Tao Team Opens Arlington Club, Hotel Chantelle is Starting Rumors…

Typically, the period between Labor Day and Halloween is slow in the club world. People are paying down credit card debt accumulated in a summer of WHEEE! Things like the Jewish holidays, flu season, back-to-school, and a dearth of tourists add to the red ink. The change of weather and the loss of daylight as we wind down to the Winter Solstice near Christmas are all negative factors. The season theoretically begins in earnest on Halloween. Sandy literally put a damp on those concepts, but building for an inevitable future is happening all around.

On a small renovation job, an electrician told me that getting even the most commonplace electrical supplies is becoming problematic as the post-Sandy rebuild is taking everything. I can only imagine what getting permits and inspections will be like from an over-tasked buildings department. Still, I hear of a Frank Roberts’ "mostly-a-restaurant project down in lower Little Italy.” I hear of a redux of GoldBar. Marquee nightclub, for a decade the "in" spot for the going-out crowd, is in renovations that will bring it up to speed with its Las Vegas incarnation.

Meanwhile, that Tao team is inviting peeps to the Thursday opening of their Arlington Club on Lexington between 73 and 74th Street.  St. Jerome’s has, of course, been sold to The Bowery Electric crew. That has left the St. Jerome’s "crowd" looking for a new home, and Hotel Chantelle grabbing for that gusto. Chantelle started its weekly Tuesday  “Rumors” party last night, going forward with famously ex-ex-St. Jerome’s honcho DJ Luc Carl joining DJ Ian El Dorado.

There’s all sorts of things happening over at Bantam where absolutely nothing to speak of has been happening. A re-thinking is occurring. Construction at EVR on 39th street between 5th and 6th is almost over – or is that ovr? I was there the other day checking out the progress and was very impressed.

On a final note: Friday I will be DJing the late set over at The Hanky Panky Club, up the side entrance of Webster Hall. It is a Sandy-related benefit called “Rock-N-Rebuild.” Acts/bands like Hits, Roma, Wild Yaks, The Netherlands, Outernational, and Kendra Morris will interrupt sets by Djs iDeath, Gavin Russom and, thankfully, Steve Lewis er …me. This shindig starts at 8pm. It’s hosted by man-about-town Terry Casey and the lovely Flutura Bardhi. Please help where you can. While people are ordering $1000 bottles of booze, many are still without basic necessities.

Witnessing Arlington Club’s Laurent Tourondel & Paul Goldstein Respond To NYT Review

While the steakhouse remains a particularly American concept, nothing’s more enjoyable than the sound of a Frenchman saying “piece of boeuf.” And though the pairing of chef Laurent Tourondel’s steakhouse variation with a punch of TAO Group atmosphere is less than conventional, it seems more than a good idea. Arlington Club, which opened last fall, has already made itself necessary; it’s a fine-dining spot on the Upper East Side with the energy to push past a nine o’clock bedtime.

The high-ceilinged, vaguely steampunky dining room lends itself to a party more than Maloney & Porcelli’s equestrian portrait hall, but conversation dictates the volume; there’s no Rihanna-fueled dancing on tables a-la sister properties TAO and Lavo. But the front bar is buzzing enough to have a waiting list of its own, and greeting one’s neighboring table is common practice.

The menu, which still features a 28-day dry-aged New York Strip and filet, has a pretty loose adherence to steakhouse orthodoxy. The two cuts that come most recommended—a cote du boeuf (for two) and an American Wagyu skirt steak—are abutted by seven available sauces. The macaroni and cheese comes as a ramekin of rigatoni noodles, stood on end like soldiers and crusted on top (with a crème brule torch?). The meal starts with a bowl of hot popovers, cheese-crusted on top, and just-baked on the inside. Old-school touches, like Brooklyn-gassed seltzer bottles and halved pickles, trade off with more novel steakhouse offerings. For example, they’re doing brunch.

But so far, the only sticking point has been the presence of sushi in the top corner of the menu (the main roll is an Osaka-style spicy tuna with Sriracha). But as critics scrunch their noses, the chef contends they’ve barely kept up with the demand from guests. That’s not to say the reviews don’t matter—Tourondel’s BLT restaurants and LT Burger have garnered him an esteemed reputation among critics over the years.

And when I sat down with Tourondel and TAO Group partner Paul Goldstein last week, their publicists were compulsively tapping their phones to refresh the New York Times Dining page. Halfway through this interview, Pete Wells’ piece went up. Wait for it.

You started cooking in the French Navy, but did they train you as an infantryman?
Laurent Tourondel: Yeah, I’m a sniper.

Really?
LT: No, I’m joking. But I was in France—I was in a hotel, actually. They put me at the private hotel of the Admiral. So we were, like, fifteen [of us] inside the private hotel of the Admiral, clueless about the Army, clueless about the Navy. And one day we receive a phone call from the base. And they say someone’s going to attack the Admiral’s house, and it’s going to be an aircraft carrier from America. So the Marines, they attack the house. And in something like three minutes and fifty seconds, they tied me up, tied the guy up. And we were like, what are you guys doing? We’re not here to do war! But it was an exercise. Someone had told us there was going to be an exercise, but we didn’t know when, it was very vague.

Is the steakhouse a uniquely American thing?
LT: Definitely, I don’t think there is any other meat-specializing restaurant around the world.

Then what drew you to steak and burgers?
LT: Well, it was not really French cooking, so for me it was something different to explore. I like learning different things so, you know, it was a big challenge for me to make it successful. You know, I’m a big fan of this meat—the American beef.

Do you have strong opinions about which cuts you like and which ones you don’t?
LT: Very much so. If you come to eat and you ask me, I’ll tell you, I dis-recommend a porterhouse. I will recommend you a skirt steak, I will recommend you a good New York steak because here, we actually have an amazing New York steak. It’s prime, top quality beef.

There are a handful of steak sauces on the menu. Is that something that gets the thumbs-up?
LT: Yeah, I think it’s good to give people options. It’s part of the sharing process at the table, and sharing is what we oriented this restaurant around. It’s very much about the center of the table—everybody shares.

Is Arlington Club looking to build an atmosphere similar to Lavo and Tao?
Paul Goldstein: It’s a bit toned down. We go into every one of our properties with a vision, but we also just go with it. Lavo wasn’t meant to be this dancing-on-tables-and-chairs party atmosphere, but it just kind of played out like that, and it worked. And we thought Arlington Club was going to be a little bit more fine dining than any of our other restaurants, and it is. But we’re getting a fun crowd, which is creating a little bit of a buzz. You know, at a point we thought it would be fine dining, and now it’s just more fun dining. We get that earlier crowd that likes that fine dining, and then 7:30pm, 8pm, it turns into the Upper East Side who’s who.

How have you managed to be successful at bringing in crowds late at night in this neighborhood?
PG: We create a buzz. It’s turned into a little bit of a destination spot for the downtown crowd.

So people are coming up?
PG: Some people are coming up—I think it’s more of the downtown crowd that lives uptown, that doesn’t want to go downtown. I heard a story about Blue Ribbon—when they started Blue Ribbon, it was dead. And they were like, we got to push it, we got to stay with it, we want to be that late-night spot. And two, three years into it, the chefs started coming, people started hearing about it being a late-night spot, and it’s now obviously what it is today, packed ’til four, five o’clock in the morning every single night. And that’s kind of something that we always think about. If we keep on pushing it, and keep on pushing it, we’ll eventually be able to get that crowd.

Is it difficult to get through that three-year period before you wind up where you really want to be? Is there the threat of things shutting down before you get there?
PG: Fortunately, you know, we’re there. I don’t want to be, um . . . I just think that we have a decent reputation for creating a bar scene, creating a little bit of a vibe. And we’re getting it. Guests like coming in later.

LT:It’s amazing to me because I had a restaurant on 77th street, and we used to do early seatings. But last night, it was like ten o’clock, and we had, I don’t know, seventy people that just sat down. It was crazy, you know?

And that’s not something you’ve experienced before?
LT: Not in this neighborhood, no.

PG: (to his publicist) Did it come out?

Publicist: We’re being told that, yes.

PG: And?

Publicist: Opening it. 2 stars.

(A moment later, applause erupted from the kitchen. Pete Wells gave the restaurant a great review overall, pointing to the sushi as the one awkward mistake, and diagnosing an “identity crisis” based on the deviations from standard steakhouse food and atmosphere).

PG: He loves that. The whole “identity crisis” thing.

Well, what was the inspiration for combining sushi with a more traditional steakhouse menu?
LT: You know, I think what we wanted to do was provide a different kind of appetizer. So instead of, you know, the typical crab cake you have on every steakhouse menu. We still have it here, but we modernize it a little bit.

At this point in your career, do you still get nervous and excited about reviews?
LT: It’s funny, I didn’t think about it today until [our publicists] came, like an hour ago. I’ve been rated probably eight times, ten times, I don’t know. Three times I’ve gotten a three star, bunch of times two stars. We have to pay attention to it because our clientele around here is very much the Upper East Side, and they read the New York Times everyday.

PG:This will help where we need help. This will help the five o’clock seating. Restaurants in New York, they’re busy from seven-thirty to nine. That doesn’t impress us. To be busy at five-thirty? That’s impressive. To be busy at eleven-thirty? That’s impressive. And the crowd up here, they go to good restaurants, and they go at five-thirty. And two stars—that’s a great restaurant. I know it’s two out of four, and some people would say it’s fifty percent, or whatever, but two stars for the style of service we have is top-notch.

What does the vibe become at 11 o’clock at night?
PG:A lot of chatter, a lot of talking. This table getting and up and saying hi to that table, tables combining. We never raise the volume of the music higher than the noise of the guests speaking. Whereas in our other restaurants, as the volume of the guests’ speaking raises, we raise the volume of the music to kind of, you know, add fuel to the fire. Whereas here, as the volume of the guests go up, we actually lower the music and let that be the atmosphere.

I don’t often think of steakhouses as being brunch restaurants, but you guys have it.
LT: It’s a good point. But besides being a steakhouse, we’re also a neighborhood restaurant. And I don’t think there’s much going on around these couple blocks at the time of brunch, so we could be really busy, doing maybe a late brunch, with some great drinks. Maybe more family oriented, you know, on Sunday.

PG: The partnership that we have, although it’s the first, I think it’s really worked out. It’s taught me a lot. He deals with the back of the house, and they let us do what we do at the front of the house.

Opening Across NYC: Four Steakhouses

It’s not exactly rigorous science, but the launching of new steakhouses must say something positive about the state of the economy. The beneficiaries are outside of downtown, in the natural habitats of expense accounts and the people who fund them. On Friday, the Arlington Club will make a big splash on a Lexington Avenue corner. The space has housed UES demographics as reliable as a Republican club and a skating rink, and this clubby steak palace fits right in with the pedigree. Arched ceilings and skylights make for dramatic overheads. Earth-toned accents and vintage black and whites amplify the “club” in the name. Fusion pros Tao have joined forces with Laurent Tourondel for the steakhouse menu. There will be red meat, of course, highlighted by a signature côte de boeuf dry-aged for four weeks. If you find yourself with a sexy cardiologist to impress, you can opt for creative sushi, like peekytoe crab with mango and curry-lemongrass.

While the original Delmonico’s dusts off from Sandy, midtown welcomes a spin-off 175 years in the making. Delmonico’s Kitchen combines the heritage of the original with up-to-date vibes. Candlelit tables, red leather banquettes, and a long marble bar anchor the scene. The menu stands ready for the 21st century, employing organic and local ingredients, and freshening up signatures like lobster Newburg and baked Alaska. Perilously large and juicy steaks justify the legends. If you’re not in the mood for beef, rest assured they know their way around a plate of eggs Benedict. They invented it.

Brasserie fare is the focus of the newest version of The Smith, holding down prime (pun intended) real estate across from Lincoln Center. Unlike its two siblings, uptown has an expanded steak program, with filet mignon, NY strip, and prime rib among the offerings. The interior is McNally-esque, crossing a French café with homegrown industrial chic. White tile, blackened steel, and a zinc bar bump the atmosphere. An elaborate drinks program breaks things down into muddlers, fancy cocktails, and long pours, ensuring you’ll never sit through Le Nozze di Figaro sober again. (Although if for some reason you want to, they also have low-alcohol pre-theater mixes.)

The latest from John DeLucie of Crown and The Lion fame is the reboot of a classic ’20s speakeasy. “Gay” and “Nineties” are gone from the name, leaving just a stripped-down Bill’s. The historical interior is likewise absent, although the look remains eclectic, littered with artwork and the odd deer head and captain’s wheel. White tablecloths are laid out for a chophouse menu. A raw bar starts things off, running from oysters and stone crab claws to California golden osetra. Racks of lamb, rib-eyes, and 35-day prime porterhouses follow. There’s even a Delmonico, in case you can’t make it across town for the original.

Steak is back. We’ll never eat bánh mì again.