When word spread that Nate Appleman, a chef anointed by the James Beard Foundation and Food & Wine for his San Francisco restaurant A16 (where I ate in 2007), was working at a Chipotle in Chelsea, the food world was incredulous.
He’d left San Francisco to help open Pulino’s here in N.Y.C. and when that didn’t work out, no one knew what his next move would be. His next move, apparently, was to run a Chipotle in Chelsea.
That seems like a sad end to a promising career but, in fact, Appleman’s reasons for working at Chipotle are commendable. Read this interview with the chef on Serious Eats where Appleman says: “I did this for me and for the people who eat Chipotle’s food. I believe in the company and their practices. I didn’t do this for other chefs or food people, this isn’t a PR thing. It is; however, the craziest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s also sort of my way out of the spotlight. I’m not bashing the celebrity thing. I’m a part of it, but I was getting a little overwhelmed.”
Well for those of us who live in New York and who don’t like to spend a lot of money on lunch, this is a VERY good thing.
Welcome to the secret Chipotle (located at 8th Avenue between 17th and 18th streets). You know it’s a secret Chipotle because they yell at you if you take a picture of the menu:
Is the menu different from all other Chipotles and that’s why they don’t want you to take a picture of it? I also took a picture of this sign saying they’re serving Chorizo which seems like something they’d only serve at a secret Chipotle:
As for what I ordered, I decided to go with the carnitas made from humanely raised pigs. As Kenji points out in this Serious Eats piece (boy, Serious Eats really has the market on posts about the Secret Chipotle), most Chipotle meat is cooked sous-vide in a warehouse in Chicago and shipped around the country where the meat gets warmed up before its served. But at the Secret Chipotle, they break down the meat and cook it on site.
Which brings us to my burrito:
So far, it looks just like an ordinary burrito. But let’s take a bite, shall we?
Whoah! The meat was so much moister and more flavorful than typical Chipotle burrito meat. I mean, seriously, this had all the complexity and depth-of-flavor of a pork dish that you spend hours making at home. There was nothing re-heated tasting about it; there were salty, crunchy bits in there too. A pork-lover’s dream burrito and you can get it at…a Chipotle?
That’s why the Secret Chipotle is such a good secret. As Kenji says, “For just seven bucks and change you can get a James Beard award-winning chef to cook for you?”
New Yorkers, make your way to Chelsea: stat.
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And when you’re done, I have a perfect dessert for you.
For years I’ve been a fan of The Doughnut Plant, the famous doughnut shop on the Lower East Side where Mark Israel creates otherworldly doughnuts–crème brûlée, vanilla bean–so good, you’re grateful that it’s far away, or you’d go there all the time and become a human doughnut.
That’s not true anymore: a Doughnut Plant opened up on 23rd Street right next to The Chelsea Hotel (and not far from The Secret Chipotle.)
Here’s the sign out front, so you know good things are in store:
Well, good things in terms of doughnuts. In terms of the operation itself, it was a bit crazy.
We went on a Saturday afternoon, and the place was pretty chaotic. We got in one line and after waiting for 10 minutes, we were told our line wasn’t a real line and that we should line up in a new line. No way were we doing that!
Meanwhile, there was nowhere to study which doughnuts were available for purchase while waiting. No menu, no sign; just lots of doughnuts to look at, salivating all the while:
Once at the front, we could study the available doughnuts in the case, though the pressure was on us to order fast because of the huge line behind us.
Craig, the skinny wonder that he is, ordered TWO giant doughnuts—sesame & chocolate:
I ordered a dainty Tres Leches doughnut, which I’d heard much talk about:
Well Craig’s doughnuts were mighty specimens. I liked the unique flavor of the sesame better than the familiar flavor of the chocolate (and that chocolate doughnut was insanely messy; we were both wearing half of it by the time we’d each taken a bite.)
As for my Tres Leches, it was lovely, really. Sweet, but not overwhelmingly sweet, and layered with lots of milky flavor, as you’d expect from a doughnut made with three milks (that’s how it translates, from the French*.)
(* Last time I made this joke, I had all these comments saying: “That’s Spanish, not French!” I suppose the joke works better when spoken than when written.)
Clearly, after reading this post, you need to make your way to Chelsea. You have some important eating to do.