On the corner of Prince and Crosby, a musician strumms his guitar as the wind picks up smoke from the grill on the sidewalk. Chef Peter Hoffman uses tongs to flip batches of charred leeks dressed with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Not long after, Hoffman can be seen inside demonstrating how to drink a stream of rosé from the spout of a porrón held in his hand a foot away.
For more than a decade, this was the scene at Savoy, where Peter Hoffman had held his annual spring Calçotada celebration . And as of May 8, after the closing of Savoy and opening of Back Forty West, that tradition rises once again in SoHo. Calçotada is back.
"I went to a Calçotada in Spain and it was quite magical and delicious, and I decided that it was going to be my pagan holiday to celebrate the return of spring," Hoffman said a few years ago, explaining his inspiration for the meal. "I’ve been doing it for 10 years and I don’t understand why I’m the only guy who does it. I’ve tried to spread the word, tried to get a couple of magazine articles written about it. There are plenty of Spanish restaurants in New York, and in this country, but it hasn’t hit a chord, except for with my customers."
In years past at Savoy, Calçotada was a simple $70 affair (plus tax and tip). Grilled calçots were served with a textured romesco. They’re not actually calçots, but leeks from Guy Jones of Blooming Hill Farm that had been wintered over. "They aren’t something that went into the ground in April, because you couldn’t have anything of that thickness and girth," Hoffman noted. "They’re planted in the way that calçots are, in the fall. They’re growing, then they winter, and start growing again in the spring. They have several months of growth on them instead of just a quick fix."
The calçots were typically followed by house-made botifarra sausage with large, garlicky, white beans; wonderfully medium rare lamb — sliced about a quarter-inch thick — pink and juicy. There was the slight bitterness of sauteéd broccoli rabe, and a smooth crema Catalana with its sweet, brittle sugar brûlée. Then of course, the all-you-can-drink rosé.
According to Eater, this year's Calçotada at Back Forty West features grilled vegetables, lamb chops, botifarra sausages, and, of course, plenty of rosé. At $60, the meal is a bit cheaper than in year's past. Call (212) 219-8570 for reservations.
They will likely sell out. If that's the case, even if you haven’t had the real thing, or attended one of Hoffman’s festivals, there’s no reason for weekend grill-masters not to hold their own Calçotada. Grilling leeks and meat is easy, and recipes for romesco and beans aren’t tough to follow. All you need to complete the festivities is a group of friends, and more bottles of rosé than they should possibly drink in one night.
As for the Calçotada at the restaurant... expect that as the evening progresses that the staff’s heavy pour of rosé will continue. So will the contentment, which will likely be punctuated regularly by joyful exclamations instigated by the porrón being passed around the room by Hoffman who enjoys dancing between tables.
Toward the end of the night, outside on the grill, custom-made salamanders will likely be seen resting in the orange-red coals. Cooks, waiters, and bartenders will take turns using them to caramelize the granulated brown sugar on top of the crema Catalana. A cook will likely remark how nice it is to only prep four dishes, and perhaps even wish they "could do this every night."
Don’t we all.