Haute Dining: Dishing It Up with Todd English

Restaurateur Todd English has traveled the food universe, boasts two dozen restaurants around the country, and yet continues to be fully grounded. Todd and I met at a magazine party in May. He casually sauntered up, knowing that I cover food, and said, “We should talk restaurants sometime,” and thus a friendship was born.

Since then, he has launched a new Manhattan brasserie called Ça Va, serving up French cuisine with a modern twist. His steak tartare with capers and onions topped with a piece of grilled bread hits the spot, in a classy way. The menu also features an assortment of small plates: the foie gras stuffed wild mushrooms melt in your mouth and the saucisse en croûte, a French sausage wrapped in puffed pastry with pickled vegetable and whole grain mustard, is a playful rendition of a classic charcuterie spread. But be sure to save room for Todd’s signature cassoulet of duck confit, pork sausage and braised lamb served with spring beans and a frisée salad, definitely the star of the menu.

We sat down at Ça Va, not only for a taste of the food, but a taste of what makes Todd tick.

How did you get your start in the restaurant industry?

“I fell into the restaurant industry during high school and became very excited about the business. I didn’t realize I could make a career out of it until I started college at the CIA in 1980. This was back before there was all the hype around being a chef. I got into it because I love to cook and I’ve never looked back.”

How many restaurants do you currently have, and which ones are nearest and dearest to your heart?

“I have 24 restaurants nationwide now. My restaurants are like my children, you can’t pick a favorite, but I do have a soft spot for Olives Charlestown because that was my first restaurant. We opened it 21 years ago in 1989.”

So, tell us about Ça Va Brasserie…

“Ça Va is a new age spin on a French brasserie. We’ve got some classic French dishes like our Ça Va Bouillabaisse as well as some fresh new takes on French cuisine with our Toasted Croque Madame ‘Fingers.’  I always wanted to open a French restaurant of my own and what better place than New York City.”

Can you describe your philosophy when it comes to cooking?

“Common ingredients in uncommon ways. I always say that food is our greatest democracy, we should all be able to gather together and celebrate around delicious food with friends and family.”

Interesting, so when you are home alone, what do you eat for lunch?

“Lunch? I don’t remember the last time I’ve been home for lunch!”

Oh, come on! OK, in that case, then what are your favorite New York City restaurants?

“I like the local haunts in the New York neighborhoods like Seki Sushi, Frank Restaurant in the East Village, and Fatty Crab. In Vegas I like to go off The Strip to Lotus of Siam — amazing Thai food.”

That’s an eclectic set of foods! Japanese, Italian, American seafood… along that vein, if you had to eat just one food for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

“Spaghetti…it covers all the bases.”

And what is your favorite restaurant, anywhere in the world?

“L’Ami Louis in Paris. It’s my favorite restaurant in the world! I love the authenticity of it. I try to make it back there every year.”

Describe your one favorite food experience, lots of details please!

“One of the most incredible food experiences I’ve ever had was in San Sebastian, Spain. First of all, the Basque are great cooks. I love their food, and just walking around the old cobblestone streets sampling the incredible variety of “pintxos” — the tapas bars. The city also has the most Michelin Star restaurants per square mile than any other place in the world. But the best part for me was that they have these private culinary societies where the Basque men get together and seriously cook and I was invited to cook with the locals when I was there. The love and passion they have for their food is so incredible—it was an amazing experience. “

Ça Va Brasserie is located at 310 W. 44th St., 212.803.4545, www.cavatoddenglish.com.