A Classic, Revisited
With an assist from a rising-star chef, fine-dining standard-bearer Tony’s gets fresh for fall. By Megha Tejpal, Photos by Josh Aguilar
On an unusually crisp day, deliverymen pop out of produce trucks, hauling pumpkins up the oak-shaded sidewalk and into the dining room of Tony’s, infusing the iconic restaurant with seasonal warmth. Meanwhile, Tony Vallone himself, dressed as the power player he is, in a fine Italian suit, greets diners. While there’s something routine about this moment — the cusp of each autumn at Tony’s must look something like this tableau today, year after year — what’s happening behind the scenes is modern and exciting.
“Mr. Vallone is always firing on all cylinders,” says Austin Waiter, the tall and good-looking 25-year-old chef de cuisine. While there are decades between them, the duo brings a wealth of knowledge to the proverbial table. Waiter, who began as a Tony’s extern while at the Culinary Institute of America and now finds himself rising quickly in the city’s food world, collaborates with Vallone on everything from sourcing truffles from Alba and mushrooms from The Netherlands to dreaming up new dishes on Tony’s extensive three-, five- and seven-course tasting menus. “We sip ristrettos and throw ideas around on how to keep our dishes memorable. His culinary knowledge is truly amazing and continues to grow.” The cross-generational education seems to go both ways, as, for his part, Vallone has picked up the art of Instagramming pics of Tony’s dishes to a new generation.
This dynamic collaboration has resulted in an inventive new seasonal menu, touting items like the heirloom tomato tonnato, a spinoff of an Italian classic. Traditionally produced by blending cognac, preserved tuna, capers and olive oil, this one also introduces kaffir lime leaves and Calabrian chili. Colorado lamb chops are paired with farro and imported bluefoot mushrooms, and dressed with a sauce made from roasted lamb bones and fresh berries. “As Mr. Vallone says, sauces are the backbone to any great kitchen,” notes Waiter. “We pride ourselves on sauce work.”
And, on any given evening, you may expect the salt-crusted snapper to be ablaze at a table nearby, but what you may not expect is the new flambé foie gras dessert. Waiter throws bourbon on it and lights it on fire, bringing the kitchen’s process into the dining room. This is Tony’s today: harmonious and picture-perfect, just as you’d as expect it to be — but with fun, unexpected flashes.