Eating With Michael Musto: Eggs at Virage, Steak at the Knickerbocker, and Why He Won't Be Getting on a Train to Eat in Brooklyn Anytime Soon
Michael Musto has been the Voice's resident chronicler of New York's famous and profane since 1984, when he started penning his weekly La Dolce Musto column. He's also a sometime actor and TV commentator, year-round bicyclist, and the author of three books, including the forthcoming Fork on the Left, Knife in the Back, which will be published in February. Musto, who grew up in Bensonhurst and lives in Murray Hill, spoke with us about childhood trips to Spumoni Gardens, his love of Walgreen's Spice Drops, and why he won't be getting on a train to eat in Brooklyn anytime soon.
What's in your refrigerator?
Oh my gosh, let me look. I have some bagels which I keep cold so they don't go bad, three jars of jam, two bags of apples, some milk, light syrup for waffles that are in the freezer, Clear 'n' Natural flavored sparkling water in kiwi lime, kiwi strawberry, and peach apricot, lemon juice, and and ketchup.
Do you cook?
Basically I can boil noodles and open a can of sardines. That's really all I need. I can prepare a lovely little 99 cent meals.
Where do you live, and where in your neighborhood do you like to eat?
I live in Murray Hill. There aren't that many eating opportunities here that are up my alley, though there is Jackson Hole -- they do a pretty good sloppy Joe-style burger. When I'm at the Voice, I eat at Virage, which I find ambient and reasonable and pretty tasty. I usually get the three-egg omelet with two items, salmon and mushrooms. It comes with coffee and toast; it's dangerously veering on on brunch, and I'm anti-brunch. I also like the Ukranian Home, which I prefer over Veselka: is cozy and very reasonable, with large portions of good stuff.
Sometimes I'll go to scene-y restaurants, like Indochine. The last time I was there I saw Moby, who was looking to hook up with some old high school friends. He said, 'I hope they recognize me, because I had hair in high school.' It was kind of sweet that he thought they wouldn't recognize him. But the food there is really good -- I love the sticky rice, the spring rolls, and the soups: just bring it on. You still see celebrities and interesting people there; those are two separate things.
But basically my tastes run to the not-flashy -- I'm from Brooklyn. When I was growing up, our big deal was going for Combination Dish No. 2: very basic Chinese. Occasionally we would go to Spumoni Gardens. We'd have to get in the car to go there -- it was my Disneyland. But I like very basic places, some dumpy places, like the Big Enchilada, or Curry in a Hurry, which is not that fast, ironically enough.
Which meal is the most important of your day?
I don't really have a full breakfast; I just toast a bagel and have coffee or microwave some waffles with light syrup. Lunch is major, especially on a day like today because I'm going to a promotional lunch for A Serious Man at the Monkey Bar; I get to combine a meal with reporting for my column.
Have you been to Monkey Bar before?
Yes. I thought it was gorgeous. I was a fish out of water -- I so don't belong there. But I like being a fish out of water. The other day I went to a lunch for Up in the Air at 21; I stuck out like a sore thumb. They served heart attack food, with big baskets of French fries at the table. French fries accompany everything these days: upscale, downscale, uptown, downtown, everything comes with fries. I usually don't have dessert but couldn't resist -- I had three lumps of caramelized ice cream. Lunch came with an angiogram.
What's the most outrageous behavior you've ever witnessed at a restaurant?
Crazy things don't happen in restaurants, they happen in nightclubs. But I went to a press preview of a Rocco DiSpirito steakhouse [Tuscan] that opened on the East Side, and they were so anxious to make sure that everyone was taken care of. They were overly fussy -- every few seconds someone would come to move your salt shaker or fill your drink or fix your napkin. It was so disturbing; they were OCD on everything on the table. It was a little batty. But the food was great once it came and they stopped fucking around with it.
There was so much fuss made about [Rocco's] mother's meatballs. But I'm Italian and my mother's meatballs are the best in the world. His mother's are not even in the top 10.