In Food + Drink

Billions’ Is Serving Up The Best Food Guide To New York City

Does any show on TV make finance as thrilling as Billions? The Wall Street series sees hedge fund heavy weight Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) and U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhodes (Paul Giamatti) go head-to-head in a grudge match for the ages.

Filmed in New York and written by The New York Times’ finance writer Andrew Ross Sorkin, along with Ocean’s Thirteen’s Brian Koppelman and David Levien, the series delves into the world of stock broking and power plays, offering a real taste of New York city through the eyes of the one percent.

Episodes open with an incredible panning shot of the iconic city but goes deep on local hotspots. Rhodes and Axe broker power deals while breaking bread at some of best restaurants in the world, and the series is peppered with celebrity chef cameos, iconic food trucks and meticulously researched insights into the part restaurants play in Wall Street (including a low-key Chinatown haunt where judges make their dirty deals). Katz’s Deli, Yonah Schimmels’ Knish Bakery, White Castle burgers and Stumptown Coffee all get a look in, as does Mario Batali’s Babbo and Daniel Boulud’s two Michelin-starred Daniel.

The story lines may be loosely borrowed from the real-life dramas between S.A.C. Capital’s Steven Cohen and U.S Attorney Preet Bharara, but the food culture references are perfectly on-point. By no means exhaustive, this list looks a few highlights from the three seasons. We’ve kept spoilers to a minimum but proceed with caution.

Momofuku Ko

David Chang with Damian Lewis – AKA Bobby Axelrod Photo: David Chang/Instagram

Hawk-eye David Chang fans may have noticed some of his signature pork bao aboard Axe’s private jet in season one, but the man himself made a cameo in season two, personally serving the baller stockbroker at Momofuku Ko.

After declaring “I’m going to carpet-bomb you guys with so much fucking food you’ll be reeling”, Chang hints at plans to take Fuku public.

On Instagram, Chang – one of the hottest chefs on the planet – shouted out the show’s co-creator Koppelman as “One of the earliest and biggest supporters of momofuku since 2004”.

Sushi Nakazawa

Axe’s right hand man Mike Wagner – Wags – has good taste. Sushi Nakazawa, awarded four stars by the New York Times’ Pete Wells, has a celebrity of its own in owner Daisuke Nakazawa, who appeared in the much-lauded Japanese documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Nakazawa, you may remember, was the chef who cried after finally perfecting his tamago – egg – after ten years of practice. Now, Nakazawa serves up some of New York’s best and highly sought after sushi.

Wags treats his dining experience with the due reverence, until an obnoxious finance bro punctures the atmosphere with a loud phone call. The nail in the coffin, for Wags, is watching him bath a delicate piece of tuna in soy.

The subsequent dressing down see Wags deliver one of the best lines of the season: “Your expense accounts don’t entitle you to f**k his art up the arse”.

Ghenet

Ethopian at Ghenet Photo: Ghenet/Instagram

Brooklyn institution Ghenet sets the scene a major plot development. Taylor Mason (Asia Kate Dillion) is disgusted by the behaviour of Axe and socially-conscious investor Oscar (played by Mike Birbiglia after their manipulation of the World Aid board.

The beautiful shared platter of Ethiopian injera and shiro wett is in stark contrast to the usual white linens and steak meals of the show, with Taylor points out before prompting leaving. Impressed, Oscar pursues Taylor in one of the most charming story arcs of the season – including a name drop of San Francisco’s State Bird Provisions.

Craft

Beef tartare with smoked egg, capers and potato chips Photo: Craft/Facebook

Tom Colicchio’s Craft pops up twice in the series, courtesy of attorney and truffle-loving gastronome Ira Schirmer. Swiftly heading for bankruptcy, Ira becomes a pawn between Chuck and Axe, which is made painfully clear during a date with his girlfriend at Craft. Unable to afford an engagement ring to propose with, glum Ira declines the truffle supplement, but she accepts, the glee on her face providing a stark contrast to the horror on his as $280 (AU$370) worth of truffles wafts down on to her pasta.

The point is further hammered home when Ira runs into Axe at Gray’s Papaya – the iconic New York hotdog haunt – and Axe goads him to order the recession special; two dogs and drink for $5.95. Ouch.

Wylie Dufresne

Damian Lewis in the ortolan scene Photo: David Costabile/Instagram

Chances are that you have not eaten an ortolan – it’s incredibly rare and illegal to hunt. Much like foie gras, the ritual around preparing ortolan is controversial. The birds are kept in the dark so they naturally gorge on grain, and are then drowned in Armagnac before being prepped. The incredibly rare little song birds were made illegal in 1979 by the European Union, but France did not follow suit until 1999 – and the local chefs are still fighting to have that decision overturned. It’s widely believed that Former French President François Mitterrand ate two of the tiny birds as his last meal in 1996.

Wylie Dufresne, of WD-40 fame, prepared the birds of Axe and Wags, who covered their heads with white napkins – to hide their sins from god, and to further enhance the culinary experience – in true tradition. The subtext is, of course,  that even if you can afford the $300ish price tag of the illegal bird, it is unlikely that you have the right connections to obtain one.

Billions and its commentary on the billionaire class of New York city is perfectly captured by the supper.

“You know what they say about ortolan; one is bliss, two is gluttony,” says Dufresne.

To which Wags replies, “How about three?”

Published 22 May, 2018