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Sandy blows NYC restaurants into survival mode

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LEAH Tinari knew by smell alone that Superstorm Sandy had devastated her Lower East Side eatery, Fatta Cuckoo.

As the epic storm barrelled down on Manhattan, Tinari's basement refrigerators were stacked high with beef spareribs, pork tenderloin, scallops, imported Gorgonzola. By Monday, relief that her 28-seat restaurant had been spared any flooding quickly turned to loss.

"When we got there, you could already smell the stuff in the refrigerators," she said.

The trick was turning loss into silver lining. With battery-powered lights strung up over her gas stove, Tinari worked with what little she could salvage or buy -- bread, cheese, onions and potatoes, mostly -- to restore some semblance of normalcy. By 1 p.m. Thursday, she was open for business. Albeit limited.

Grilled cheese sandwiches with apples and caramelized onions. Egg drop soup. Mulled ciders. Beer. And everything on the menu was $5.

"We just wanted to offer warm, homey, delicious stuff so people could come in and either eat or get drunk," she said with a laugh.

Large swaths of New York City's normally robust, trend-setting restaurant scene was hobbled last week by the storm, some by flooding, others by days without power -- and thus refrigeration. Daniel Boulud's DBGB Kitchen & Bar, Tom Colicchio's Craft and Colicchio & Sons, Mario Batali's massive culinary landmark Eataly -- all struggled to reopen days after the onset of the storm.

But even those spared the storm's direct wrath were challenged.

For much of the week, the city's public transit system was crippled, leaving even restaurants with electricity struggling to get workers to the job. David Burke, the man behind more than half a dozen restaurants including Fishtail and David Burke Kitchen, put some employees up at hotels in order to keep them on the job.

Burke, who estimates he lost at least $35,000 worth of food across his restaurants, said he and his staffs quickly created a triage system, shuttling food from restaurants closed or evacuated to those that still had power.

In the midst of it all, his chefs have been making soup and sandwiches for emergency responders.

At the critically acclaimed West Village hotspot Tertulia, Seamus Mullen has been balancing his own storm challenges -- no flooding, but also no power -- with trying to help others, even delivering ice to other restaurants.

"We've been open every night. I've been getting black-market dry ice and getting bags of regular ice from anyone I can to keep our product from spoiling," Mullen said Friday. "We've been opening just by candlelight. And just two burners in the kitchen and a limited menu. I've got all my cooks wearing flashlights."

Mullen also has joined forces with a trio of other high-wattage chefs -- George Mendes of Aldea, Marco Canora of Hearth and Andrew Carmellini of Locanda Verde -- to launch the charity NYC FoodFlood to help feed those affected. The charity kicks off with a $300-a-plate fundraising dinner at Aldea today. The money will be used to rent and staff a food truck to bring meals to the storm-struck outer boroughs.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 7, 2012 D5

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