Before I started this blog, I figured I better run the idea past NYU Law’s dean, Richard Revesz. Perhaps he wouldn’t think restaurant reviews fit well with the rest of what we do on the Law School website. But I’d barely gotten the explanation out of my mouth, when Ricky asked, “Do you and I get to go to lunch?”
“Sure,” I said.
“Okay, we’ll go to the Spotted Pig,” he declared, and then rhapsodized about their burger.
Since opening at the corner of West 11th and Washington Streets in 2004, the Spotted Pig has earned boatloads of buzz and a steady string of accolades, including regular one-star ratings from Michelin. That’s a reason to recommend it – and a reason not to. “A gastropub as gastromelee, the Spotted Pig may be Manhattan’s most uncomfortable, unforgiving trough,” Frank Bruni wrote in the Times in 2006. “It doesn’t take reservations. The wait for a table on a weekend night can be two hours long, and sometimes the only place to wait is the sidewalk.” Still, Bruni noted, “There’s an expert kitchen in the eye of this storm. … Skip brunch. Go for lunch if all possible — it’s the least mobbed meal.”
That’s what Ricky and I did when I was finally able to get onto his lunch calendar. (Somehow things like faculty hiring, fundraising, and various other deanly duties kept taking priority.) We set forth from Van Hall early, aiming to beat the out-of-town tourists, who can pack the Spotted Pig even for a weekday lunch. I felt like a bit of a tourist myself, with Ricky as my guide, as we walked briskly through the West Village. “This place has great fries,” he said, striding past a location too quickly for me to note its name. Nodding toward Mary’s Fish Camp on Charles Street, he commented on the intellectual property litigation that has broken out in New York over lobster rolls.
In October, Ricky announced that he would step down as dean at the end of the current academic year. Anyone applying for the position had better be prepared to eat out a lot. Ricky said he couldn’t remember that last time he’d had a non-working lunch, and that breakfasts and dinners are frequently on-the-job occasions, too. As I would learn at the Spotted Pig, this has not turned him into one of those people who only grazes so he can keep up the pace.
I barely glanced at the menu, having decided to follow Ricky’s recommendation of the burger. That, I figured, deserved as much deference as would his cost-benefit analysis of an environmental regulation. After all, Ricky told me he ate beef twice a day while growing up in Argentina. But my deference should have gone further. Like Ricky, I ordered my burger topped with Roquefort cheese. But while he asked for his to be cooked medium rare, the waitress gave me one of those spiels that spooked me into medium, and that was a mistake, because it arrived closer to well done. Still, it was delicious – a reminder of how lacking in flavor most hamburgers served elsewhere are.
The burgers each came with a giant mound of shoestring fries, which, Ricky pointed out, were studded with crispy slivers of garlic. He polished his off, and while I couldn’t quite do the same, once our plates were cleared, I was sure we were out of both room and time. Then I noticed Ricky casting his eye toward a table next to us, where some other diners had just been served a wedge of flourless chocolate cake so dark and dense, I think light bent around the plate it was sitting on.
We ordered a piece to share, and after I’d had a couple of bites, Ricky asked me, “Is it good, or just intense?” I paused and reflected. “It’s good and intense,” I replied. He had a bite. “Yes,” he agreed, “good and intense,” and we demolished the rest.
Someday, perhaps, someone will study the correlation between the calories the leader of an academic institution consumes and the funds he or she raises. Ricky’s record on both fronts is prodigious – during his deanship, he has brought more than $500 million into NYU Law’s coffers. But I did get some insight into how the calories get burned off: When we got back to Van Hall, Ricky, who is extremely trim, did as he always does — he bypassed the elevator and took the stairs up to his fourth floor office.