By: Carter Ottele

Jean-Paul Sartre once remarked that “No finite point has meaning without an infinite reference point.” Almost mathematical in its abstrusity, this observation had long plagued my mind as an unsolvable riddle. But when I dined this weekend at The Roller Grill, I gained a deeper understanding of the French existentialist’s words—all the while enjoying a thrilling, delectable meal. 

The Roller Grill marks the latest project by star chef Talia Porcetto. Porcetto—whom The Atlantic has called “the heir-apparent to the Neo-American culinary tradition,” and whom The New York Times has deemed “the country’s most visible restaurateur”—founded The Roller Grill as a counterpoint to her lavish French restaurant Un Poulet Marseillais, which opened in Times Square two weeks prior. Her most recent project matches the caliber and craftsmanship of her former restaurants yet departs from their extravagance; by taking a minimalist approach to fine dining, The Roller Grill spotlights Porcetto’s versatility.

I discovered The Roller Grill tucked in a food court between a fast-casual burger joint and a delicatessen. The food court’s decor blends third-grade-cafeteria chic with nautical Y2K-era futurism, offering ample creative discretion to the restaurants within. A vibrant crowd of local students buzzed around the food court in an excited whisper: in hushed, reverent voices, the patrons weighed their options and extolled the culinary bounty before them. Walking among these students, surrounded by trays and milk glasses and waxy apples, I felt transported to my own childhood. The Roller Grill’s setting brought forth a sentiment of youth.

Any experienced food critic knows that food involves more than taste and smell. Indeed, food involves more than food; the restaurant’s ambience, the staff’s hospitality, and the meal’s physical beauty all shape our thoughts. In this case, The Roller Grill serves delicious food, and I will address that later. But much more important was the presentation. To paint a picture:

A single metal machine sits on a counter, flanked by condiment tubs. A screen displays the offerings in an electric red glow. With creative, succulent names like “Beef hot dog,” “Smart dog,” and “Coney bun,” the sign invites the customer to gorge themselves. And, in a stroke of genius, the food rests on top of the machine, open to the air.

Or, more accurately, the food rolls on top of the machine. The hotdogs spin in an endless dance between long dark cylinders, pirouetting, sashaying, performing a pas de bourrée with their meaty, cheesy, and vegan brethren—so that as smoke and steam swirl around the offerings, combining with the rich crackle of seared sausage casing, the sensory effect is rather symphonic. Like Beethoven; like Mahler; like Tchaikovsky. 

Talia Porcetto has developed a reputation for incorporating the philosophical into her work. Here, we return to the Sartre quote introduced earlier: “No finite point has meaning without an infinite reference point.” With the endless rotation of hotdogs at The Roller Grill, left in open air for all to behold, Porcetto is indeed proclaiming that her restaurant serves as a reference point for the cooks around her. Her cheeky arrogance, characteristic of haute cuisine’s most elite chefs, elevates the food to an existential level.

As for the food? I was exhilarated by every bite. Porcetto has once again revitalized traditional American fare, adding premium ingredients to familiar classics. The hotdog alone contains countless subtleties: saffron, snail egg, cream of yak milk…to the refined palate, The Roller Grill is full of treasures.

Truly, all admirers of the culinary arts must experience The Roller Grill. This “infinite reference point” should indeed serve as a reference for all other aspiring chefs. Voilà, food at its finest.