Chef Dave Martin at Frankie & Fanucci’s

202 East Hartsdale Avenue (across from the Hartsdale Train Station)
Hartsdale, New York

5 Second Summary:
Price Range- Pizzas $10-22 (at time of posting)
Ambiance- Casual bistro pizzeria
Cuisine- Neopolitan, wood-fired oven pizza
Hits- Bringing in a talented celebrity chef
Misses- Recreating the work of a talented celebrity chef

A midday email from my brother turned into surprisingly great, last-minute dinner plans.  In a minimally publicized local appearance, Top Chef season one finalist Dave Martin stirred the pots as guest chef at Frankie & Fanucci’s wood oven pizzeria.

My office mate and fellow food guy, Jesse, along with his wife, daughter, our friend Dave, and Dave’s two daughters all met up driven by that insatiable curiosity to break the fourth wall of TV and actually taste the food made by a Top Chef contestant.

Martin’s roasted corn salad was comfort food defined: fresh, simple flavors allowed to be themselves (just the way I love them!) and develop on the palate.  The foundation was a delicious nutty arugula rounded out with sweet corn and smoky roasted poblanos.  The subtle acid of fresh citrus in the orange and roasted garlic vinaigrette made the salad a little bit of everything: nutty, sweet, smoky, and acidic.  The vinaigrette’s oil and vinegar were so unobtrusive in this perfectly dressed salad; it seemed as if the dressing wasn’t really there… and yet it was such a great component.

Our table shared two pizzas that were very different from each other.  The first was buttermilk marinated chicken, gouda, mozzarella, fontina, parmesan, and cider barbeque sauce on honey wheat dought.  It had a great interplay between the sweet, hint-of-vinegary barbeque and the creamy salt of the cheeses.

The other pizza was a cream delight: alfredo sauce with wood-fired shrimp, apple wood bacon, and roasted tomatoes.  As we all know, apple wood bacon makes everything good.  When you add bacon and cream, it’s instant deliciousness.  The other three adults agreed that this pizza was their favorite, but I preferred the very sweet barbeque pizza.

If you missed today’s appearance, you have until Sunday, September 27 to try Chef Martin’s special menu additions.

The event was clearly intended to garner some publicity for Dave Martin’s upcoming book Flavor Quest. The chef graciously visited tables and spent a generous amount of time chatting with us even though half of our table was under the age of five and coloring F&F-provided place mats with crayons.  Super-cool.  Super friendly.  My Dad’s favorite for the win, Dave Martin seemed hard not to like.

I couldn’t resist asking a few questions.  I’ll paraphrase the replies.

When asked what about the show doesn’t come through in the editing, Dave shared that the time lines really aren’t accurately portrayed.  Time spent waiting for Judges’ Table could be upwards of 13 hours.  (Imagine all that time stewing -and being plied with booze- to find out how you’d fared!)  Sometimes the feedback came at 1 or 2 a.m.! Dave also related the intensity of day-after-day challenges.  Quickfires and elimination challenges were, literally, back to back.  After the exhaustion (and emotional roller coaster) of a single day’s work, contestants had to wake up and do it all over again. Speaking with him, I got a sense of how mentally and emotionally overwhelming the experience was.

What does he think of the new show? Is it as difficult as the original season? With a nod, Dave admitted he doesn’t watch the new seasons.  I also asked him to share his favorite New York City eateries; he offered Brooklyn’s Motorino for its fresh flavors (in case you were looking for a new pizzeria).

Frankie & Fanucci’s, on the other hand, is an accommodating, casual bistro-style pizzeria conveniently located across the street from the Hartsdale train station (and the location of the Hartsdale Farmers’ Market).  There was quite a hullabaloo for the occasion, but I’m not sure how crowded it would have been without the celebrity chef’s presence.  Overall, the dinner was an unexpected pleasure and, undoubtedly, a wise move on the part of the pizzeria.

(L-R) Me, Chef Dave Martin, and Jesse

Sunday 9/27/09 Follow-up: After my rave reviews, my father and sister trekked over to Frankie & Fanucci’s for take-out.  Unfortunately, what they brought home was incomparable to the master’s originals.  The proportions were off, the salad soggy, and the crust texture mushier than when the chef had been there to oversee the process.  We all agreed that the combination of flavors was evident, and you could see the potential, but if I hadn’t tasted the real thing two days earlier, I would have no idea how spectacular Chef Dave Martin’s work really is.
October 2009 Follow-up: I just received my copy of Dave Martin’s cookbook, Flavor Quest, which is filled with recipes that seem like earthy, homey comfort foods… You can see the chef’s style: simple, clean, with well-thought-out and hearty flavors.  I’ve bookmarked a few recipes to try and will report back when I do!

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