Steven A. Shaw

James Beard Award winner and online food presence Steven Shaw describes his worst moments in the kitchen, and where to eat America’s best pasta in New York City.

Publisher of and co-founder of egullet, food writer and lawyer Steven Shaw won the 2002 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Internet Writing for his story ‘A Week in the Gramercy Tavern Kitchen.’

Full Name, Date of Birth: Steven A. Shaw, June 10, 1969. The ‘A’ is for Anthony, after my maternal grandfather Anthony Pugliese.

Occupation title(s), both real and desired-in-another-lifetime: Real occupation: food writer. Desired-in-another-lifetime occupation: food writer making enough money to pay the rent.

You not only help oversee, the epicenter of the online food world, you’ve also recently launched an online cooking school (eGCI) in which you’re co-teaching a (very informative) class on stocks and sauces, plus you’re presumably also writing and lawyer-ing…please give us proof that you are, in fact, human, and not an advanced culinary machine: I make too many mistakes to be a machine. I’m just an obsessive-compulsive workaholic insomniac. And the only lawyering I do these days consists of personal favors for friends. For example, I recently defended my building’s superintendent, Pablo, in traffic court. Yes, he was in reality guilty. Yes, I got him acquitted.

Favorite gaffes you have committed 1) in the home-kitchen ; 2) in a restaurant; 3) on egullet: 1) The time my father and I ruined several dozen gallons of jam, which were the result of an entire weekend of picking fruit, by mistakenly adding salt instead of sugar. 2) The time I said a capon was ‘the best damn turkey I ever ate.’ 3) Founding the site.

Favorite books: The Snarkout Boys and The Avocado of Death, by Daniel Pinkwater; Time and Again, by Jack Finney; War and Peace, the SparkNotes.

Construct for us—if money, health, or appetite weren’t obstructions—a dream-day of eating around New York City, perhaps with one dish at each stop, but no restaurants that you’d consider well known: When I tell people I’m a food writer, their first reaction (after, ‘Really? I’ve never heard of you.’) is to hit me up for special secret information about incredible, amazing, unknown restaurants that I must—must!—know about. But the reality is that the best restaurants in a city like New York, where there are so many serious gourmets sharing so much information and where the food press is so saturated with journalists who spend every waking moment chasing down leads, are almost always well-known. So as dull as it sounds I’d have to begin by recommending a pastrami sandwich at Katz’s Deli, a couple of frankfurters and a papaya drink at Papaya King, and a steak at Peter Luger. That being said, I do have a few favorites that have flown mostly under the radar and would make nice stops on a tour… Dumpling House, 118-A Eldridge Street between Grand and Broome Streets, for dumplings and a ‘sandwich.’ This is one of a number of five-for-a-dollar fried-dumpling places in the Chinatown/Lower East Side area, but it’s the best by a substantial margin. They hand-make the dumplings with a beautiful translucent skin and overstuff them with scallion-laced pork. They also make a really good beef sandwich—it’s a split wedge of sesame-scallion fried bread layered with thinly sliced room temperature five-flavor braised beef and topped with shredded marinated carrots and fresh cilantro. The dumplings are five for a buck; the sandwich, however, is a splurge at $1.50.

McHale’s, 750 Eighth Avenue, corner of 46th Street, for a bacon cheeseburger. For my money the best burgers in town. Massive, ground-on-premises, broiled hunks of beef topped with real fluorescent American cheese and a fistful of extra-crispy bacon. I’m constantly recommending it to other food writers and they never put it in their best-burger roundups, yet every burger connoisseur I know thinks it’s the best or one of the best, as opposed to the Corner Bistro, which totally sucks.

Island Burgers & Shakes, 766 Ninth Avenue, between 51st and 52nd Streets, for a malted. Forget the burgers and, worse, the chicken sandwiches, and go straight to the shakes. The black-and-white malted tastes like shakes tasted 35 years ago (see birthday above for humor value, thanks).

Yangtze River, 135-21 40th Road, in Flushing, Queens, for ‘braised pork in casserole.’ An unsung, tiny restaurant in Flushing’s Chinatown that happens to serve what I think is the best Shanghai food in New York right now. Though everything I’ve tried has been great, the dish described as ‘braised pork in casserole’ is extra noteworthy. It turns out to be the most wonderful, massive, light, moist, crusty ground-pork meatballs—four almost-tennis-ball-size ones that have likely been braised in the crock they’re served in, half-submerged in a rich gravy.

Roberto’s, 632 Crescent Avenue, near Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, for fusilli in cartoccio. Not so much a secret place (it’s well known among those who bother to go up to Arthur Avenue in the first place) as one that requires motivation. Consider yourself motivated. Fusilli in cartoccio, also knows as pasta with seafood wrapped in a big piece of aluminum foil, is possibly the best pasta dish being served in North America today.

And I’d end the day at the brand-new, soon-to-be-famous-but-not-well-known-yet ChikaLicious dessert bar, 203 East 10th Street at Second Avenue, where Chika Tillman, the terrific former pastry chef of the now-defunct Bid, runs the dessert equivalent of a sushi bar.

What makes you laugh: My life.

How fat are you? Also, who do you trust for tips on where (or what) to eat next? I’m considered obese by U.S. government definitions. My body mass index (BMI) is 39.5. Though I’m told I ‘carry it well.’

My father and my friend Roger Martin, both of whom have passed away, were my only 100% rock-solid reliable sources of dining information. These days, I don’t focus on who’s making a recommendation as much as I look at what is being said. If someone, even a complete stranger, makes a compelling case for a restaurant or a dish, I’ll try it. If someone says, ‘You gotta try this place it’s awesome dude,’ or, more likely, ‘I can’t believe you haven’t reviewed this place you moron,’ I’ll probably ignore the recommendation.

Five words that sound great: Mouthfeel; Palindrome; Appetize; Mummenschanz; Bacon

Charity worth giving to: I don’t have any money, and what money I do have I lend to friends who never pay it back. Is that considered charity?


Rosecrans Baldwin co-founded TMN with publisher Andrew Womack in 1999. His latest book is Everything Now: Lessons From the City-State of Los Angeles. More information can be found at More by Rosecrans Baldwin