I interviewed Sarah DiGregorio of The Village Voice in preparation for the March 22nd Village Voice Choice Eats event. She and Robert Sietsema are true trailblazers and, in my view, lead with machetes through the jungle of the New York food scene. I wanted to know more about the ins and outs of choosing who they write about and participation in the event, but also about Sarah’s process and her background. Enjoy.
JO: Where do you live and why do you live there? Which other neighborhoods would you like to live in?
Sarah DiGregorio: I live in what you might call Greenwood Heights, South Park Slope or the northern part of Sunset Park. It’s relatively affordable, and I’ve really grown to love this neighborhood, especially the proximity to Sunset Park’s Chinese and Latin American restaurants. We also have a few older Polish shops nearby that still smoke their own meat, and places for good tacos and huraches. There’s also Luigi’s Pizza-a favorite of yours (right?) and mine. Quarter Bar is a relatively new addition that I like. And it’s nice to be within walking distance of Prospect Park.
Other neighborhoods I’d like to live in: Jackson Heights for the food and shopping, the West Village for the beautiful architecture and classic New York feel, Flushing for the food, or Red Hook for the restaurants, the water, Sunny’s Bar, and the sense of community.
JO: Who decides what you write about?
SDiG: I do, for the most part, although I have some strictures–like the majority of my full reviews are supposed to be of Manhattan restaurants.
JO: What cuisines do you focus on? Do you have a beat on Eats?
SDiG: I don’t focus on any particular cuisine, although I have a special interest in Indian and subcontinental cooking, and I’m attracted to pretty much any Asian restaurant. And since I’m required to be mainly in Manhattan, that’s a beat of sorts.
JO: Regarding the Choice Eats event, I’ve noticed that some booths are mobbed 20 people deep and some are lonely and sad with full trays of food leftover. Which have been some standout stands in the past?
SDiG: Robert and I would love it if everyone could eat at every booth, because we think they’re all fantastic, but with 60 restaurants, that can be difficult for the heartiest eater. Last year, Momofuku Milk Bar ran out of cookies early, and places like Fatty Crab and Porchetta were mobbed. Those restaurants bring amazing food, and I’m glad people want to try them, but if they do run out of food, don’t despair! The lesser known places are serving food that’s just as good.
JO: The restaurants featured at Choice Eats are selected by you and Mr.
Sietsema, have there been any in the past that didn’t excel how you’d like them to?
SDiG: I don’t think I’d call out any particular restaurant, but the format can be challenging because we don’t have cooking facilities in the Armory. So the chefs have to choose a dish that will hold well for several hours over sterno. Not everything lends itself to that. Fried foods can be tricky.
JO: Who’s spread are you looking forward to this year?
SDiG: Selfishly, I’m really glad Mumbai Xpress is coming back, because I love that place and I don’t get out to Floral Park too often. I’m excited that Fort Defiance is coming, and I hope they bring some sort of paté, and I can’t wait to see what kind of Sichuan food Spicy Bampa (formerly Bamboo Pavilion) brings. I love Despaña’s new, expanded cafe, and am glad they’re going to be there for the first time. I’m really excited for the whole thingthe fact that all these amazing restaurants from all over the city are going to be in one place.
JO: Do you get to enjoy the event?
SDiG: Yes, definitely. After Robert and I were done doing some interviews last year, I got a beer and went around stuffing myself.
JO: Bahn mi, DOC, growlers, who do you think decides food these trends?
SDiG: It’s really hard to say. I’m sure it has something to do with the rise of publicists and the fact that every food writer in town is getting the same press releases and struggling everyday to come up with novel blog posts that will get lots of pageviews. But actually, I find those trends you mentioned relatively happy occurrences.
JO: Who has influenced your writing and where you eat?
SDiG: First and foremost Jonathan Gold from the LA Weekly–I went to cooking school and got my first job in food writing out in LA, and it was his book, Counter Intelligence, that helped me come to love the city. It showed me that food writing isn’t just about cooking and eating. At its best, it’s the story of people and places.
I also idolize Calvin Trillen, Ruth Reichl, and John T. Edge.
JO: How do you find new adventures to eat? What are some of your best sources?
SDiG: The best source is really just to walk a neighborhood yourself and see what’s going on. But I also read sites like Chowhound, Eater, Grub Street, The Feed, eGullet…
JO: What do you cook for yourself?
SDiG: I love to cook and do it as often as I can. In the winter I like roasted root vegetables and long braises-pot roast or brisket. Lately I’ve been getting goat to braise and make into a ragu, which is delicious. I make lentil soup all kinds of ways, vegetarian or with lamb or goat. I use a lot of Indian spices in general. I often make Fuchsia Dunlop’s recipe for Kung Pao chicken, but using shrimp. (We just joined a Maine shrimp community-supported-fishery, so we have tons of shrimp in the freezer.) My husband likes to cook too, he makes a great clam chowder. Or I’ll do a huge pot of clams steamed in white wine and garlic and just eat it with a nice piece of bread. Or broil some fish with miso and roast some Brussels sprouts until they’re browned and crunchy on the bottom. That’s been the go-to thing this winter.
JO: You’re supposed to be incognito when you dine for The Voice, has your cover ever been blown?
SDiG: Nope, never as far as I can tell. I don’t think anyone’s looking out for me, which is actually a great advantage.
JO: Do your dining companion’s opinions ever factor into your review?
SDiG: In the end, if there’s a disagreement, I always go with my own opinion. But they do factor in to some extent, yes. I like to hear what they have to say because taste is such a subjective thing and it’s good to remember that your own taste isn’t infallible. If I love something and my friend hates it, I have to taste it again and ask myself if I’m overlooking something.
JO: Where in the 5-boroughs is an area of mystery and intrigue for you?
SDiG: I’d like to explore Staten Island more than I have. And Murray Hill is very strange.
Village Voice Choice Eats 2010
Monday March 22, 2010
6:30 – 9:30pm
The 69th Armory at Lex
68 Lexington Ave, NYC
Special Thanks to Sarah DiGregorio for doing this interview. I respect her even more than I did before. Look forward to a special wrap-up of the Choice Eats event. I have something different planned…