Industry Insiders: Ray Signorello, Wining and Dining

Ray Signorello, the owner of Signorello Estate in Napa Valley, is one of the youngest winery owners in Napa and produces Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. He also holds partnerships in Edge and Fuse Wine and distributes wine in Canada through Seacove California Selections. Check out Ray’s advice for the amateur wino after the jump.

On getting from point A to point B: It was a hobby that turned into a lifestyle. I had a passion for wine, collecting and drinking. When I was out of school, first at the University of British Columbia and then at the University of San Francisco, I hadn’t planned to be in the wine industry. In 1985, I had an interest in wine and started making wines as a hobby. But then I built winery in 1988 and it became more serious, that’s where I started becoming more of a business.

On wine makers who do it right: Robert Mondavi was America’s wine icon; Angelo Gaja is the most famous owner of Italian wines. I feel most fortunate to have met both of them and collected both of their wines over the years in the cellar. They’re two great, charismatic ambassadors for the industry.

On wine becoming trendy: More people are enjoying the whole food and wine experience. Really high quality wines from all over the world are now being produced and distributed at price points that are within the reach of more consumers, and information is available both friendly and de-mystifying in an industry that was once intimidating. Wine has become so chichi. The truth is that we’ve all grown up eating steak, so we know what a good steak is, but wine? When somebody tells you it’s great, you might buy into that if you don’t have years and years of experience.

On buying the good stuff: The most expensive wines in the world are still French. The first growth Bordeaux is offered at $800 a bottle and they make 25,000 cases. We’ve got Screaming Eagle wines, but they only make 400 cases a year. Today, I just saw the U.S. consumption and it’s never been higher. It bodes well for our industry.

Pet peeves: I really, really dislike celebrity/rockstar winemakers and over marketing that has created expensive wines without substance in the bottle. That’s a terrible trend. Over-ripe over-oaked, low acid over alcoholic sweet wines made to impress critics ultimately don’t have mature character or lasting value for the long run. We try to offer great value with our wines, so they deliver at the price point, and there are a lot of wineries not doing that. That’s from the branding. When you become a famous brand, you’re not paying for the wine, but for the brand.

Extracurricular activities: I fly helicopters. Others don’t know that I have grown my personal wine cellar with over 8,000 bottles. Maybe one day, I’ll fly between vineyards in France.

Any non-industry projects in the works? Trying to find good real estate values during the economic downtown for an acquisition. I’m not just involved in the wine industry, and my background is in real estate. I’m trying to make sense of our economy these days. Ten years ago, we’d kick ourselves if we don’t take advantage of it. It’s always darkest before the dawn.

Go-to places: That’s easy: Mustards Grill in Napa Valley, Go Fish in St. Helena, Daniel in New York, Valentino in Los Angeles. Having a world class owner/chef is my approach to cuisine . We all know Daniel Boulud. He’s a chef I met in the ’80s at Le Cirque, and he turned that start into an empire. You can say the same for Cindy Pawlcyn of Mustards which opened in 1984. Since then, she’s opened a number of others in Napa. And of course, Piero Selvaggio is one of the best there is.

Unlock BlackBook’s Nightlife Badge on Foursquare!

In partnership with the aspirationally driven folks at HBO’s How to Make It in America, we’re proud to offer you the chance to achieve a personal gold standard by unlocking the exclusive BlackBook Nightlife badge on Foursquare. Make HTMIIA your Foursquare friend, then check into any 3 of 20 possible New York nightlife or dining destinations (restaurants are the new nightlife, you know), and you’ll get the shiny new Foursquare badge pictured here. Soon we may provide an even more material motivation to have fun with this, but for now, download the BlackBook Guide iPhone app and start hitting the hotspots. Complete list of eligible joints after the jump.

Allen & Delancey Apothéke Balthazar Boom Boom Room The Breslin Butter Coffee Shop Craft Daniel Elmo Japonais Macao Trading Co. Matsuri Morimoto Norwood Pegu Club Per Se Soho House The Spotted Pig Tenjune

Industry Insiders: David Copperfield, Man of Many Talents

It seems pretty evident that David Copperfield can do anything. The traveling, world famous magician has recently added developer to his extensive resume, taking on a group of uninhabited islands in Musha Cay near the Exumas in the southern Bahamas that he’s calling it The Islands of Copperfield Bay. The magic man still keeps residences in New York and Las Vegas, but escapes to his new paradise down south as often as his schedule allows. More on the magician’s luxe beach resort and life after the jump.

What do you call yourself? I’ll take what I can get… magician is pretty good. If the magic I do seems real and creates wonder, I’ll accept that. Otherwise, I’m a communicator and story teller. It was always my dream to tell stories in the same way all the people I admired did. Like Victor Fleming, Frank Capra, but I couldn’t sing or direct films. Orson Welles was a friend, until he died. I tried to take what I could do and achieve the same emotions by doing magic, so I told stories and tried to move and amaze an audience.

Now you’re a developer. I bring the same kind of storytelling and emotional roller coaster to the resort. I changed the name to Musha Cay and the Islands of Copperfield Bay. If Donald Trump can get away with it, then, what the hell? Only one island is developed and has 40 pink sandy beaches. It’s really beautiful for about two miles. The others are uninhabited, really remarkable, and we’re making the island chain into a nature reserve. We’re legitimately researching conservation with exotic animals. Now that I have 700 acres of amazing islands for them to inhabit, with a larger space than a zoo could offer, it‘s wonderful.

How did this start? I bought the islands four years ago, and we’ve been collecting artifacts to display since. In Africa, I’ve been given artifacts from royal families, and now I have a place to show them. The Burmese Buddha outside a temple was once given to me in China, and now it’s going to be in the islands. When I originally made the purchase, it was already a retreat for very select clients.

Are there technical difficulties in building there? We used barges to bring equipment, helicopters and planes. There’s now a 450 acre island with its own landing strip for caravans with 2,000 feet of runway. National Geographic landed on our beaches and shot the islands.

What would be your best trick? World peace, world health.

You were just some nice, Jewish kid from small-town Jersey when you were teaching magic at NYU at 16. The theatre department at NYU found me when I still in high school, and they picked me because I was so good at magic. When I was 12, I was admitted into the society of American Magicians, but remember: I sucked at everything else.

And then you attended Fordham? I went to Fordham, a nice Jewish school, and I left there for a planned three weeks when I got into a show in Chicago in The Music Man, and suddenly 20 years pass by, and they give me an honorary Doctorate, with George Mitchell, the Peacemaker.

What’s your favorite room to perform? The good thing about my career is that it changes, I play arenas in Europe; theatres here in the U.S. There’s a really beautiful one I first performed in with Andy Williams 20 years ago in Cleveland, and then there’s Vegas and the Islands. It’s really a buffet, a moveable feast!

It was rumored that you had a problem with Michael Jackson 12 years ago, as friends, I went to Neverland and I worked on one of his tours, and then all of a sudden on April Fool’s Day it was rumored that we were in discussions, and that he wanted me to appear in the new show. I thought it was an April Fool’s Joke. Then without any contact at all, I was fired from the non-existent show. I hadn‘t seen the man for two years. He went too soon. I knew Kenny Ortega was the director of This Is It, but I was never part of it.

Where are your go-to places? Next door to me in New York is Le Colonial for French Vietnamese. I like it very much, then there’s Daniel, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, or just going to the deli for a corned beef sandwich.

Who do you admire? At the beginning of my career, my idols were Disney and Welles so my direction took a different path, and I tried to preserve everything. In Las Vegas, I have a museum, the International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts with 80,000 things of Houdini and Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin who was the father of modern magic. It’s an incredible place and I’ve had all of their ephemera, their illusions. I have Houdini’s strait jackets, handcuffs, keys, mirror cuffs, the milk can escape — everything. When I give a tour, it’s as if he were alive today. Everything he’s famous for.

The upside of your profession? Is there any other David Copperfield out there? I think it’s terrific, whatever makes people dream is positive. We really need it, especially in times like this. We need to be transported, whether with art or music or dance or storytelling, or what I do. What I do is really primal, as in, you’re taking Mother Nature and turning her upside down.

The worst part? Sometimes people mistake magic for something demonic. The only story I can tell you is that about ten years ago I was in the South, and I had a picketer outside the theatre with a sign that said ‘David Copperfield is the Devil.” And I sent my crew outside to take a picture of this guy. I kept it on my dressing room table. Two years later, we returned and the guy was out there again, and I decided to have some fun. I took the picture, put it in my pocket and walked outside with a friend and a Polaroid camera, and I introduced myself as David Copperfield, the Devil, and asked him if he’d mind if I got a picture with him. My friend took a picture with me, the guy and the sign. I stepped away from him and pulled out the picture from two years ago, handed it to him and walked away. I don’t think he’s coming back.

Something people might not know about you? I’m a really bad karaoke singer, but I think I’m good. I take my work seriously, but I don’t take myself seriously.

Favorite movies? I love Citizen Kane, The Wizard of Oz, American Beauty, Inglorious Bastards.

Industry Insiders: Jeff Zalaznick, Private Eye

Jeff Zalaznick transitioned his career from mergers & acquisitions to breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The editor-in-chief of AlwaysHungryNY.com and founder of DinePrivate.com was once a J.P. Morgan employee before finding his passion and his business partner, famed restaurateur Joe Bastianich. The native New Yorker talks about his newest online accommodation for private dining.

How was Always Hungry born? I started Always Hungry after a career in investment banking and finance and realized that food and restaurants were where my passion lay. I felt that at the time there was a huge gap in online sites that were focusing on not only the best technology for restaurant search engines — which Always Hungry has in terms of finding where to eat and what to eat when you get there — but also food-focused content. So that’s how Always Hungry was born. Always Hungry launched about a year ago.

And Dine Private was conceived from that? I was sitting at ‘inoteca with Joe Bastianich (Babbo, Spotted Pig), and he started talking about a way to sell private dining online. We started discussing the fact there was clearly a gap in the market. Private dining didn’t have an efficient sales channel. And basically a year later, we’re here. Dine Private was born out of that conversation and a lot of work in between. Always Hungry launched a year ago; I started working on it two years ago. Around the same time that I was launching Always Hungry, I started discussing Dine Private. It was launched in September.

Is there a subscription fee for Dine Private? No. Dine Private is free for the consumer, so for the customer or anyone in the business of planning events, anyone that goes to our website, it’s totally free. The goal of Dine Private is to offer the best pricing. This happens because restaurants have begun to price their rooms more competitively because they’re selling them against one another through our site. In terms of the cost to the restaurant, the restaurant pays a subscription fee and a booking commission.

How many restaurants do you have now in your database? When we launched, we chose a highly qualified group of people that we thought would be great partners in launching the site, and who could help us create the best product possible. We launched with a group of 14 restaurants that included all the BLT restaurants, the Craft restaurants, Daniel, and Babbo and Del Posto. Since then we’ve had this unbelievable response from the restaurants themselves. We’ve been inundated with requests, and at this point we’re probably signing between two and three a week. Right now we’re trying to get as many as we can and get them online so they can start booking private dining as quickly as possible.

Is Dine Private targeted towards smaller groups as well, for say, a birthday party? This is for anyone looking to plan any sort of event. From huge 200-person parties to a birthday dinner with no more than 12 people. We take over where the restaurant says, “Hold on, let me transfer you.” Whether that number is 8 people, 10 people, or 12 people, every restaurant has a threshold where you move from being a normal dinner reservation to being considered private dining or group dining. Now that person can go on Dine Private and immediately see what’s available on a certain day for a specific amount of people. That saves a lot of time. And you can do that for a party of 8 or a party of 300 people.

Are the price minimums negotiable? The whole idea is that the price that you get through us is almost the post-negotiation price because what we’ve done is create a way for the restaurant to price their room more efficiently. We hope that this creates an efficient marketplace. The goal is to save people money. For years, the private dining business was very opportunistic — they would size you up and see what kind of price they could get out of you. Now they realize that it is their benefit to be up-front with their pricing because they get better responses from their customers.

How has the customer reaction been so far? The customer reaction has been incredible. For anyone in the business of planning events, this is kind of the answer to their prayers; such an immense time saver. Instead of having to call a variety of venues to check on availability and pricing, they can get real time availability using our search engine in a matter of seconds.

What are the stipulations for the restaurants you feature? We chose the group that we chose to launch the site based on people that we thought were, in terms of their private dining practices, somewhat diverse, but were also set up to work through this and perfect the product with us. It’s not meant to seem like those are the only places we’re working with. Right now we’re working on signing up everyone from 20-person restaurants in the LES to different Mexican, Chinese, and Japanese restaurants — really all over the place at a variety of different price points. For us, all you need to have to be on Dine Private is a private room or real estate that you’re able to have a private event.

How are you marketing the site? Right now we’re working with a lot of people in the events business, whether it’s from concierge services to people that work within the big banks or law firms on the admin side to help plan events. We’re directly targeting them and their consumer through a variety of consumer benefit systems, and we’re also going to do some special events.

Are you still working day-to-day on Always Hungry? Now I run Dine Private on a day-to-day basis, but I still do Always Hungry and oversee everything there. Right now I have both.

Do you ever get any criticism on the top five lists? We don’t get too much criticism, but I definitely get emails all the time about it. It’s definitely something people love to discuss and argue over. It brings up great conversations and sometimes someone will bring something out of left field that changes my opinion.

And then will you edit the list? No. Once the lists are done — they’re done. But we’re always trying to do new ones to make them more and more accurate.

How many nights a week do you eat out? Seven. And most lunches, too. I’m lucky enough for it to be my business, so a lot of time it’s business related, but I would be doing it regardless.

What are your go-to spots? I have a different favorite for everything. For Italian I love Michael White at Marea, I could have the octopus and bone marrow pasta anytime. I love Del Posto, I love what they’re doing at Locanda Verde. For Chinese, I love Chinatown Brasserie.

Where do you go out after dinner? Recently I’ve been going to the Boom Boom Room. When I’m not there, sometimes I go to Southside, Avenue, places like that.

Industry Insiders: Daniel Boulud, French Ace

Daniel Boulud is one of a handful of people who can claim ownership of four stars from the New York Times’ restaurant critic. His modest roots in Lyon, France, instilled his understanding for local produce, and anyone who has visited one of his restaurants (Daniel, Bar Boulud, DB Bistro Moderne, DBGB) understands his love for a decadent burger. The New York-based chef will also be sharing his culinary mastery with supporters of the Le Fooding d’Amour event on September 26-27.

How’d you get involved with Le Fooding? I knew of it in France, through the media. I found out about it coming to New York through my friend, Yves Camdeborde, the chef of Le Comptoir, and my nephew Jean Luc Martin, who is a maitre d’ there. We’re always in contact, and Yves told me that Alexandre Cammas would be coming to New York and it would be great for me to meet with him and see if we could participate in the event.

What did you particularly like about the organization? In America, we definitely have many of those events. This is not a novelty to have chefs by stations and to have bartenders doing special cocktails. The food and wine festivals are all over the country, with charity dinners and all that. What’s interesting here is that it’s done in a very young and casual way. They approach music, art, food, and mixology together. I also like the fact that the French chefs are coming to New York to do the party. I think that’s interesting, because it’s good to have some fresh ideas coming into New York. It’s going to be very successful.

What will you be preparing for the event? For the event, with Cafe Boulud, we’re preparing a couscous. It’s traditional flavor and a contemporary approach to a couscous. We are making hamburgers, with different part of the braised lamb and a very good broth with it. It’s spicy and sweet.

Are there any organizations in the U.S that you would compare to Le Fooding? I will compare Le Fooding with when Danny Meyer does his barbecue block party, where thousands of people come, and there are all the different barbecue makers and beers.

Alex Cammas started Le Fooding because he said that he was tired of the “regulated, very serious nature of gastronomy in France.” How does French dining differ from American dining now? This is like if a punk or a rock artist was saying that classical music is just boring, and “let’s live the rock ‘n’ roll‎.” That punk had to learn classical music in order to become a good punk musician. So, I think it’s the cycle of generations. There’s certainly a young generation of chefs in France who want to detach themselves from old gastronomy. Luckily, they’re very talented and very creative chefs, and that gives them a platform and a window to do that. With Le Fooding the idea is to bring the great young chefs — not always the chef who has a three-star rating, but the one who has the best bistro in town — and the most creative of the new generation. In America, we add many opportunities to present our young chef into old food and wine festivals, which is something that would not exist in France.

Where are some of your favorite markets? In New York, Union Square is my favorite, but it’s also one of the largest. I like to go to the fish market in the Bronx. I love going down the aisle of those huge fish markets. In Europe, my favorite markets are in San Sebastian, Nice, and Paris. Rungis Market in Paris is amazing. It’s a big market for professionals; maybe the best in the world. In every city I visit, I always ask the concierge to direct me to the best market. It gives me a sense of what people are eating locally, because the only people you have in the market are locals. I was born and raised on a farm, so every Saturday from the age of eight — when I was old enough to go with my father to the market — until the age of sixteen, I was with my father selling our vegetables. Today, every chef dreams to be a farmer, and for me I was a farmer and I dreamed to be a chef.

One piece of advice you could give about making selections at the market? When you go to the market, you use your eyes to spot the good things; you use your brain to look a the price and compare; then you use your nose. Sometimes you can use your hands, but often farmers don’t like when you touch things. When you go to the market, you get involved with what you want to buy. You have a relationship talking about the product with someone who has grown it and nurtured it. It’s a whole different thing from grabbing something off the shelf and putting it into a cart.

Industry Insiders: Julie Farias, the General’s Butcher

As one of the many talented cuisiniers participating in Le Fooding D’Amour (September 25-26 at at New York’s P.S.1), Julie Farias knows a thing or two about a good cut of meat. The Texas-born chef—who recently moved from Brooklyn’s Beer Table to The General Greene—worked for Daniel Boulud for five years (at Café Boulud, db Bistro Moderne, and Daniel), but attributes much of her culinary know-how to her southern upbringing and family influence (her clan owns a tortilla factory inside a San Antonio meat market). Farias tells us about working in kitchens on both coasts and how Le Fooding is going to taste for New Yorkers. In her case, it’s going to taste like tacos made from 40 cow heads.

What influenced your move from Beer Table to The General Greene? Nicholas Morgenstern, the owner of The General Greene, and I met at Daniel when he was the pastry sous-chef there and I was working the soup station. We worked together at 5Ninth. There, I was the opening sous and he was the pastry chef, and then we also worked together at Resto. I’ve known him for a really long time, and before last year, I was living and working in Los Angeles and Las Vegas on a project for the Palazzo. Nick came out to see me and asked me to come to his new restaurant, The General Greene, and I didn’t think anything of it. I said that I wasn’t in the position to leave. When I came back from Vegas, I moved to Beer Table. Owners Justin and Tricia Philips were friends of mine, and they needed a little help setting up the menu. They said, “We have this place, and there’s no kitchen, but we love your food and we think that this would work out.” And I loved the idea of it more than anything. Especially the spatial challenge. We had no kitchen at Beer Table. There was a convection oven, no dishwasher, no prep, no kitchen. When you take things away and you have bare essentials, it made me think about food in a different way. I always thought that fire was a bare essential but I realized that electricity is. I’m not as much of a Neanderthal as I thought I was. The timing was eventually right when Nicholas asked me again, and it just had to happen. He’s a fantastic partner.

What were you doing in Las Vegas? I was working for a gentleman named Jonathan Morr. He owns Republic and Bond St. We opened an Asian noodle restaurant called Mainland at the Palazzo Hotel and Casino. I created the menu, and I was also Jonathan’s consulting chef. I traveled from New York to Miami to Los Angeles to Vegas. I did consulting work for Thompson Hotels out there, creating their room service menu. I also lived and worked at Hotel Oceana in Santa Monica. I had no home for a year.

What was it like building the menu at The General Greene? I’m going to give a metaphor: me being here right now is, in some ways, like cutting in on a dancer. I’m about to dance with the pretty girl, so I’m cutting in and I have to keep up the pace for whatever waltz or jitterbug or lindy-hop they’re doing. There’s already a rhythm here; it’s a successful restaurant. Nick has asked me to work on organization, on execution, kitchen techniques, things like that, and keep up on the quality of products. It was a very big change to go from one burner to a stove and a downstairs and four to five cooks and a dishwasher.

What should we order on our first visit? We have bar snacks, and my favorite one right now is the bacon dates—dates wrapped in bacon and cooked in maple syrup. After that, you’d have to try the butter lettuce with a lemon vinaigrette, curried almonds and ruby-red grapefruit. I’m a big fan of ruby-red grapefruit. For me, they are a little sweeter, a better color, and before, we were using regular grapefruit on this dish. I also put collared greens on the menu, and these you have to try. They’re sautéed with garlic, red pepper chilies, and a squeeze of lemon juice. You have to try the chuck flap steak from Niman Ranch. It’s something known as a bavette, and it’s a tough kind of meat meant to be cooked medium rare. We grill it then slice it thin, and we serve it with a roasted garlic sauce with olive oil and Portuguese sea salt. It’s got a really hearty flavor. Then, you have to finish it off with a salty caramel sundae. It’s a hot caramel cake with salted caramel ice cream, whipped cream, caramel sauce, and then crushed, salted mini pretzels on top of it. It’s out of this world. You may have to stop by Nick’s Greene Ice Cream Cart as well.

How did you get involved with Le Fooding? It turns out, [Le Fooding founder] Alexandre Cammas lives in the neighborhood. His wife, Natalie, had actually had dinner at Beer Table, and so there was sort of a little match-making there, and they contacted me and came down to The General Greene.

What will you prepare for the September Le Fooding D’Amour event? I’m doing tête de veau tacos or “veal head.” It’s traditional barbacoa from San Antonio, Texas. I’m doing this classic recipe here, and I think it makes sense with the idea of the picnic setting. I actually smoked one of the cow heads today. They’re kind of scary looking. I’m going to be smoking about 40 of them for the event. They’re really kind of magnificent with the eyes, the skull, and the teeth.

Will New Yorkers embrace the Le Fooding concept? New Yorkers are all about food. I came here from Texas to cook. I returned to New York from Vegas because I felt that there was more of a focus on and interest in food here—from grocery stores to cooking at home. In keeping with this mentality, to me, it just seems like Le Fooding is a very natural thing. People will be attracted to this, and Alex’s interest in graphic design is reflected in the style of the event. Why would New Yorkers not want to come? I think that Alex’s goal is definitely going to be fulfilled.

What are your favorite bars and restaurants? Because I’ve been working at The General Greene so much, I’ve been limiting my going out to Brooklyn. I love Five Leaves and Char No. 4. They do a lot of smoked meat, and I butcher there on Mondays. Defonte’s in Red Hook is a sandwich place, and oh my God, it’s super yummy. I love the Skybox at Daniel. For drinking, I’m kind of a liquor snob … but when I feel like being a bit more on the rowdy side, I go to the Palace Cafe in Greenpoint. Budweiser and Jack & Coke is about as sophisticated of a drink you’ll get there. All of these places are in keeping with the same mood.

Nicholas Morgenstern and Julie Farias photographed by Michael Harlan Turkell.

DBGB: Boulud Rocks Out On The Bowery

On Tuesday night, assistant editor Foster Kamer and I had one for the books, the blogs, etc. After interviewing famed New York-based chef Daniel Boulud, we were invited for an evening of decadent sampling at Boulud’s newest LES resto, DBGB. Unlike Boulud’s pre-established (and more famous) kitchens in the city (Daniel, Bar Boulud, DB Bistro Moderne), DBGB’s a bustling, loud affair, the kind you can just stumble in from off of the Bowery, and throw yourself into the bar room of. Yes: it’s the Pastis of the East Village. Deal with it.

We were seated in the main dining room, flanked with wood shelves of ingredients and used dishes of Boulud’s contemporaries, as Radiohead and The Cure blasted above us. Soon after, Boulud blasted us away with the full comp.

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Starters: Asparagus with a fried poached farm-egg and duck prosciutto went quicker than any of the others. Escargots in a persillade custard, duo of mackerel, veal tongue, beef bone marrow, spicy crab cake and crispy tripe, didn’t do too bad themselves.

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Round Two: Meat. Our awesome waitress rolled out their specialty: sausages. We readied the Lipitor. We tried the Espagnole (spicy chorizo), the DBGB Dog (stole my love from Gray’s Papaya), Vermont (stuffed with cheddar), Polonaise (with a sweet twist), Boudin Basque (blood sausage over mashed ‘taters), and the Viennoise (with delectable sauerkraut). After washing it all down with some microbrews (also: ingeniously picked by a stellar waitress, but we’re prejudiced), Mr. Boulud himself greeted us and discussed iPhones and bouncing from kitchen to kitchen.

Dessert: He pulled our menus from us, and laughed when we tried to order. It was among the more divine encounters I’ve ever experienced. Like the hand of a culinary god pushing you back into a pew, telling you to take your shoes off. Our final course started with the Omelette Norvegienne (flambéed at the table). Thinking that was the end of it, we were pretty content — until we saw the procession of desserts marching towards our table, among which were: three ice cream sundaes (coffee-caramel, cassis beer-yogurt, golden plum-pistachio), tarte au fraise with mascarpone and berry ginger ice cream, Crepe Farcie with roasted cherries, and the Gateau Russe au Framboise with pistachio mousse.

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Upon leaving, Mr. Boulud handed us DBGB mugs right off the wall (the maitre d’ looked un petit peu shocked), and invited us back. Usually, knowing our place as mere journalists, we’d say thanks and go on our merry little way, never to return. That’s how the typical press meal goes. Write it up, go away. And in most cases, it’d be unfair to do a review of the food, as it was, above a bunch of other reasons, comped.

Not here. Not with this food, service, atmosphere. Foster had been once and gave his endorsement to a burger with Daisy May BBQ on it (cutely titled ‘The Piggy’). It’s the kind of thing that sounds patently ridiculous: an uber-burger entry into the Meat Madness of New York, designed by a chef with one of the few four star restaurants in the city who decided to stake a place out on the Bowery and over-flavoring an already tasty burger. It should, for all intents and purposes, be a joke.

If it is intended as a joke, it’s one with a great punchline. Again, no review, but we will say that we enjoyed the hell out of ourselves. Wouldn’t you?

They asked us, as we dipped out the front door, if we’d be back, as paying customers. Grinning like idiots, coffee cups in hand, we couldn’t help but laugh. Yeah. We think we’ll be back.

Industry Insiders: Adam Tihany, Designer Dude

Since 1978, Tihany Design has held the champion title for worldwide restaurant and hospitality design. The company namesake, architect, and restaurateur, Adam Tihany is the creative force behind Aureole New York and Las Vegas, La Fonda Del Sol, Daniel, Charlie Palmer at The Joule, Le Cirque, and Per Se among other fine-dining establishments. His design work in hotels includes One&Only Cape Town, Mandarin Oriental Geneva and Hong Kong’s Mandarin Oriental Landmark. The top name in hospitality design shares a look inside his boutique agency and list of posh accomplishments.

How would you describe yourself? I’ve been called all kinds of things. You can call me a designer who has done a lot.

What are some of your favorite recent projects? Aureole at Bryant Park Place. The art is pretty mind-boggling and will transform it into something quite exciting. We recently renovated Daniel, and that has been quite successful and received favorably. We just completed La Fonda Del Sol at the Met Life building. Also a happening place. We finished the One & Only Hotel in Cape Town. I designed the whole hotel; every single corner, nook, cranny, suites spas and two restaurants, Nobu and Gordon Ramsay.

You do have the Midas touch. You can bring a horse to water, but if the chef doesn’t follow suit, you fail. Fortunately, we’ve tried with great chefs and great staffers. Restaurants should be showcases for food and not for design. I’ve been called a “portrait artist” or a “custom tailor.” I try to do spaces that reflect the personality of the owner, their brand of hospitality, their aspirations, and in the process — especially when you work with celebrity chefs — you end up doing a portrait of them. It’s true for Per Se’s Thomas Keller, and Daniel Boulud.

How’d you end up in this business? I believe I’m the first person in this country to call themselves a restaurant designer. I didn’t coin the phrase, but I started it. I went to school in Milan in the late 60s. During my time there, there was really not much work in architecture in Europe, particularly in Italy, so designers and architects designed furniture and graphic art, product design, anything they could put their hands on. That was the birth of contemporary Italian design, When I immigrated to the States, people would ask me what I do, and I’d say, “Give me the problems, I’ll design the solution.” But they wanted me to be specific. Everybody needed a niche, so you had to specialize. For years I refused to do it. I got involved with everything from night clubs to department stores and apartments, and then in the late 70s, somebody asked me to design a restaurant, and it so happened to be that it was to be one of the grand cafes of the city: La Cupole on Park Avenue South. When they opened, they became instantly famous. I did the architecture, the furniture, the uniforms, lighting, everything. I found in restaurants all of the things that I like to do. I bought a sign: Adam Tihany, Restaurant Designer. A roll of the dice, and here we are.

What are your spots? First, the new Cigar Bar and Lounge at the Lanesborough in London. Always Daniel in New York City and Jean-George’s Market at the One&Only Palmilla in Cabo San Lucas.

Who’s doing it right in the restaurant business? There are so many incredible people, and today we’re at the threshold of sensory overload with food and restaurants with what’s on television alone. There are people who are wonderful, long standing people I have learned from tremendously, among them Sirio Maccioni. We‘ve been working together for 25 years. George Lang is a person I met early in my career who is a friend and mentor. From the contemporary group, I would say Thomas Keller.

How do your operations run? My employees used to have to work and live in restaurants to see what it was really like — the back of the house, away from the silver and pretty flowers. That accounts for a lot of my clients, who see me as a colleague, but as a designer who’s got it inside and out. I know the business. When you deal with bigwig hotel suppliers or small boutique owners, we’re not just doing the interior; we live and breathe what we profess. Can’t make too many mistakes.

Current trends in restaurants? It delights me that in the past 26 years, dining is a day-to-day activity, and so much a part of the psyche. Restaurants are clean and safe. You go for two hours to another environment, another culture where people can’t really have their own kitchen and treat going out as second nature, a complete necessity, not a choice. With that comes responsibility and sophistication and people are selective. They really care. I like it when people send food back, although some people will eat garbage rather than return a dish. That alone keeps anyone in the kitchen on their toes as they’re working for a discriminate customer.

Anything you want to change? Cooking shows drive me nuts. Not the ones that are actually about cooking but the chef talk and the reality shows. They’re about success and failure, and I find that humiliating.

Guilty pleasures? I love the travel end of my lifestyle. I’m an avid traveler and an avid hotel dweller. If it was up to me, I would live only in hotels. I am a cigar aficionado, and I know a thing or two about single malt scotch whiskey.

Industry Insiders: Chris Cheung, Chinatown Native

Chris Cheung, executive chef of East Village resto/lounge China 1, was raised in Chinatown and describes himself as “fixated on Northern Chinese cuisine with an American sensibility.” He’s worked in the kitchens of celebrated chefs such as Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Wylie Dufresne, Daniel Angerer, and Jehangir Mehta.

Describe your gig at China 1. I come up with the menu, manage the kitchen, make good food, keep the costs down and quality up, keep the space clean, manage people well — not just in my own department but in every facet of the restaurant — and create the profile for China 1.

How’d you get your start? I worked in a couple of restaurants here and there before I went to the Culinary School in New York. I wound up doing an internship at Vong, and it opened up a world of things for me. Jean-Georges and Nobu had a lot to do with changing my life. I worked at Judson Grill until the owner had problems, and he referred me to Nobu in Tribeca. When I got there, I found it was run like nothing I’d ever seen, and for a young line cook, it was great to share in the success of the restaurant and be able to create new and innovative things for our guests.

Where do you go out? I always go back to where I grew up: Chinatown. Hop Kee on Mott Street is nothing fancy, but it’s old style Cantonese. I like steak, so Peter Luger’s is the old-school paradigm. I haven’t been to the new Daniel because it’s not an everyday affordable place, but if you want great food, Daniel Boulud knows how to do it.

Who do you look up to? Drew Nieporent is one of those guys who can light up a room, always remembers who you are, always instills a good feeling when you meet him. He’s one of the best. Believe it or not, I seriously respect Steve Hansen. The business model he has worked for many, many years is great. Having worked for him, I know how to reduce costs and run a restaurant through systems that work.

What are your expectations for the hospitality industry now? Obviously, nobody can tell the future, but I have a hope it will get better than it is now. I’ve grown up in a lot of fine dining kitchens, and I definitely think that the trend is towards the more casual, further from formal dining. At least in New York. Becoming a little casual can be more healthy.

Anything you dislike about your industry these days? People in the spotlight who know they have the power to put a restaurant on the map with lots of media coverage sometimes take it too far. One mistake or even a misunderstanding can lead to taking it over the top with a bad review, and the next thing you know you have five bad reviews in five publications with the restaurateur not being able to have his side of the story explained in the same space. On the other hand, there are lots of people into great food who support restaurants, so you have to take the good with the bad.

Something that no one knows about you? It’s about exposure. New York seems to be a big town, but as far as talented chefs go there are a lot of us out there. When you’re below the level of notoriety like Jean-Georges, you really, really fight for recognition. There’s so much competition that you can get a little bit lost, so you have to stay on course.

Guiltiest pleasure? Baseball. The Yankees. You try to catch the games with time constraints, and I’ve done it since I was a kid.

Any non-industry projects in the works? Everything I do has to do with the career, food, the restaurant.