My days in the restaurant business…, by Don Curto

…are now over.
I have sold the New York Deli and the Italian Place to Kareem Shaw, a man from Pasadena (California) who has worked with me for four and a half years. I think he would agree with me when I note he grew up in the culinary world in the restaurant.
Kareem attended NMU’s famous local culinary school, where he got his first grounding in the crazy business of preparing and serving food for the public. I probably know more about the business and about food than he does at this time (he’s catching up fast), but he has a distinct advantage: Kareem is only twenty-eight years old. Energy! New interest! Creativity! Used properly, these virtues triumph. He will continue to work with the truly remarkable staff we have put together over the years and the menu and approach to the public will remain essentially the same, with personal changes coming, of course.0707foo
The New York Deli menu with its famous soups (always made on site), its huge sandwiches of corned beef, pastrami, turkey, roast beef, Albacore tuna and other true deli delights stands alone in the entire U.P. No one else makes chopped chicken liver or matzo ball soup.
The Italian Place menu is distinctive; there is no other true Italian menu, reflecting the best of Rome and Italy put together from my many visits (eight times to Rome) in search of the essence of Italian food.
There are professional critics in the restaurant business (I am one of them), but the only important critic is the public. The critical public has been very good to our restaurant over the years.
There are customers who began their relationship with our menu when the deli opened in 1993, and they remain loyal to this day. My best education has come from customers, both the loyal and those who are critical for reasons often having nothing to do with food or its quality.
My favorite non sequitor critic is the quite nice woman who stopped eating at the deli because she thinks she knows how I voted in the late recall election—she does not know—and is certain I “destroyed her city.” That’s a grant of power I never asked for.
Oh well. Perhaps now that I no longer own it, she will come back to eat at Kareem’s place and get back in the good food column. There have been many customers over the years who have pointed out failures of one kind or another. I am sure other restaurant owners would agree with me that it is far better to have a customer point out some failure than to go away unhappy and not return. I always have been grateful for the critical customer. I cannot correct what I don’t know about.
I will have a lot more to write about my time in this crazy business—and it is truly crazy—but not in this column coming so quickly after the sale.
A story recently appeared in the serious and presumably mature publication, the New York Times that a female shark gave birth without the benefit, if that is what sex is, of a local male. Scientists have a term for this phenomenon, which I have forgotten. Apparently this odd event has been observed with other mammals.
It does seem strange, indeed, when one considers that sex is rampant everywhere. Birds sing for it, frogs croak for it, teenagers ride in automobiles for it.  Dr. David Page, an expert on sex evolution, has noted that even yeast cells, the cells that make your bread, beer and wine, reproduce sexually. One does not need to buy yeast in stores; just leave some warm water mixed with a bit of flour and a little sugar out overnight in the warm kitchen, and by morning the yeast in the air will have found the warm bed you left for them to cavort in. Thank God for the yeast cells and for sex and for good bread.
And then there is the apparent problem of the only child. What a strange thing it is that an only child in a family is considered a problem. I was an only child at one time (the child part a very long time past), and I’m here to tell that it is a pretty good way to be raised. I never heard of selfishness until I met some of you who have siblings. It is a problem distinctive to you.
Seriously, those who were raised that way had nothing to do with the choice. It just happened, and we would appreciate if the speculative press would just leave us alone.We as only children have some important things to do.
I leave you this month with some guides to good eating at home. One is my favorite bread recipe, which is very easy to make and proves once again that bread is truly a miracle food. Then there are three approaches to good potato salad, once again easily made and distinctive.

Small, quick potato salads
First step for all: take small red new potatoes, boil gently until done, but not too done. Let cool slightly, slice in thick slices while warm. Put the amount you wish in a bowl. Recipes below assume enough for two lunch side dishes, but you will have to use your judgment on amounts for your consumption.
• Slice two or three green onions into small rings, put in small bowl. Add 4 tbls extra virgin olive oil, 1 tbls wine vinegar (or 1/2 tbls balsamic vinegar), coarsely chop some fresh basil, mix well with whisk. Pour over potatoes, and salt and pepper to taste.
• Take a tablespoon of drained capers (most any supermarket carries these now), 4 tbls olive oil, 1 tbls red wine vinegar, chop 1 tbls fresh chives, mix all, pour over potatoes, salt and pepper.
• Take a 1/2 cup sour cream, mix it well with 2 tbls heavy cream, add 2 tbls coarsely chopped fresh dill, 2 tbls very finely chopped sweet onion, salt and pepper. Mix with sliced potatoes. Garnish with dill sprig.

Italian-style bread
This is a fairly easy recipe, which makes an unusually tasty and tender bread.  It is possible to vary this recipe by using half whole wheat and half all-purpose white. (I find it particularly good with 1/5 whole wheat, 4/5 white.) All other procedures remain the same. For two long loaves:
1 1/2 tbls active dry yeast
1 tbls sugar
2 c 100-115 degrees F water
1 tbls salt
5 to 6 cups flour (Make 1 cup whole wheat for good variation or use about 1/2 cup light rye instead of the whole wheat)
4 tbls olive oil
Use cornmeal on pan to keep bread from sticking. Egg/water wash. Combine yeast, sugar, water and allow to proof. After proofing begins (at froth stage), add olive oil. Mix salt thoroughly with flour and add to yeast mixture in five batches, approximately. Stir until dough is stiff. Knead until no longer sticky—about ten minutes. The “no longer sticky” is more important than the time estimate.
Let rise until doubled. Punch down. Knead again briefly, and let rise one more time. Take dough from bowl, punch down, divide into two parts. Form into loaves, place on baking sheet covered with cornmeal. Let rise until loaves about double. Slash loaves in three places with razor or sharp knife, brush with lightly beaten egg white/water mixture.
Place in cold oven set for 375 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for about thirty-five to forty minutes until done. Let cool on racks.
—Don Curto

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