Star State proud.

As soon as I took the first bite, I burned my mouth. Burning your mouth at the beginning of the meal is one of life’s smallest tragedies. You can still feel the texture of the food that you know is delicious, but your taste buds are in a time-out.

Due to how hectic the day was, I didn’t get to, nor need to, eat again until dinnertime. I went with my family to the Cheesecake Factory. Cheesecake Factory stands out as one of the strongest models for what life in America is like. Here you are, ready and hungry, looking to be fulfilled, and what you find isn’t just opportunity and choice but so much choice that you’re frozen. Should I get the Tex-Mex egg rolls, the crispy crab bites, or roll the dice with the Buffalo Blasts? Should I be a doctor, an engineer, or roll the dice and become a comedian? It’s not the best metaphor, but I think you get what I mean.

In the end, I chose the crispy crab bites, the fresh-grilled salmon, and some broccoli and mashed potatoes on the side. I didn’t think there would be any room left in me after the Texas spud, but somehow I managed to make my grandmother proud with the broccoli.

Tuesday, June 4
My day started earlier than most. I had to be up at 4:15 a.m. I wasn’t even thinking about breakfast because to my knowledge the only way you’re thinking about food at 4 a.m. is if you are very, very drunk. Closer to 7 a.m., I took my first crack at chewing something. I was at the hospital, visiting a relative, and the only thing that looked even halfway delicious in the cafeteria was a cup of blueberries.

Before I knew it, lunchtime had arrived and the closest thing was Chick-fil-A, which I’ve been avoiding as much as possible. I may not be a nutritionist, but I’m suspicious of any food that is ready that quickly. I can appreciate convenience just as much as any other American, but the fact that I had not finished my sentence and my salad was already in hand gave me pause. I was also hesitant because for some reason I asked myself, “How is the salad still fresh?” I mean, where did this lettuce even come from?

For so long we’ve transported food in this country, and I for one had never bothered to ask, until I got to Chick-fil-A, how or why a salad that gets soggy within 15 minutes of you starting to eat it stays crisp all the way up until it is delivered to you. It makes me feel like my healthy choice is a scam.

I couldn’t get this out of my head as I chased down a lone cherry tomato with my fork. But the real question is: Do I even want to know? Would knowing the answer change the way that I eat or think about food, especially when I’m in a hurry? It’s questions like these that I push to the back of my mind and put in the compartment somewhere next to my grandmother’s demand for more vegetables.

For dinner, I had food from a place I’d never been before named Maggiano’s. It was one of the best meals I’d eaten all week (1) because of the food, which was great, and (2) because of where I ate it.

I was able to order the food and eat it in bed. There are some foods that simply aren’t made for bed eating, like soup — the risk of spilling, staining, or soaking in tomato soup is enough to get me out of bed and at a table — but the foods that are fit for the bed are a joy to eat in the most relaxed position possible. I enjoyed crab cakes, salmon with greens and potatoes, and a side of toast, while leaning up against a headboard. After spending most of the day at the hospital, it went perfectly with an episode of Reba.

Wednesday, June 5
I had a flight back to New York so I woke up early once again. Later than 4 a.m. but still too early to think about food. At the airport I grabbed some pretzels for the flight that would stay in my bag the entire time because I passed out as soon as the plane took off.

Once I landed and got home, I had one of my all-time favorite home meals: a salad. I know that it’s not the most exciting dish, but depending on what you put in it and how hungry you are when you have it, a salad can end up hitting the spot just as much as a home-cooked meal. The main reason I made the salad is because I can’t cook. Don’t get me wrong. I can warm things up. I can even sometimes put things together without burning or turning the ingredients into a disgusting mess, but I never lose confidence in my ability to make a delicious bowl of ingredients Mother Nature prepared beforehand.

For the salad, I chopped up some bell peppers and roasted chicken and grabbed a mix of greens including arugula, spinach, fennel, and baby kale. I also added some nuts with salt and pepper and a little bit of extra-virgin olive oil. It’s the kind of meal that makes you feel like you can work out even if you haven’t been to the gym in months. Once I’ve had a salad, especially a big one, I do get a little too full of myself. I’ll leave the house and see an ad for some cologne with a man that has no shirt and bulging muscles and think to myself, Yep I’ll be there in no time. I think it’s just another manifestation of my grandma’s voice except instead of making me feel guilty, it makes me look forward to the promise of being built like Jackie Robinson.

I didn’t get the chance to eat again until the evening. There’s a food truck in Williamsburg that has some of the best beef birria on planet Earth, and I have no problem fighting anyone who says otherwise. I grabbed three tacos, and each one was a separate but similar journey to a saucy heaven.

Thursday, June 6
I went into work and immediately ordered one of my favorites for lunch. Near the office, there are few places as good as Ponche Taqueria & Cantina. I got a chicken quesadilla and a beef taco. As soon as it arrived and I grabbed the first slice of quesadilla, in a scene fit for a movie, there was a string of cheese fighting to hang on to the rest no matter how hard I pulled. The flavor was fantastic, the portion was filling, and it was one of the best parts of my day.

Later at home, I made another salad before I recorded my podcast. It was the same salad as the day before, which was a great feeling because it was the first time during the week that I felt like I was being sustainable. There was something about using every last bit of each ingredient I had in stock that made me feel like I was really good at planning, even though it was just coincidence and meant I’d have to go out to buy more.

Last meal of the day was also a salad, but this time it was all fruit. Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, chia and hemp seeds, pecans, and kefir filled one of the biggest bowls I have at home, and it was the perfect way to end the day. If nothing else, it curbed my appetite for candy before bed and once again made me feel like I should really get around to going to the gym.

Friday, June 7
I was back at the airport on the way to a weekend of shows in Kansas City. I missed my flight by two minutes and was scrambling to find another. When I realized that no matter what I did it was going to be a three-hour wait until the next flight, I bought a croissant and sat at a random gate with my very sad, very late croissant.

With every bite, I remembered I shouldn’t be at the airport. I should be in the air, on the way. I knew it was not the croissant’s fault, but even that tasted late. It tasted like it should have been eaten the day before by a punctual person. With every chew of the stale flaky pastry, I became more disappointed in myself, that I rely on my iPhone as an alarm.

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THE 15 BEST Things to Do in NYC – 2024 (with Photos …

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Sammy’s Roumanian Is New, But Not Really

There’s a Yiddish expression, Az me ken nit vi me vil, muz men vellen vi me ken: “If you can’t do as you wish, do what you can.” With a small edit, it works well as a tagline for Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse, now enjoying a second life on Stanton Street: If you can’t eat what you like, you may as well enjoy what there is.

G-d bless Sammy’s, for whom shivas were sat prematurely, for whom death knells were rung too soon. The original location, an institution on Chrystie Street since 1975, closed its basement-level doors in 2021. It had evolved, over its long life, from a good restaurant to a beloved one. The New York Times three-starred it in 1982, praising its stuffed derma and “satiny” broiled brains; by 2014, it had aged into both mediocrity and icon status, the “most wonderful terrible restaurant in New York.” The ceilings were low and the lighting was awful; the tables still groaned with platters of steak, kreplach, and liver, a potbellied cruet of golden shmaltz on every one. Customers drank vodka — served by the bottle rather than the glass — which arrived encased in blocks of ice. There was singing, there was dancing, and the vibe at Sammy’s up to the very end was much the same as it was, I am told, at the bat mitzvah my cousin celebrated at the restaurant in 1985.

Now Sammy’s has reopened, and though the battered metal sign that used to announce it on the street now hangs indoors, things are as they ever were. The vodka (Ketel One or Tito’s now — diners’ choice) still arrives in an ice block, whose melting sides will begin sloshing around once you’re too sloshed to care. Seltzer is still dispensed via siphon. Shmaltz still sits on every tabletop, and platters of garlicky steak, kreplach, latkes, and sausage still keep coming until you beg them to stop. (There’s no “ordering” at Sammy’s — as at a relative’s house, you just submit.) Dani Luv (né Lubnitzki) still does his musical borscht-belt patter from the back of the room, coaxing circle dances out of sozzled tables of touristing blondes and belting the classics, improving the unimprovable American songbook with tweaks like, “Jingle bells, jingle bells / Jesus was a Jew.” (This is in May, mind.) Luv, who looks like the love child of Danny DeVito and Wallace Shawn, is as much an institution as Sammy’s itself, and his patter has aged like fine slivovitz.

Photo: Courtesy of Sammy’s

All is not identical. Sammy’s now finds itself at street level, though it approximates the cave quality of the original by covering its front windows. The room is long, narrow, and black, like a high-school black-box theater, albeit with some of the worst acoustics I have ever experienced in a restaurant. It was so hard to hear that everyone at my table spent the entire meal screaming in vain at one another, in the great Jewish tradition.  Luv, at least, has the benefit of a sound system. “How many Jews we got here tonight?” he bellowed at one point, before playing “If I Were a Rich Man,” from Fiddler. When the night progressed to the inevitable dance portion, he judged, accurately, “All the shiksas are dancing Jewish and all the Jews are eating.”

Oy, the eating. I think you are probably not a real New Yorker if you’ve never had chopped liver made for you tableside, your waiter smashing together gribenes, radish, onion, and a nice pour of shmaltz — “We call it a Jewish Caesar salad” — to be spread on sliced rye. Then a fried bounty: meat-filled kreplach with a sweet-and-sour orange dipping sauce, latkes, fried potatoes, a plate-size fried cutlet with a hefty scoop of mashed potatoes. A zingy stuffed cabbage. And, finally, the steak that makes Sammy’s Roumanian a steakhouse: It’s still flank, still garlicky, and now, perhaps more than before, mostly cooked to a nice rosy pink.

Sammy’s may be the last link in the chain of a proud tradition: the Jewish Romanian restaurant. Romanian immigrants came to the U.S. at the beginning of the 20th century —  in smaller numbers than some of the other Eastern European cohorts, but enough that the Romanian population of the States quadrupled between 1900 and 1910, and had doubled again by 1930 — and brought their tastes with them. Time has weakened appetites for broiled brains and calf’s-foot jelly. Long gone are Moskowitz & Lupowitz, on the corner of Second Avenue and 2nd Street; the French Roumanian Restaurant on Delancey, where in the 1930s the Daily Worker noted the long hours of the unionizing waiters; and the Old Romanian at 169 Allen, “famous home of mushk steak.” (Mushk steak appears on several Romanian menus and seems to have been rib eye.) Sammy’s, at least, keeps the memory alive, if not all of the cuisine. As Luv told Grub Street, “People ask me what’s Romanian at Sammy’s, and I say, ‘The sign.’”

What, you should want more than that? Forty-nine years after its founding, Sammy’s is a tradition unto itself.

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How Do You Follow a Hit Like Rezdôra?

Photo: Alex Staniloff

If you’ve ever tried and failed to get a reservation at Rezdôra, the 60-seat Flatiron room that specializes in intricate, prosciutto-filled pastas from Modena, help is on the way. Around the corner, on Broadway, chef Stefano Secchi and partner David Switzer are opening Massara — a cavernous, two-story restaurant dedicated to the cooking traditions of Campania and all of its fire, smoke, and fish.

Secchi describes the 105-seat space as a sort of “contemporary farmhouse in New York City.” The restaurant centers around an open kitchen that features an Acunto pizza oven from Naples, set into a wall of glossy dark-teal tile — a notable upgrade from the Unox combi oven at Rezdôra. It also features a custom-built wood-burning grill, which will be used for steaks, contorni like zucchini and eggplant, and to blister reverse-butterflied branzino.

“In the beginning at Rezdôra, the idea was to have a wood-burning grill,” Secchi says. “We couldn’t afford it.” One Michelin star and a few hyperbolic reviews later, they apparently can now — Tony Shalhoub is among the investors — and Secchi has the chance to celebrate the grilled fish he grew up eating while visiting Campania with his family as a kid.

The chef also wanted Massara to be a restaurant where he could use the pizza starter that’s been in his family for 35 years. “We’ve always been practicing over the past two years to try to do something really delicious with it,” he tells me. This has culminated in a menu of dainty, saucer-size “pizzettes” and a two-hour pizza-tasting menu.

Yes, there will be pasta, too, but don’t get your hopes up about tortellini, pici, or agnolotti. “We would never put agnolotti on there because that’s a pasta from Piedmont,” Secchi explains. “Even though agnolotti is, like, one of the most satisfying pastas ever.” Instead, Massara will serve dishes like the Cheesemakers Raviolini, which are filled with smoked buffalo mozzarella and layered with passatas from two types of tomato.

At Rezdôra, Secchi says, people were always asking why there wasn’t more tomato sauce on the menu: “Why is it always prosciutto and mortadella? And what about more seafood?” Those diners had clearly not spent much time in Emilia-Romagna, the farm- and pasture-heavy region to which Rezdôra’s menu was dedicated. Now, those same diners will find all the datterini, San Marzanos, langoustines, and scallops they could hope for.

There’s also a subsection of the menu dedicated to pastas imported from Gragnano, a municipality known for its 48-hour, low-heat pasta-drying technique. In a city that’s quickly filling up with “coastal Italian” restaurants, Massara may be the only one gutsy enough to serve a $32 cold pasta with red shrimp (the dish’s official name is If Pasta Fredda Was Eaten in Amalfi).

Like the agnolotti, Secchi and Switzer are drawing a line in the sand (or the volcanic soil, to be geologically precise) about only serving wines from southern regions like Sardinia and Sicily. “We don’t allow Champagne inside, which would give us massive check averages, right?” says Switzer, who finds the regional limitation to be among the most exciting parts of opening Massara. Switzer sees a lot of New York restaurants highlighting the “hits” of Italy, while the stricter regional approach means identifying some of the “deep tracks” of Campania.

More than anything, Switzer and Secchi seem relieved to be opening a bigger restaurant. In the first eight months of Rezdôra being open, René Redzepi reached out about coming to dine with a group of 12 people — but the largest table in the restaurant only fits five. “One of the greatest chefs in the world, right?” Secchi recalls. “And we could only ever fit five people, tops, in a party.”

If Rezdôra, a room full of two-tops, is one of Flatiron’s favorite date spots, Massara has the potential to become one of the neighborhood’s expense-account destinations. With multiple dining rooms and two bars spread out across two stories, it’s big enough to section off spaces for private parties without interrupting dinner service in the rest of the restaurant. The best view into the pizza oven is from an eight-person table that juts out from the open kitchen.

More space means more customers and flexibility, but it also opens the door for more ambitious food. Soon, for $50 per person, a table full of diners will be able to pre-order a goat prepared four different ways: braised, roasted, grilled, and in cannelloni. “We never had the space in Rezdôra to do something like that,” says Secchi, who’s still researching a consistent whole-goat supplier and thinking about ways to use each part. But in the meantime, he’s happy to imagine his guests’ conversations the morning after: “The next day you’ll be like, ‘Oh man, we went to Massara last night and we did the goat dinner, and it was epic.’”

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A New Thai Restaurant Inspired by Old Italian Bakeries

Photo: Nashish Scott

Khao pad poo, or crab fried rice, is one of those dishes that seems to be on almost every Thai menu. Too often, it’s an afterthought and even if the word “crab” does a lot to sell the dish, the result — poorly cooked rice, very little actual seafood — doesn’t live up to its promise. That’s not the case at Baht, a new Jackson Heights restaurant where the khao pad poo is the star of the menu.

Here, you’ll continue to find more and more crab as you dig through the rice, while the egg inside is cooked gently, so it’s still soft and fluffy. What really sets it apart is a condiment that the menu calls “Thai chimichurri,” a small bowl of fish sauce, oil, and vinegar with cilantro, garlic, scallion, and bird’s-eye chile. It’s a riff on prik nam pla, the condiment often served with the dish, and its savory vinegar tang really makes the rice pop. It’s hard not to get greedy with the stuff.

“That’s my favorite dish. I love fried rice. I’m Chinese, man,” says Quin Chen, a co-owner of the restaurant. “At every Thai restaurant we’ve been to, when you eat it, the crab kind of gets lost in the fried rice. You really don’t taste it. We didn’t want to be stingy with it.”

In April, Chen opened the restaurant with his wife, Tharinya Phinphattrakun, and sister-in-law, Sawanya, who is running the kitchen. The sisters’ parents previously ran Arunee, where they had both worked as teenagers and later helped out, in this same space. It wasn’t as well known as Sripraphai or Ayada, but it was among the area’s more popular Thai spots and praised by some as one of the city’s best. (Way back in 2002, New York Underground Gourmet nodded to its excellence and called attention to highlights such as the tom kha gai.)

Last July, Arunee’s lease expired and the elder Phinphattrakuns had decided to retire. “We didn’t want to let go of the business,” Tharinya says. So, they took over, redesigning and lightening it up. They ripped out layers of floor, until they got to the original wood, and went for a more timeless look. “I was really inspired by the old-school Italian bakeries, one of my biggest inspirations was Vesuvio Bakery,” says Chen, who grew up in Bay Ridge. Songs by Kali Uchi played from the speakers on Sunday afternoon, while one of the two TVs at the bar was tuned to a Mets game. They’ve also stocked a full bar, with cocktails that Chen says he developed with a friend who has worked at Death & Co., like the Olieng (“a Thai espresso martini”) and the Barrio Chino (a margarita with spicy Thai bitters).

Along with the crab fried rice, the menu features some other familiar dishes like Pla Tod, or a whole fried red snapper with mango salad; and Crying Tiger, the grilled-steak salad. Other choices feature little twists, like the avocado aïoli that’s served with the fish fritters and curry chicken empanadas. Larb wings, meanwhile, smack of fish sauce and are seasoned with toasted rice powder.

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Chef Charlie Mitchell Is New York’s James Beard Winner

Eliesa Johnson of The Restaurant Project

At last night’s James Beard Foundation Chef and Restaurant Awards, Charlie Mitchell was named the Best Chef in New York, beating out fellow nominees like Jeremy Salamon from Agi’s Counter and Nasim Alikhani of Sofreh.

Mitchell’s restaurant, Clover Hill, is a 20-seat fine-dining tasting room in Brooklyn Heights, with a Michelin star — Mitchell was the first Black chef in the city to earn the distinction — and a $305 buy-in for reservations. (At least one diner, Khruangbin’s Laura Lee, has publicly expressed admiration for the restaurant’s soundtrack.) Michell, who grew up in Detroit, told us earlier this year that he’s been cooking in one form or another since he was 6 years old. “I grew up in a fairly large family on both my mom and my dad’s side,” he said back in February. “Cooking was something that we did for any reason — good, bad, or sad.”

Mitchell’s win was the lone victory for the city’s restaurants at the ceremony, whose national honors were otherwise dominated by operators in mid-sized markets. The Outstanding Chef honor went to Michael Rafidi of Albi in Washington D.C.; the Outstanding Restaurant was Langbaan in Portland, Oregon; and Best New Restaurant was awarded to Dakar NOLA, which got its start as a pop-up and opened as a permanent location in 2022.

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Charlie Mitchell’s Grub Street DietThe World’s 50 Best Restaurants List Is Broken

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Wine Grifter Gets Two Years

Photo: SHAUN MADER/PatrickMcMullan

A judge in lower Manhattan this morning sentenced Omar Khan to two years in a federal prison for his role in a long-running scheme that defrauded many of the city’s fine-wine enthusiasts. In March, Khan pleaded guilty to one count of identity theft stemming from his impersonation of his own attorney in service of the nearly $7 million scheme. As part of that plea, a second charge of wire fraud, which would have carried a significantly longer prison term, was dropped.

“You are very, very, very, very fortunate there is a two-year cap,” U.S. district judge Paul A. Engelmayer told Khan during the hearing, referring to the maximum sentence he could impose for the charge to which Khan pleaded. “The facts of this crime would favor a much higher sentence.” Hammering his point home, Engelmayer ordered Khan to turn to and thank his attorney, Andrew Dalack of the Federal Defenders of New York.

Khan was first charged with wire fraud and identity theft in early 2020 but, at that point, he was living in Sri Lanka. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York spent years trying to extradite Khan from Sri Lanka, but he was ultimately forced to leave the country for overstaying a visa. In February, he was arrested by the FBI. Judge Engelmayer also ordered Khan to pay $6,699,582 in restitution to his victims.

Khan’s wife, Leslie, was on hand for his sentencing. Though she was a named party in at least one major civil lawsuit against Khan, she was not charged in the criminal case against him. In a letter to the judge before sentencing, Leslie wrote of her husband, “Even with all Omar has done and achieved, he has always been an extremely warm and loving husband and always ensures that his closest relationships are given high priority in his life.” The letter continues, “Omar has been terribly badly affected emotionally by this case from the outset. He is very remorseful about the poor choices he made.” In court, Khan said he looked “forward to demonstrating remorse in due course.” Asked by the judge whether that meant he didn’t feel remorse now, Khan clarified. “I feel it today.”

Also in attendance was Krešimir Penavić, who lost more money than any other victims named in multiple civil lawsuits against Khan. For years, Penavić, a retired mathematician who made a fortune at the Long Island hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, attended Khan’s wine-tasting events and eventually invested some $5 million in Khan’s events before realizing he was being taken for a ride. Penavić ultimately hired Rob Seiden, a former prosecutor, to bring a lawsuit against Khan. At sentencing, Penavić gave a statement, saying that Khan had yet to express any remorse or pay a dime in restitution.

Engelmayer asked Penavić whether he knew where all of the money Khan stole went. The judge asked the same question to both Dalack and assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Chiuchiolo. All three men had the same response: No.

Related

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Best Things to Do in New York City – Visit NYC

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