First Meal Back: Chef Michael Lomonaco
Lomonaco is the owner and executive chef of NYC's Porter House and Hudson Yards Grill
In honor of all of the restaurants we dearly miss and can’t wait to get back to, we’re asking the country’s most decorated chefs to tell us about the meals that will be at the top of their list when Stay at Home orders finally lift. This is First Meal Back.
Michael Lomonaco, the owner and executive chef of Porter House and Hudson Yards Grill, established his credentials working at New York institutions like Le Cirque, the 21 Club and Windows On The World, the restaurant he ran for several years atop the World Trade Center prior to 9/11.
Born in Brooklyn, the 65-year-old took a brief step away from the kitchen after 2001 to do some TV work on Food Network and Travel Channel, with his shows Michael’s Place and Epicurious. In 2006, he returned to his hometown to open Porter House, an upscale steakhouse in the Time Warner Center that he operates to this day. Last year, he added Hudson Yards Grill to his stable as well.
We recently caught up with Lomonaco to find out what he’s been cooking during the lockdown, where he’s hoping to eat once restrictions lift, and how he’s feeling about the future of his industry.
InsideHook: Where are you most looking forward to having a meal again?
Michael Lomonaco: This is not a coy answer. Really, I miss my restaurants. I miss Porter House Bar and I miss Hudson Yards Grill. Part of the restaurant culture, the world we live in, is that we feed ourselves. We cook for ourselves every day at family meal. Being in my own kitchen, in my own restaurant with my front of house and back of house team together again and being able to share a family meal with my team will make me very happy. That’s the first meal I’m thinking of. On Thanksgiving, we do a whole turkey dinner with stuffing, side dishes, mashed potatoes and apple pies. That’s the meal I would like to have with my staff. I would like to have a Thanksgiving homecoming dinner with my team.
Where are you most looking forward to getting a drink again?
My favorite place for a cocktail is the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis New York. The mural there is just beautiful. That’s classic New York. There’s a certain elegance about that bar and the bartenders are just perfect. That’s a hell of a bar that’s not my own, and I don’t drink in my own places. I’d like to have a Manhattan at the King Cole Bar, then I know that we’re back. And the second cocktail, because you can’t have two cocktails in the same place, I’m going to Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel. I grew up in Brooklyn and these bars were aspirational to me in my youth. They speak of an older New York, of a time that’s gone by but is kept alive in these bars. Are the cocktails too expensive? Yes, they’re too expensive. But you know, you’ve got a jacket on, you put on a tie and you’re swinging with the crowd.
Is there any New York food you are missing in particular?
I’m missing Totonno’s Pizza in Coney Island in the worst way. I can get a slice of pizza on the Upper East Side, but that’s where I want to go. It’s one of the oldest pizza joints in the city, with a coal-fired oven. It’s the best pizza in New York. I grew up being in Coney Island all the time. I want to see the Ferris wheel. I want to see the parachute jump. I want to see the beach crowded with people, and I want to go to Totonno’s for pizza.
What have you been cooking and eating at home?
I’m cooking everything. I’m a chef who loves to cook at home. You won’t get that from a lot of chefs. It’s not the same when you cook at home, but I love cooking at home. I’m making roast chicken with potatoes that my mom used to make. I’m doing burgers in a cast-iron pan. I’m making the pasta that I love to have when I’m in Rome. I’m trying not to overeat.
Is there a dish you want to make back in a professional kitchen?
At Porter House, dry-aged prime beef is kind of our thing. I’m really looking forward to getting back into the kitchen so that we can do some Porterhouse steaks under the high-heat grill and make a prime rib. When we do a prime rib, it usually has seven or eight bones and weighs 19 or 20 pounds. The prime beef comes from [Pat] LaFrieda and they age it for us and then we do our own butchering. I’m really looking forward to that. And why is that? Because of the spectacular aroma of that dry-aged prime beef. That’s the aroma of my own kitchen at Porter House.
Do you have a favorite variety of Parmesan?
My own Sicilian-style eggplant parm. No flour, no bread crumbs, just slicked eggplant cooked, sauteed in olive oil and then baked in the oven in a casserole dish with Parmesan cheese, mozzarella and tomato sauce just until the cheese melts. Breadcrumbs or flour just add bulk to the dish and that’s why people do it. I grew up with it very simple, no breading. For me, that is a perfect eggplant Parmesan.
Has COVID-19 brought up any memories of 9/11 and Windows On The World?
September 11 was just devastatingly tragic for New York with so much loss of life. There are similarities in the sense that everything shut down after 9/11 and we were uncertain of the future. We were unsure of our safety. We were unsure of where our lives and our jobs would be and what we would return to. The future was very uncertain and I think that that’s very much like how it feels now. There’s a certain sense of imminent danger with COVID-19 and that’s different. I think the city felt vulnerable then and we’re feeling vulnerable now. After 9/11, when we opened Porter House in 2006, it was like a rebirth. We thought life would never be the same. Well yes, maybe life won’t be the same, but it’ll be different and possibly even better. So I think that that’s how I feel now.
Are you optimistic New York City will be back to business as usual someday?
Yes. The city has taken a lot of blows throughout the years and we’re going to get through this man. It may not feel that way now, but we will. I trust science to get us through this and I trust New Yorkers to get us through this. New York is tough. We may be down but we’re not out. This is like a boxing match. It’s not over yet. We’re going to get through it and we’re going to be the ones standing. We’re going to be fine.
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