If you’re intrigued by the idea of Kitchen Confidential circa 1950, look no further than this totally engaging book. Part memoir, part cookbook and all great fun, Love and Dishes is the zany and entertaining story of and by Niccolo de Quattrociocchi—Nicky Q to his friends—urbane owner of El Borracho restaurant and embodiment of a particular mid-century New York refinement. (Borracho is the Spanish word for drunkard.)
With not-so-subtle wit and a flair for storytelling, Nicky recounts the improbable tale of his path from Sicily, of being drafted into World War I, winning $16,000 at Monte Carlo, and finally setting sail for New York where he put his stake into opening a restaurant. That was the beginning of El Borracho, which offered its patrons fine French and Italian cuisine and was, in its time, the picture of over-the-top sophistication. A yellow card placed on each table read: “If you have enjoyed the dinner, the service, and the atmosphere of El Borracho, PLEASE DO NOT tell your friends as our seating capacity is limited. — The Management.”
With Nicky at the front as manager and impresario, the restaurant attracted “the great and the famous,” and Nicky’s sometimes booze-soaked stories are delightfully gossipy, littered with tales of celebrities and politicians along with backwaiters and line cooks. And women—many, many women. According to Nicky, “the pursuit of lovely ladies has proved a satisfactory preoccupation for a lifetime.” Throughout, his stories are infused with wry humor, worldly wisdom, and a dash of impertinence thrown in for good measure.
While the stories could easily take up the entire book, a good 250 pages are devoted to recipes from El Borracho, as well as other internationally known restaurants—poulet farci from La Tour d’Argent, schnitzel from Luchow’s. The dishes reflect Nicky Q’s cosmopolitan elegance, and the recipes are liberally sprinkled with his quips and anecdotes. Included are such specialties as oysters Clarice (“It is not necessarily true what they say about them, but it helps”); tournedos Beauharnais (from “Hal Phyfe, famous photographer and gourmet”); mousse au chocolat El Borracho.
Love and Dishes is a delightful peek at a world long gone. This is a very nice copy, clean and attractive with the seldom-seen dust jacket. Very Good, inside and out. $45.00