I met Seth Grossman over three years ago when he approached me in 1F and said I should check out a soon-to-open place called Home Plate. He gave me the same pitch the next time I saw him. And the next. And because of his persistence, I visited Home Plate when it first opened and soon became a regular. I mention this because bars and restaurants become favorites due not only to the food and drink but also the people who run them, and particularly those who do so with passion, and Grossman ranks among the best.
Unfortunately, he’ll leave our fair city in a month, so I sat down with him at lunch today and asked a few questions. I hope to do a longer interview soon.
What is Seth short for? Sethicus? Sethadone? Sethleman?
It’s a biblical name, the third son of Adam and Eve. My parents chose it because it isn’t something you could shorten, like James becomes Jim or Jimmy. My middle name is Adam, so my initials are SAG. That doesn’t help.
Okay, now that we’ve cleared that up, why are you leaving Beijing?
It’s just time. My parents are getting older and I want to spend time with them. Also, a magazine just printed something like “ten reasons why Beijing is better than your hometown” and I didn’t agree with any of them when it came to [my hometown] New York.
Where do you go now in Beijing for a taste of New York?
That’s one of the reasons I’m ready to go home. Anything here that is considered New York here isn’t that good. I see pizza described as “New York-style” but it really isn’t. Actually, my favorite pizza is Pie Squared, but it’s more Detroit-style.
What about Tavalin Bagels? Isn’t it New York-style?
Tavalin is pretty great, even though by the time I get over there they are always out of ‘everything“. [By that he means the "everything" bagel. I agree. They're always out of everything. Why don't they just make more?]
Remember when you dressed up for Halloween as Paul Stanley from KISS, and I showed up at Home Plate and you asked “What do you think of my costume”, and I said “What costume?” and you looked really sad?
Yes. [Long awkward silence]
Before Home Plate, you worked with a lot of famous people. What was your job?
I worked as a producer on a TV talk show hosted by Yang Lan. I got to work with people like Hillary Clinton and Kobe Bryant and Bill Gates and Will Smith.
The craziest thing ever was with Henry Kissinger. People always asked for the questions ahead of time and we had these recently graduated students who had no idea what they were doing. If Hillary Clinton was going to be on the show, they’d come up with a list of questions like “Do you like Chinese food?” and “Can you use chopsticks?” I’d rewrite the questions and the host was very professional about dealing with it.
For Kissinger, the host had to interview Jimmy Carter the same day, so I had to go and ask Kissinger questions. I was in a room with some big media, like The Guardian and New York Times, and I’m looking at a list of questions like “Do you know how to use chopsticks”. So I just made up questions on the fly.
You know how LeBron James “took his talents to South Beach“? Are you NBA equivalent of the Beijing food and beverage scene, are you taking your talents to New York?
I’m just looking forward to getting a slice of pizza. [He refused to give any other answer despite me asking this question THREE times! So modest.]
What Home Plate menu item will you miss the most?
The brisket nachos. That’s my go-to thing.
You have a month to catch up with Seth Grossman and say goodbye. If his final days are anything like his past few years, you’ll most likely find him at Home Plate pretty much around the clock.