Photography by Trevor Smith

Melia Marden

Chef, The Smile

| East Village

Yes, downtown standby, The Smile, is a perennial hub for NYC’s cool crowd, but surely the best thing about it is how organically it blends time-honored comforts with the unexpected— day and night, its cozy, woodsy den scented recognizably of roast chicken, and, perhaps less so, of harissa, sumac and ras el hanout… Not so coincidentally, its chef, Melia Marden, strikes the same virtuous balance: her humble food as universally loved as her culinary background is unorthodox. The daughter of two celebrated painters, Marden grew up in the West Village at the epicenter of NY’s art scene, attended Harvard for fine arts, then dabbled in magazine publishing before discovering food was her true root of inspiration. One cooking gig in St. Barth’s, a private chef stint and a catering business later, and as fate would have it, when hot-spot impresario Carlos Quirarte (think The Jane Hotel’s ballroom and Westway— R.I.P.) was looking for a chef to run his newest project, a neighborhood hideaway in NoHo, he had just the caterer in mind. The Smile opened in 2009 with Marden at its helm and the rest is beloved culinary history. By day, you can find her in the back slicing/dicing/sautéing in a pair of New Balance sneaks; by night, she’s kicking it in a spaceship and ice cream cone sculpture-bedecked wonderland (yes, her home is some kind of idiosyncratic Wes Anderson paradise) with her husband, Frank Sisti Jr. (AKA Kid America) and their gorgeous babes, Alfred and Daphne. We mean, could there be anyone better to interview this Thanksgiving week? Here, Marden sits down with CITIPHILE to reveal her little black book on NYC, plus share two of her kick-ass Turkey day recipes (Oh, and FYI, if meal prep isn’t your thing, Marden will cook them for you too via the restaurant’s holiday catering menu… just sayin’).

NEIGHBORHOOD STANDBY: Aside from The Smile (MAP ITBOOK ITx), I love Porsena (MAP ITBOOK ITx)— delicious food in an unpretentious, neighborhood space. Café Mogador (MAP ITx) is also great; I’ve been going there since I was a teenager— I love the marinated carrots and the moroccan eggs.

COFFEE OR TEA: I always get my coffee at The Smile or Smile to Go (MAP ITx). We use Counter Culture beans. Right now, I’m into a drink we’re making called, “The Little Italy”— it’s a cappuccino with lemon peel-infused simple syrup.

ALL-TIME FAVORITE RESTAURANT: Bar Pitti (MAP ITx) is a perfect NYC restaurant— every dish is simple, but perfectly made. They never have an off day. I love the penne arrabiata, the garlicky spinach and the sliced steak over arugula.

COCKTAIL DE LA NUIT: An “Old Cuban” at Bemelmans at The Carlyle (MAP ITx). I don’t really go out for drinks that much; I don’t even know the bars in my neighborhood anymore. I’ll sometimes get a drink with my husband at the bar at Cherche Midi (MAP ITBOOK ITx) before or after having dinner out. They have the most flattering lighting in the city.

KID-FRIENDLY STAPLE: We recently went to The NoHo Star (MAP IT, BOOK IT, x) with the whole family for brunch and it’s a great place for kids. Sadly, it’s closing forever in the new year so you have to go there while you still can.

HEALTHY STAPLE: If I’m not eating at work, I like to sneak out to Pret-a-Manger by myself. Even though they’re a huge chain, I still think they have good clean sandwiches, salads and soups. I also can’t resist their little cardamom chocolate bars.

GUILTY PLEASURE: Pizza. I love the thin crust pizza at Gruppo (MAP ITx).

CURRENT KITCHEN OBSESSION: Chicken soup with fresh turmeric, beef broth, kaffir lime leaf, a little coconut milk and jasmine rice. I make a big pot and we all eat it for a few days— it’s comforting cold weather food. I’ve also gotten into cooking veal stew with tomatoes and lots of mushrooms. I get so used to cooking my personal classics that it’s nice when I push myself to develop a new recipe. Anything we end up serving at Smile To Go usually starts out in my kitchen at home.

DELIVERY GO-TO: We discovered this new French-American restaurant on St. Mark’s Place called David’s (MAP IT, BOOK IT, ORDER IT, x). We’ve never actually been [inside,] but the delivery is amazing— really great roast chicken over caramelized onion-smothered brussels sprouts.

GO-TO CULINARY STOP: I love Dual Spice Mart (MAP IT, x)— they stock fresh turmeric and kaffir lime leaves as well as every spice you could ever want. I usually get a bunch of things there for small Christmas gifts like candy-coated fennel seeds or orange blossom water.

MY THANKSGIVING: It’s very classic— mostly my mom and I cook, but we all have our designated dishes. My dad makes the mashed potatoes; my sister makes the sweet potato with marshmallows; I’ve taken over the turkey from my mom. We’ve been serving Thanksgiving at The Smile and Smile To Go for years so I’ve cooked more turkeys than I can even think about— I’ve got my recipe and I’m sticking to it.

QUOTIDIAN KEEPER: Star Shoe & Watch Repair (MAP IT, x). I hate buying new shoes so I think it’s very important to have a good cobbler. I also always get rubber soles added to flats so they last longer.

GO-TO GETAWAY: I grew up going to my parents house in Greece every year and it’s really sweet to be able to go with my kids now and relive all of my memories. My husband and I did a trip through Corsica and Sardinia right before we had kids and I’d love to go back there with them. In Sardinia, we stayed at a beautiful vineyard called Tenute Dettori (MAP IT, x)— they have two tiny old stone cottages that were converted from goat sheds.

CLOSET CHECK: My work personal style is just a step up from a uniform: black pants, a vintage tee shirt and a men’s J. Crew sweater. Off-work, I like to wear vintage house dresses and a mix of patterns and textures. I like Ritual Vintage (MAP ITx) and Apiece Apart (MAP IT, x). I also always try to go to the Manhattan Vintage clothing fairs (I think they have them twice a year).

BEST HOME DÉCOR: Odd Eye (MAP IT, x) is great for gifts and accent pieces like lamps and vases.

BEST HOST/HOSTESS GIFTS: Mast Books (MAP ITx). They have a beautifully curated collection of vintage and some new books. You can always find something with striking cover art that somehow relates to the receiver’s interests. 

FOR THE KIDS: Dinosaur Hill— a classic children’s store on E. 9th Street (MAP IT, x). It’s a clutter of toys and costumes. Also, Kidding Around (MAP ITx) [is great] for toys and birthday presents.

BEAUTY BLACK BOOK: Gene Sarcinello (x) at Takamichi Hair (MAP IT, x). He’s very good with curly or wavy hair.

FIT PICK: I go to the YMCA (MAP ITx) and swim laps when the pool is not too crowded.

ULTIMATE NY MOMENT: Nine years ago, The Smile had only been open for dinner for a few weeks and we were super slow. We’d originally opened as a lunch spot so no one had caught on that we were serving dinner yet. I was working the line with one other cook and the restaurant was mostly empty. Suddenly, about 50 fancy Wall Street types came in all at once. Apparently they had been having a big party at this high-end Japanese restaurant a block away when there was a gas leak or something and they had to shut down the kitchen. Somehow, they stumbled into our empty restaurant so instead of [eating] sushi in a sleek dining room, they got Moroccan meatballs in a very rustic setting– they were just happy that the party wasn’t cancelled! It was very hectic in the kitchen, but it was exciting that things could change so fast. I think it was a good omen. 

Melia’s New York

From L to R: First Row: Apiece Apart womenswear; Thin crust pizza from Gruppo; Apiece Apart’s Woman fragrance; Crudité at The Smile. Second Row: Vintage look from Ritual Vintage; Café Mogador; Pasta at Porsena; Tenute Dettori.

Melia’s Thanksgiving Recipes

 

Yukon Gold Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes | Serves 6

Photography by Danielle Adams

Yukon golds are so naturally creamy you don’t need any butter or milk to make delicious, smooth mashed potatoes. I use extra virgin olive oil with lots of fresh dill and capers for a Mediterranean inspired Thanksgiving side.

*1.5 lbs medium Yukon Gold potatoes (about 3 medium potatoes), cut into chunks
*2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
*1/3 c extra virgin olive oil
*2 tbs drained capers
*1/4 c fresh dill, roughly chopped
*black pepper to taste

Place potatoes in a large pot of cold water with 2 teaspoons of kosher salt and bring to a boil. Cook until potatoes are completely soft and are beginning to fall apart (about 20 minutes). Drain well and place in a large serving bowl. Add olive oil and mash the potatoes with a fork until they are broken down and creamy.  (Add more olive oil if needed.) Add capers, most of the dill and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Mash until well combined. Season with more salt to taste if needed.

Roasted Brussels with Pomegranate & Thyme | Serves 6

Photography by Danielle Adams

*1 1/2 lbs brussels sprouts, ends trimmed, halved
*1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
*1 1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
*freshly ground black pepper to taste
*1 tbs pomegranate syrup
*2 tbs thyme leaves
*1/4 c pomegranate seeds

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss brussels sprouts with olive oil, salt, pepper and picked thyme and drizzle with pomegranate syrup. Toss until well coated. Spread in a single layer on a lined baking sheet. Roast until lightly browned at the edges and soft. Transfer to a serving bowl and top with pomegranate seeds. CP

Shop

Street Talkerinstagram