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Take Me to Your Spot: Alex Delany @ Altro Paradiso
The former Bon Appétit staffer turned Instagrammer and DJ breaks down the magic of great hospitality
Welcome to Take Me to Your Spot, a series with a simple premise: food, a fascinating person, and the restaurant connecting them. In each installment, an interesting New Yorker (as well as folks from further afield) takes us to their favorite restaurant—a place where they rank as a true regular—and shows us the ropes.
I’m telling Alex Delany about a track. The track that got me into dance music. The one that pivoted me from a Nirvana-loving preteen into a guy who would eventually scour record bins for vinyl rarities and deep house deep cuts and all manners of minimal techno during my first decade here in New York.
“It’s the penultimate track on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack,” I say, referring to that seminal slice of disco that I pilfered from my mother’s tape collection sometime in the mid-90s. “The song starts with a ‘K.’ ‘K-something.’ It’s built on this warm bed of Fender-Rhodes keys.”
Love Club is Delany’s DJ night, which he throws alongside his partner in crime Constantine Giavos at new SoHo hotspot Jean’s (restaurant above, dance floor below) to the tune of 700-1,000 RSVPs per night. What started as a fun excuse to select and mix records with an encyclopedic dexterity has morphed into a steady gig that now pays the rent, meaning all of this former Bon Appétit staffer’s side hustles—the wine classes, the consulting for restaurants and CPG brands, the influencing—allows him to indulge in some very expensive tastes, namely craft beer, natural wine, art books, restaurants both high and low, with the occasional Savile Row suit.
“Like, I just want to be the person with the best taste, period,” Delany says, and for such a bold statement it somehow doesn’t smack of arrogance. Maybe it’s the mop of auburn hair and matching scruff, dappling the handsome, 31-year-old face that’s broad and open, his affability all right there in a conspiratorial grin that conveys how psyched he is to be breaking bread with you in such a “sick” spot, plus an eagerness to take you into this world you just need to know about, dude. “If you know what wine to order but you don't know anything about literature or film or whatever, then you only did half the work, right? To me, taste is all-encompassing. Or it should be at least. Today, with everything being so immediate and trend-focused, I think there's this lack of patience and commitment to developing your taste. I think people lose sight of a totality, right? Like if you're really getting everything from life, you're getting everything.”
Tonight, a Tuesday in mid-October, everything comes in the form of Altro Paradiso. We’ve just knocked back cocktails at the bar—a dirty Tito’s martini for me, a Boulevardier for Delany—and now we’re seated at a two-top in the sunken dining room, our voices loose with wine and booze and the shared nerd-induced high of two dudes fervently talking music, so that our conversation rises into the airy Ignacio Mattos space and mingles with the cacophony of the crowd — a mix of private equity types in fleece vests and women with a far superior fashion sense.
“This is a quality that I think New York is really missing these days,” Delany says from his perch on the banquette, basking in the glow of what—alongside Estela, Thai Diner, “sooo many spots” in Chinatown, and lately S&P Lunch up in Flatiron—amounts to his favorite New York City restaurant. “It’s a dining room that feels grand, that feels like a dining room. Don't get me wrong, I love a little restaurant. I love a little corner spot. But sometimes you get the itch where you're like, ‘I want to go out to dinner and I want to be surrounded with other people that are out to dinner.’”
Sommelier Grace Rogers, who Delany knows from her days at Wildair, helps us with the wine, suggesting a bottle of dry Burgundian Chardonnay via Mount Etna. It’s a medium-bodied wine laced with an ashy sultriness she assures us is banging.
When our waiter returns, Delany resumes control. Olives and arancini are ordered, so too prosciutto and pâté. The fennel salad, but a half portion—the off-menu move, I’m assured—alongside the octopus, some pork sausage and broccoli, all followed by Capellini al Limone, Linguine al Nero, the Milanese, and later still a bottle of Nebbiolo — another on-point recommendation given by Grace.
It’s the fennel salad, however, that commands Delany’s attention. "I think the most signature dish at Altro is the fennel salad. And it's like the simplest of all time. It's just like mandolin fennel, Castelvetrano olives, provolone cheese. But it becomes kind of like a burden because you always have to order it. And I think the thing that people don't know is that you can order a half portion."
I want to know if the feast we’ve just ordered constitutes his death row meal.
“Absolutely.” A beat of deep thought, then… “And if I could find someone to drive me up a hoagie from Wawa—a 10-inch classic with ham and turkey, the American combo, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, salt, pepper, Mayo, toasted—and hand it to me the minute I walked out of Altro.”
"The best shit happens when two different things, three different things, four different things are all happening at the same time. And a lot of that is high and low. A lot of it has to do with the people that are serving you coming from different places.”
Delany laughs. Rolls up a slice of soft prosciutto around a hard rock of fontina, pops it in his mouth, takes a sip of wine I wouldn’t have ordered had the corporate card not been in my pocket tonight.
"The best shit happens when two different things, three different things, four different things are all happening at the same time. And a lot of that is high and low. A lot of it has to do with the people that are serving you coming from different places. The people that are eating with you may be from different places. The people that are cooking for you are from different places. If you ran a restaurant that was all snobs eating food from snobby chefs being served by snobby waiters, there wouldn't be a single fucking person in that restaurant."
Delany attributes his innate appreciation for high-low cuisine to his upbringing as the oldest of four in an Italian-Irish (“but mostly Italian”) family outside of Philadelphia. There was his Nona’s Sunday cooking, the memories of which still hit him like an assault of the senses, or the Philly pizza tours he’d embarked upon with his father. By Junior year in college, when he wasn’t blogging about menswear on Tumblr, Delany was trekking to Joe Canal's Discount Liquor Depot in Central Jersey, where he and a friend (along with their fake IDs) would score damaged and mismatched 12-packs of craft beer for $1 per can. The genie popped out of the bottle, and an affinity for IPAs and the like led to a rabbit hole pursuit of ciders and natural wines, with all this gusto culminating in the BA gig, beginning in the art department before transitioning to editorial — in other words, a dream for an aspiring bon vivant.
“I was the only person on staff at the time that cared about craft beer. So I weirdly was like a 22-year-old guy that knew more about craft beer than anyone at the best food magazine in the country.”
A slew of online articles all bearing his byline followed, hundreds more than any other contributor, plus countless videos. Delany had established himself as the approachable, never-pedantic cool kid at the magazine…and then the reckoning came. The story is too long and loaded to rehash here, but suffice it to say that what began with editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport and an Instagram post of a racially-offensive Halloween costume from his past trickled down to Delany when an old Tumblr post of his was unearthed online. It depicted a confederate flag birthday cake he’d baked as a then 17-year-old for a friend moving to the South. Stupid and insensitive both spring to mind. “Despicable,” is how Delany put it at the time when apologizing for it in his own Instagram post. Unlike other BA staffers, Delany survived, staying on for another year before deciding to pursue other ventures.
“I think Adam mishandled it,” Delany says, suggesting instead of just immediately resigning, the disgraced editor-in-chief should have been more contrite and apologetic — gone public and owned it in the way he had. Still, he doesn’t fault Rapoport’s vision and editing style, which he says—bristling for the only time this evening— was one of many things that made BA, “the greatest food brand in existence, period. From a video standpoint, from a journalism standpoint, from a print standpoint, from a web standpoint, from a recipe standpoint. And now it's none of it.”
For what it’s worth, Delany doesn’t see a lot of bright spots in food media today, nothing that excites him at any rate. This he blames on brands’ lack of point of view.
"I'm not saying this in an exclusionary way, but there is something about media that should not be for everyone. That comes from the minute anyone picks up a pen, anyone starts typing on a keyboard. You are speaking from your point of view, right? Which is not for everyone."
These days, Delany shares his POV, that is in the most traditional editorial sense, via his no-nonsense Google Docs series “Everything Good,” in which he goes neighborhood by neighborhood recommending everything from bars to cafes to restaurants to record shops — everything, that is, that falls under his purview of good taste. Still, it’s his DJing, above all else, that encapsulates this mission of his as an approachable tastemaker.
"DJ-ing is like great hospitality,” he tells me. “You have to ask yourself, what do these people need now? And how far can I push them on these songs? What do they need that they don't know that they need? That's what creates the magic moment on the dance floor. I led you here with these songs that you kind of know or that are related, and now based on that I'm gonna give you this one from leftfield."
He likens sharing the right records at the right time with a bartender’s ability to read you, when to talk to you and when to give you space, or how tonight Grace listened to what wines we liked and then used those notes to bring us into uncharted territory.
The dining room is now nearly empty. Delany orders us a round of amaro, the Forthave Marseille, and biscotti, his favorite — “this is exactly what I want every meal to end with. This is the magic right here.”
Before the check arrives he leaves me with some parting words. “Being a snob is about status. I think being an appreciator of something is knowing that you need it or want it to be happy. Then I think the step above that, and this is where I like to think that I live, is you want to share it. You want other people to have that appreciation for it and to get that joy from it. I think once you get there, once you realize that you love something, that it brings you joy, that you need it, then you want other people to need it, too.”
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