Get Down With 2013’s Michelin-Rated Restaurants

This week restaurants around the city celebrated the release of the 2013 Michelin Guide. One of the best features about this prestigious tome is their “good cuisine at reasonable price,” Bib Gourmand section. For the Bib Gourmand, they consider restaurant that offer two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less. Here, they don’t offer stars, but getting mentioned in the guide is enough for many eateries. 

“I couldn’t be more excited about our mention in the Michelin guide,” said Speedy Romeo chef and co-owner Justin Bazdarich. “I really see the guide as an honest measure for a restaurant rating, so, it means a lot to me to gain their respect.”

Aside from Speedy Romeo, highlighted this year include Gran Electrica, Pok Pok, and Battersby, which was also voted one of the best new restaurants in America by Bon Appetite magazine. It also appears to be the golden time for Bed-Stuy’s Do or Dine. Not only did chef and co-owner Justin Warner winFood Network Star a couple months ago, but the restaurant has their second notable mention in the Michelin Guide.

In Manhattan, notice went to August, Il Buco Aimentari & Vineria, and Danny Meyer’s Untitled. There were also quite a few Asian places in the guide including Family Recipe, Jin Ramen, Yunnan Kitchen, and Uncle Zhou in Queens. With the one-star awards, the Asian trend continued with Café China, Hakkasan, and Jungsik at the top of the list.

On the higher end of things, three Michelin stars went, unsurprisingly, to eateries including Per Se, Eleven Madison Park, and La Bernardin. There was one astounding twist; out of seven venues, one award went to a non-Manhattan restaurant: Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare. See folks, Brooklyn is rising. Just wait until it’s all outer boroughs and ramen joints.

Miami Opening: Shake Shack

Big things are happening in little Carol Gables thanks to the opening of Shake Shack. Sure, it’s Florida’s second Shake Shack, but it’s also the world’s largest Shake Shack.

And when the world’s largest Shake Shack – that beefy, juicy, shake-y creation of Danny Meyer – comes to your town, you get in your car, you drive the distance, and you wait, and you wait, and you wait, and you wait again. And two hours later, you eat that heavenly creation. Ah, baby got Shack-ed.  

Peruvians Come Out: La Mar Opens Patio

Summer has officially begun at restaurateur Gaston Acurio’s upscale Peruvian restaurant La Mar Cebicheria Peruana in the Flatiron. Starting tomorrow, no longer do you have to dine in the sleek cavern of what once was Danny Meyer’s Tabla, because starting tomorrow they have an outdoor patio.

“Peruvian food is ideal for outdoor dining,” said Victoriano Lopez,the executive chef at La Mar NYC. “Sitting on our patio and enjoying cebiche and a refreshing pisco sour while overlooking the park, well, we hope this experience transcends people to Peru in some way.”

You might not feel like you are dining alfresco in Lima, but outdoor eating in New York City isn’t something to scoff at, and neither is this restaurant. Acurio opened La Mar in September 2011 on the premise of bringing class to what many people see as a cheap cuisine. I interviewed the restaurateur last year and he said, “Some, they think Peruvian food has to be really cheap or fried, and doesn’t have the same value as those other [cuisines]. But, we use the best ingredients you can find in the world, pay the same salaries that are paid in great restaurants, and we are in a great location that is expensive to be in. We aren’t just cheap food.”

A year since I spoke to Acurio, Peruvian food still hasn’t gotten the notoriety he has sought, but it’s not because the food isn’t excellent. The cebiches at La Mar are top notch and perfect for the hot weather.  “We hope to showcase our cuisine to New Yorkers and visitors alike with classic Peruvian dishes like cebiche, anticuchos, lomo saltado, and more,” said Lopez. “And we aim to deliver the same warm and generous spirit that’s present at Gaston’s restaurants around the world.”

Along with the new patio, La Mar will offer fresh menu items including baraca chalaca, a rock shrimp cebiche served with oysters, mussels, scallops, and a fish of the day; whole fish cebiches, either grilled or fried; and seasonal salads made with local ingredients and quinoa. At least now, with the new patio, people can really see what La Mar is doing.

Danny Meyer’s Excellent Massachusetts Adventure

The reigning lord of New York restaurants took a break from the Big Apple to be feted by the Mezze Restaurant Group over in Massachusetts. The affair was in honor of The Restaurateur, a documentary about Meyer’s tireless work running his culinary empire.

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Meyer groupies hit the Images Cinema in Williamstown and noshed on high-end version of movie snacks (brown butter + truffle popcorn, seasonal “fruit jellies”) before the show.

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Afterwards, everyone (including Meyer and Mezze co-owners Bo Peabody and Nancy Thomas) adjourned to Mezze Bistro + Bar for more substantial fare, like Yorkshire pudding, lamb sliders, and pastrami sandwiches. For more, check out the trailer from The Restaurateur below.

[Photos: Frances Duncan]

The Dish: Maialino’s Malfatti al Maialino

What: Malfatti al Maialino—suckling pig ragu, arugula, and hand-torn pasta Where: Maialino, the 11th addition to Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group portfolio, serving Roman-Italian fare in the Gramercy Park Hotel. Ideal meal: Date night or hosting out-of-towners. The bustling, lively arena of Maialino’s farmhouse interior, facing Gramercy Park, is an excellent backdrop for a one-on-one where intimate conversation requires some leaning in. Also a picturesque destination resto for New York newbies. Because: Maialino means suckling pig, and she lives up to her namesake. Tastes like: Suckling pig falling apart almost without a knife, and the pasta will remind you of farm-raised eggs, lightly doused in creamy ragu. Bottom line: $21 from the Primi section of the menu. Easily doubles as Secondi. But practice sharing if you’re starting with this one. It’s on the heavier side, and no one wants to roll you home.

Industry Insiders: Richard Branson, Ultimate Mogul

The founder and president of the Virgin Group — with ownership of some 200 companies in over 30 countries and interests in travel, tourism, and resorts on a few continents — tells BlackBook about his humble beginnings, having luck on his side, hoping that airline hero Sully may join the team, and his obsession with sticky puddings.

How did you get your start in business? I left school and started Student Magazine from out of a call box. It turned out to be the best decision I ever made. I found out that a lot of school was a waste of time for me. The magazine was my education. Then I started on the record side, and it turned out to be more fun. And that took over.

Right now, you’re in the air. What kind of phone are you using to make this call? We’re basically using wifi, and by next month, we’ll be the only airline in the world with full Internet. You can use your Blackberry up here. Business people can spend their hours working, and kids will have access to the net.

How did you morph from Student Magazine to Virgin Records? In 1970, I founded Virgin as a mail-order record retailer, and shortly afterwards I opened a record shop on Oxford Street in London. In 1972, we built a recording studio in Oxfordshire where the first Virgin artist, Mike Oldfield, recorded “Tubular Bells.” In 1977, we signed the Sex Pistols, and we went on to sign many household names from Culture Club to the Rolling Stones, helping to make Virgin Music one of the top six record companies in the world. I was very, very lucky.

Has luck always figured large in your life? Was your childhood lucky? Fantastically lucky, apart from the fact that my mother never made puddings — I had to run away to a friend’s house after dinner to get them. My wife says my passions are beautiful women and sticky puddings. Everything else about my childhood was extremely lucky.

You’re known for being very generous to your employees — how does that relate to big business? It’s a balancing act. Obviously, if you’ve got a highly motivated group of people working together, you can achieve pretty much anything. The key is finding the right people and motivating them so that they’re proud of creating a quality product that is better than its rivals. If people believe that what you have — the airline, for instance — is the best, they’re proud of it, and they deliver. And you look after your staff. You may not be able to pay them as much as the big airlines, but you can make sure that all the little things are right.

What about the Sully rumor? We heard you offered Captain Sullenberger a job. It was flippant, but we Virgins would love to see him on board. I said publicly if he wants to change his job, we’d love to have him. He’s the most remarkable pilot flying or not flying and the most amazing river plane pilot, ever.

Whatever happened to Virgin Vodka? We still sell a little, but it’s triple distilled in small batches, so there‘s never enough to go around. It was sadly one of our less successful ventures. I suspect because it’s difficult to differentiate vodkas, even though because of the triple distilling, you never, ever get a hangover.

What’s the regulation problem with and Alaska Airlines? You mooned them during a Boston press conference. I think they protest too much. They’re trying to go to the regulators to get us grounded. I have an English accent and, therefore, am not allowed to have an airline in America. But America hasn’t had a decent domestic airline for years, so here we are. Virgin America is innovative and 100% better than the nearest rival. By the end of March, all of our planes will have full Internet service in addition to the rest of our facilities. Obviously our entertainment is the best on board. I’m afraid that Alaska Airlines is going to have to improve the quality of their product and get new planes and better entertainment systems to compete with us. We’ve been voted Best Airline in America and Best Business Airline this year. We’re expanding, not contracting. We’re here to stay.

Tell me about Necker Island and the new venture on the “island next door.” The “island next door” is the most beautiful little island in the world. It’s now my home, and we’ll share it with people who want to rent it. The new island is 100% carbon neutral, and we’re putting windmills and solar equipment on it. It has a beautiful reef around it, delightful staff, and we’re surrounded by beautiful, clean seas. It’s pristine. Unlike Necker, on the new island we’re doing just a couple of houses in the rain forest, and they will be slightly more private.

What about South Africa? We have a beautiful game park called Ulusaba, quite similar to Necker in that it’s high above the jungle — rather than the sea — with the best game viewing anywhere in Africa, with sightings of cheetah and leopards a regular occurrence. We have two houses there — a safari lodge and the rock lodge.

Who do you admire in the hospitality industry? As Virgin moves deeper into the hospitality sector, I’ve been hearing lots about Danny Meyer. He seems to be a service-oriented restaurateur, someone who shares Virgin’s focus on customers and pays attention to every single detail.

What negative things have you noticed in the hospitality industry? It’s clear that customers are very smart. They know how to shop around, and they won’t settle for anything less than value for money. That’s why Virgin America has been so successful. It’s got competitive fares without sacrificing customer service. We’re giving control back to the traveler with Internet access, seat-to-seat chatting, and power outlets at every seat. We hope to do in the hotel space what Virgin America has done for commercial flying: bring back the value without sacrificing the glamour and the essentials.

Tell me about The Elders, the group formed by Nelson Mandela, Peter Gabriel, Graca Machel, Desmond Tutu, and yourself. They are a group of leaders who contribute their wisdom, independent leadership, and integrity to tackling some of the world’s toughest problems. Considering how old they are, they’re working hard and have had considerable success already, although the group is still relatively young — only formed in 2007. They’ve done a lot of work on Zimbabwe both publicly and behind the scenes, and hopefully a new unity government is now making some progress towards resolving the terrible humanitarian crisis in that country. They are also working in Cyprus to help peace efforts by the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. And two Elders — Kofi Annan and Graça Machel — played a key role in helping to bring peace to Kenya last year. We are watching events in the Middle East closely — it’s tremendously exciting, so there will likely be efforts there.

Industry Insiders: Jonathan Benno, Per Se Persona

Jonathan Benno, chef de cuisine at Thomas Keller’s Per Se Restaurant at the Time Warner Center in New York, on the downside of popular gastronomy, BMW motorcycles, and escaping the kitchen to make time for the fam.

Where do you go out when you’re off duty? Al di Là in Park Slope. It’s a husband and wife team I’ve known for a really long time. They do traditional Italian cooking, and it’s just a place that’s from the heart. She does the kitchen, and he does the dining room. It’s small and special. Either of Michael White’s New York restaurants — Convivio or Alto — because he has such a command of Italian cuisine, and he’s a really, really nice guy. Hearth by Marco Canora, formerly of Craft, and Paul Greco, formerly of Gramercy Tavern, is great because the place is a real labor of love for two guys who were at the top of their games at successful restaurants. They borrowed the money to open this little restaurant in the East Village, and they made it work.

How would you describe yourself? I’m a quiet, focused, disciplined, and passionate person.

How’d you get started? The turning point for me was the first time I worked at the French Laundry. I worked there about 15 years ago, during the first year that it opened. I started at Daniel where Café Boulud is today, then worked for Christian DeLuvier at the Essex House. I spent most of my time working at Gramercy Tavern for Tom Colicchio before I traveled to southwest France to work for Gilles Goujon at L’Auberge du Vieux Puits, then went back to the French Laundry for a couple of years before the opening of Per Se. In my mind, I always look at the French Laundry as the turning point for me.

Who do you admire in the hospitality industry? Thomas Keller for what he’s done for our industry and people’s perception of a chef/owner. Never mind the fact that he’s really set the bar for fine dining at the French Laundry and Per Se as well as Ad Hoc and other venues. Somebody said that he’s a “cook’s cook,” and after all the accolades, that sums him up best. Also, Danny Meyer, for what he’s done for American restaurants and service over the course of the past 20 years at Union Square Cafe. On so many different levels, whether you’re having the tasting menu at Gramercy Tavern or you put up with the lines at Shake Shack, these are two wonderful restaurants at both ends of the spectrum. I was fortunate enough to have worked for him for two and a half years at Gramercy, and it stays with me today.

Name one positive trend that you see in the hospitality industry. I think the downward trend in the economy affects restaurants at every level. You’re not going to see the Per Se’s and the Daniel’s open in the near future as freestanding restaurants. The trend is going to be towards more casual restaurants, and I hope chef/owner-driven small restaurants with a lower price point will make it for the next year or two until the economy comes back.

Negative trends? The use of chemicals in cuisine. There’s this whole molecular gastronomy movement. I object to the manipulation of food that’s been developing over the past couple of years. Even to take a carrot from the green market and juice it and then add chemicals to it to make beads or whatever — why use high-quality ingredients and corrupt them with chemistry?

What is something that people might not know about you? I’ve always daydreamed about being a BMW motorcycle mechanic.

Any non-industry projects in the works? My wife and I have a nine-month-old baby girl. So, they’re my projects out of working hours. I like to read, but it’s like stealing time, and so is going to the gym.

Industry Insiders: Heather Tierney, Mixology Mistress

Heather Tierney, apothecary-at-large for Chinatown destination Apothéke on comparisons to Amy Sacco, being the bad twin, and dealing with Chinese landlords.

Have people compared you to Amy Sacco? Admittedly yes, and I am honored. She is giant in this business. I might know 1% of the people she knows, so it is flattering for someone to say I am like her.

Where have you been going out? I like small places that have an identity. I like La Esquina … I think that place is brilliant. It’s completely original, and it still holds up. It will be there a long time and the food is excellent. I like this place in Williamsburg called Moto. It’s in this old check-cashing shop. It’s a random location in the middle of nowhere. They made a great Parisian bistro/bar with great details. It’s just so charming. Sometimes they have a band, and you have to walk through the band to enter.

How’d you get involved in this business? Really the way I got into the business was finding this street. I passed this street with friends one night after a concert because we decided to walk to the Brooklyn Bridge to watch the sunrise, and I felt the street was so magical and wondered why no one had ever done anything on it. I started looking around and talking to brokers. I thought it would make a good cocktail bar destination. I hadn’t even met Albert Trummer yet. I quickly realized there was a huge barrier to entry into the Chinese community as an outsider. They don’t do leases here. People pay month to month. You want a lease if you are going to renovate a space and put a lot of money into it. Meeting with a landlord is hard because they are not interested … they pass it down into the family. Everything on the street has been owned by families over the years. I just kept the idea. I met Albert a couple of years ago through a friend who worked with him at Town and had read about him and admired him. I was moved by his humbleness when I met him. I felt that what he was doing with his mixology, no one else was doing. Albert had worked at Town and Bouley, and I thought it would be cool to bring him into an edgier environment.

Who do you admire? Keith McNally. First because he has not sold out, meaning I am sure he has been approached by everyone under the sun to put a Balthazar in Las Vegas or a Pastis wherever. He keeps his brand very strong … he doesn’t dilute them. Each restaurant is a unique concept and its own brand, and he doesn’t open more than one of them. He nails it on the head. He has great staff. He has great vision. He also gives back a lot. Every year he brings an orphanage into Balthazar and feeds them. The do magic shows for them, and the cards get stuck to the ceiling. You will see them still on the ceiling. He is also very humble and down to earth. Danny Meyer is next because he really understands service. He is a warm person and has built an empire, and none of them have a cold, corporate feeling. He wrote a book about hospitality and says it’s the small details that get you to the big place. Everyone in the industry says you have to read his book. People live by it. He gives back a lot too. He is also really down to earth.

What trends are you seeing in your industry? I hope attention to detail is a trend in the city. That’s what interests me. Places need to make a statement and be memorable, which I think is from substance. It can’t just be I am so-and-so and I am opening this, ’cause no one will care in six months.

What is something that people don’t know about you? That I am from Indiana. That I have a twin sister, not identical. We are yin and yang. She supports me in all my crazy ideas. She is the good one, Katie. Also that I don’t care about the “scene.” I don’t need to constantly network. I like to be alone and lay in the sun

Burger Shoppe, Apothéke. What’s next? I have another business too. It’s a concierge service called Sorted. It is a membership. I am not even taking on new members. I have even more I want to do. I want a personal life too. Also opening places, you get a bug to open more. I am even hoping to expand into the basement and upstairs of this space.

What are you doing tonight? I am going to dinner at Macao, owned by the same people who own Employees Only, with a friend who is a restaurant critic. Then I am coming back to Apothéke.

New York: Top 5 Spendy Restaurants Worth Every Penny

imageSometimes you’ve got the urge to splurge …

1. The Grocery Innovative farmfresh cuisine in a tiny, elegant setting: as transcendent as NYC gets. 2. Chanterelle The city’s best spot for foodgasms, with elegance done to perfection. 3. Eighty One Creativity saved on the name is channeled into impeccable locally sourced menu.

4. Gramercy Tavern Danny Meyer’s pride and joy is classy but not crabby, and soaring on its second wind courtesy of laid-back chef Michael Anthony. 5. Momofuku Ko David Chang’s East Village answer to Per Se, loaded with wit, flair, and originality.