Restaurant concept lawsuits run amok

Since opening Pearl Oyster Bar in the West Village 10 years ago, Rebecca Charles has ruefully watched the arrival of a string of restaurants she considers “knockoffs” of her own. So "yesterday she filed suit in Federal District Court in Manhattan against the latest and, she said, the most brazen of her imitators: Ed McFarland, chef and co-owner of Ed’s Lobster Bar in SoHo and her sous-chef at Pearl for six years." She claims he copied “each and every element” of Pearl Oyster Bar, from the paint and chairs to her recipe for Caesar salad.

Guh, this stinks. One one hand, I can see how she's frustrated after pouring so much into her restaurant and watching her former employees go open similar places. But filing a lawsuit seems ridiculous to me. I'm no fan of copyrighting recipes (see Keep recipes free) and I'm not much in favor of intellectual property claims on restaurant themes either. Lobster rolls? "Packets of oyster crackers placed at each table setting?" A "white marble bar" for seafood? Have you ever been to New England or France? Rebecca Charles hardly invented these concepts ten years ago. Instead, she was free to incorporate them in her new place because they've existed for so long and been used by so many; because they haven't been copyrighted and trademarked by lawyers and corporations. These details are the essence of our seafood restaurant vernacular, that's why they resonate with so many potential customers and give her West Village restaurant an authenticity she's now trying to control. Mr. McFarland would be hard-pressed to open an authentic-seeming lobster bar without including at least some similar items.

The real problems here are a lack of originality being demonstrated by Ms. Charles' former employees, and New Yorkers' demand for faux New England seafood shack restaurants. Regarding the former, it would be nice to see chefs move on to open their own places that build on what they've learned in previous kitchens, not copy the concept outright. Regarding the latter, in the throes of summer, those unlucky souls trapped in the sweltering city can dream of coastal Maine or Cape Cod by digging into fried clams and lobster rolls right here in Manhattan. And if you've seen the lines at Pearl or Mary's Fish Camp, you know there's room in this city for a few more joints. I've always said I'd like to see Danny Meyer do a Clam Shack, and I'd like to see him do it without the fear of a lawsuit.

New menu items at Ssäm Bar

Jason and I popped into Momofuku Ssäm Bar last night for an early dinner. We hadn't been in a few weeks, and it turns out during our time away, the menu's been updated with lots of new items and some old stand-byes received new treatment. My favorite sea scallops are now served with the crunchy seaweed that usually accompanies the cured hamachi, and are layered over a lemon puree and accompanied by pickled cherries. We had local sugar snap peas sprinkled with ham bits and softened onions, floating in a ham broth. Jason pointed out it was a nice play on the flavors of split pea soup, delicious!

On the meat side of the menu, we tried roasted lamb belly from Four Story Hill Farm, PA on a bed of wilted swiss chard. When our server placed it in front of us, I had a whiff of doughnuts. Doughnuts? Closer sniffing revealed it to be a cinnamony smell, maybe the lamb had a bit of cinnamon rub? Regardless, it was moist and sweet, with a thick layer of fat. No one does belly and fat like the Chang crew! We also ordered a Chicken Ballontine, which was beautifully executed and each bite revealed the essence of chicken. It was nice to see such a traditional preparation on the menu, and so well done.

Our final new menu item was the Crispy Pig's Head, also from Four Story Hill Farm. Oh my! If it weren't for a staff recommendation from our man Cory, I would have been too scared to try this, but it was amazing. Deep fried, it arrived looking like a fish stick, only larger. But a single bite revealed a creamy, gelatinous interior melting with tender pork meat and, you guessed it, more fat! The accompanying spicy mustard sauce and lettuce cleansed just the right amount of grease from the tongue, leaving me sighing with delight after each bite.

For dessert we had strawberry shortcake with local berries and fresh whipped cream. The shortcakes were perfect: crumbly without being dry, and had a nice sweetness to them. The strawberries were left whole, and weren't doused in sugar like in many places, so the sweet of the dessert actually came more from the shortcake, and the berries and cream countered it a bit. This morning I was thinking about stopping in again tonight, just for dessert!

I love Ssäm Bar, but with any place you frequent, you can sometimes tire of even the best food. It was so exciting to see all the new stuff on the menu and realize it's better than ever over there. Now the only question is when will my arteries be able stand a return trip!

If a person chooses to…

If a person chooses to live an ethical lifestyle it’s not enough to be vegan, they need to absent themselves from capitalism. The Times looks inside the freegan movement, perhaps best know for its advocacy of food scavenging from dumpsters. But it's much more than scoring free food, it's an attempt to remove as much as oneself from the system as possible. "[F]reegans…believe that the production and transport of every product contributes to economic and social injustice."

I've been eating a lot…

I've been eating a lot of cherries lately, and was wondering what health benefits, if any, I was accruing. This nutritional summary for sherries, sweet, raw is amazingly comprehensive! I can't believe I haven't been to NutrionData before. It's going to be my source from now on whenever I need any info about an ingredient. And it turns out those cherries are a good source of vitamin C and fiber, which is what I'd suspected.