When I was 14, the celebrity I would have been the most excited to meet was Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys (no judgement please). More recently, my adoration switched over to Tom Brady, quarterback of the (THREE-TIME SUPER BOWL CHAMPION) New England Patriots. And even more recently, to a less likely guy,Mr. Tom Colicchio, host of Bravo TV's Emmy Award-Winning Top Chef, winner of the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef in 2010 and owner of the Craft brand of restaurants as well as Riverpark and Colicchio & Sons. Yes, he is a middle-aged, bald dude who loves to make bad food puns on Top Chef ("Tonight, your short ribs fell just short") but there is just so much to love, and trust me, I do. I also just learned his middle name is Patrick, so maybe that has something to do with it...
Tom Colicchio is an incredibly successful chef and restauranteur apart from his role on Bravo's hit show, and that alone is enough to impress. He owns several restaurants in New York City, his home base, and also Craft restaurants in Dallas, LA, Las Vegas and Connecticut. He was the co-founder of Gramercy Taven, a very successful NYC restaurant, and he served as the co-owner and executive chef until 2006 when he sold his interest.
Why am I giving you the details of Tom Colicchio's chef biography? Because last night, I met him.
Jill and I were trying to think of places to have dinner. When I saw a 10:30pm reservation for 2 open at The Tap Room at Colicchio & Sons, I immediately snagged it. We met around 9:30 and had a drink at nearby Fig & Olive before heading over to the restaurant for dinner. We walked a few blocks to 10th Avenue & 16th Street, and I was reminded of the river-side location of Riverpark, another of his restaurants, located on the East River. This one was so close to the Hudson that I could feel the breeze coming off the water as we opened the door and stepped inside.
I looked around the gorgeous space and was immediately transported from the cold winter night outside to the warm, inviting atmosphere of the room. We gave our name at the front and were immediately shown to a cozy table in the Tap Room near the bar. I was facing a wood-burning stove where several chefs were cooking a few feet away from me, and I began to take it all in.
Jill ordered a flight of beers and I ordered a glass of Bodegas La Cartuja Priorat, a Spanish red blend of Garnacha, Cariñena, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. We looked at the menu and made our selections as the waitress brought over our drinks. I took a sip of the wine and it was literally one of the best red wines I had ever tasted. Bold in flavor and low in acidity, it was incredibly smooth and drinkable. For our meal, we decided to share the Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil Pizza as an appetizer, I ordered the Surf & Turf (Scallops and Pork Belly with Bacon Mayo and Citrus) for dinner and Jill ordered the Crispy Chicken with Garlic Sausage, Pepper Stew and Mustard Jus. We sat and enjoyed our drinks until the pizza came out.Large chunks of sweet, ripe tomatoes and melted mozzarella cheese covered a perfectly chewy crust to create an incredible flavor. The pizza was cut into four pieces, so we each got to enjoy two. My wine paired perfectly with the pie.
Then our meals arrived and I couldn't wait to taste the Surf & Turf I had ordered.The Scallops were big, sweet & tender and the Pork Belly was smokey and succulent. I don't typically enjoy mayo, but flavored with bacon? Yes please! Everything on my plate was sensational, and when I gave Jill a taste (yes, I shared), she agreed. I also tasted her Chicken, and just like the Crispy Chicken at Riverpark, the skin was well-seasoned and crispy and the Chicken was moist and full of flavor. Is there any protein Tom doesn't know how to cook?
Speaking of Tom...
Jill and I finished our food, had some after-dinner drinks and paid the bill. I was feeling quite satisfied and ready to move onto another bar for more drinks. We were standing at the front of the restaurant waiting for our coats when I looked back over at the open oven area and there he was. My heart jumped into my throat as I grabbed Jill's arm and managed to squeak out "Oh. My. God. Tom. Colicchio." It's true, there he was, in all his bald-headed glory. My heart began to race as I dragged Jill to the bar and demanded I buy us a round of drinks. While Jill waited for the bartender to pour our cocktails, I casually went over to the countertop area in front of where Tom was cooking and joined a large group of people that had begun milling about. Tom was cooking burgers, pizzas and small grilled meat and cheese sandwiches. Jill came over with our drinks, and there we stood for the next few hours.Tom was laughing and joking as he cooked, I was geeking out and admiring as I watched. At one point, an older gentleman began talking to Jill and me and I told him of my love for Tom. The man got Tom's attention and told him I was "his biggest fan" and Tom looked at me, smiled and gave me a fist pump of approval. I nearly fell over. A few minutes later, as Tom was taking a cooking break off to the side, I reached out and told him that I really was a huge fan and then, thinking that it wouldn't be sanitary on his part for him to shake my hand as he was touching all the food, I stuck out my fist and asked him for a pound. Yes, it's true, I fist-bumped Tom Colicchio, and I don't regret it for one second.
When I could finally tear myself away from watching my celebrity crush cook, Jill and I went to get our coats. As we were standing in the hallway near the coat room, Tom brushed right by us to bring some pans into the kitchen. I immediately whipped out my camera and gave it to Jill, bless her soul. As soon as he came back out, I asked him for a picture. He smiled and put his arm around me as Jill snapped one of my favorite pictures of all time:I thanked him, and floated out of the restaurant on cloud 9. I couldn't believe that we had almost left the restaurant without noticing that he had appeared by the oven, and I felt so lucky that I got to meet my favorite chef in the entire world.
Who are your favorite chefs? If you ever got the chance to meet them, what would you say? If you have met them, what did you say? Last night was really special for me, and I want to send a HUGE thank you to Jilly for sticking around with me all night. That's a true friend.
-The Fabulous Foodie