Once in a great while circumstances oblige Mr. Henry freely and without jealousy to admit that certain people simply have cool, that is to say they exude social intelligence without seeming to have studied for the test. Barack Obama has cool. Clint Eastwood has cool. Peter Hoffman of Savoy and Back Forty has it, too.
Almost 17 years ago, Mr. Henry and his faithful consort held their wedding rehearsal dinner at Savoy, filling the downstairs of the old one-story place (and lingering too long over the heavenly desserts, leaving a line of people with later reservations waiting outside in the rain). The salt-crust duck was served, as it will always be served at Savoy, because it is the celestial food of the gods.
From the cramped kitchen, a sweaty, smoky. apron-stained Peter emerged to greet his adoring diners. His tiny, beatific wife, Susan Rosenfeld, made the desserts, something with quince, if memory serves, and an inspired ice cream.
Now Peter and Susan have opened Back Forty, where you can eat a hamburger to rival Mr. Henry’s home-cooked favorite made from Australian organic grass-fed beef. Peter’s rosemary and coarse-salt french fries with homemade ketchup, however, are beyond fabulous, well beyond the capabilities of the Henry household. All this Mr. Henry admits freely and without a hint of jealousy.
What sets Peter apart from the pack are two principal virtues: 1) unlike the Mario Battalis and the Bobby Flays, he does not seek limelight but instead lets the food come first, and 2) he was an early adaptor of the local food movement, a pioneer of eating seasonally.
Permitting menu selections to change depending on what is freshest in the morning market, a new style when Peter and Susan founded Savoy, is now a style considered basic to any serious restaurant. It’s not enough to be ready on day one, you’ve got to be right, as well.