At Manhattan’s Hippest Restaurant Turkey Day Is About Friends, Free Spirit and a Great Bird
Carlos Quirarte and Matt Kliegman, the impresarios behind NYC hotspot diner joint The Smile, hipster strip-club Westway and the ballroom at The Jane Hotel, reveal how they celebrate Thanksgiving in true SoHo style. Trying to avoid all the classic holiday pitfalls—from a dry bird, to family squabbles and culinary mayhem—for the past decade the pair have hosted a potluck dinner for their friends. Capable of throwing a party with the best of them and with a rolodex that could double as your dream dinner guest list, Quirarte and Kliegman’s annual shindig features an assemblage of artists, fashion folk and downtowners stuck in the city, often including Nate Lowman, Justin Theroux and The Smile chef Melia Marden. As with their homey hipster eatery, the gatherings themselves have become a permanent fixture, providing welcome refuge to the culterati in lower Manhattan. “My family, like any family, has its share of dysfunction,” Quirarte says. “It’s one of the reasons I think big group dinners are so interesting.” Here the cheeky duo offer their tips on turkey basting, familial fisticuffs and having a good time.
Matt: I remember that first potluck we did at The Smile was for Todd Selby, just to launch his site. And Mark the Cobrasnake brought something I thought was hysterical—he brought Cup o' Noodles.
Carlos: Only one person ate it. And at that time it was pretty much the only thing you could cook in the space.
Matt: We didn’t have a kitchen or anything and we tented the ceiling, because we had ripped it all out.
Carlos: We didn’t want bits of stuff falling on us.
Matt: We’ve probably done ten potlucks now. I love cooking turkey but you don’t do it that often. I’m really into roast chicken recently. I was looking at recipes last night. I feel it’s all about the simple: rosemary chopped, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper and some stuff inside.
Carlos: I mix some butter, garlic, rosemary and I massage it onto the bird. You’ve got to get on top of it to massage it in right. I also like stuffing bacon under the skin. I’m not sure what that does though. Then, my secret is flip it onto its breast midway through cooking so all of the juices from the bottom drip up. I really do pride myself on that.
Matt: You really don’t cook much.
Carlos: This is the one time of year I cook, so to have only made one bad turkey in the past ten years is not that bad.
Matt: My family lives on Long Island so I get the guilt trip for not going home.
Carlos: Seems with my family everyone just gets drunk and fights about the dumbest stuff. One time...I have this uncle who’s been arrested drunk driving on everything: skateboards, bicycles, walking, cars. He’s sober now. I was dating this very weird girl who I think is a body builder now and she was wearing one of those spandex dresses. We get there and my uncle is clearly hitting on her…
Matt: Our first Thanksgiving at The Smile there was this great mix of people. I like the spirit of having a diverse group at the table. It makes it fun.
Carlos: I’m trying to think who was there last year. A bunch of people came. My favorite thing about it is when people are psyched. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have friends to hang out with. I would probably go home and cry. Someone said, ‘I can’t believe you did this for everyone for Thanksgiving.’ I didn’t think it was a big deal, but it is. It is really nice to have a place to go on that particular night.
Matt: One of the things that gives us satisfaction is watching people have a good time, seeing people dance their face off and leave feeling good. I think The Smile is a comfortable place, a really good dinning experience. Come potluck, come the holidays, it’s good for people to feel they have a place to go.
The Smile’s executive chef Melia Marden shares her Thanksgiving recipe for honey roasted turkey with shallots and cider apples on our Facebook page.