Having Dinner With Immaculate Infatuation

Within 10 minutes of ordering a beer and munching on some introductory kale salad at Jack’s Wife Freda with Andrew Steinthal and Chris Stang, it was easy to forget just how well-known the two guys really are.

Perhaps it was their good-humored bickering over pork buns or their unbridled excitement over a really good mackerel sandwich from Momofuku Ssäm, but the effect that these music-execs-by-day and food-critics-by-night have on their fans wasn’t recalled until hours later, upon reading a tweet.

"Major #celebritysighting last night. One table away from @immaculateinfat at Jack’s Wife Freda and too starstruck to say hello."

As the forces behind Immaculate Infatuation, a website full of hundreds of national "restaurant reviews that don’t suck," Steinthal and Stang tell a story with their critiques. With their conversational quips, brutal honesty, and name-drop-free reviews, the guys have cultivated their own corner of the culinary scene, fulfilling a need that no one even knew existed. Since the site launched in 2009, Immaculate Infatuation has expanded from just reviews, to interviews with “Infatuation-approved personalities,” videos, an iPhone app, and a 65-page New York Summer Guide full of recommendations, round-ups, – and lots of pictures. 

Between our first forkful of vegetable curry, to our last bite of whole fish, Steinthal and Stang shared over dinner their first business ideas, the similarities between music and food, and why they never, ever could live together. 

You both met at a CMJ convention 11 years ago. When did you realize you could work together on something?
Steinthal: We were college music directors at our radio stations in our respective schools, and we hit it off really well. We both were super passionate about music, made sure to stay in touch, and when we moved to New York, were keen on doing something together. Did we know back then we would ever do food? Hell no. Eleven years ago, I didn’t eat anything compared to what I eat now. I was such a picky eater. But as you grow up and you’re in NYC, it all kind of comes together, and I started really liking restaurants and food. Four or five years ago, we got really sick of going to bars and started going to restaurants all the time.

And when did Immaculate Infatuation come into the picture? Was that your first business idea?
At one point we were like, “let’s do a t-shirt company,” cause we knew we wanted to do something and we were creative and driven. But in going out to dinner with our friends, we realized this is an opportunity for us to provide a service for people that don’t go to The New York Times to find restaurant recommendations. Our buddies weren’t the kind of guys perusing the dining section to find out where to take their date on Saturday night; they’d call us for recommendations. That’s when it occurred to us that this is where we can focus our energy into.
Steinthal: They don’t care if the guy from Eataly is behind the counter. Most people out there don’t know anything about these restaurant people. They just want a good restaurant. 

Which neighborhood has some of the best food?
Overall, Nolita and the West Village.
Steinthal: But at the moment, Williamsburg. I’d rather eat in Williamsburg right now for new restaurants than any other place. There are so many good restaurants there right now, it’s not even funny.

What’s your favorite?
There’s this place called Allswell.
(Both gasp.)
Steinthal: Just so good.
Stang: Really, really good.
(The food arrives.)
Stang: It’s really dark in here. This isn’t really conducive to taking photos.
Steinthal: Just do it.

When did you guys first realize, "Wow, our site has some power?"
Steinthal: When we reviewed Post Office, this little whiskey bar in South Williamsburg.
Stang: We spent our whole night there drinking and eating. It was one of the best meals we had in a long, long time. The kitchen is the size of a postage stamp.
Steinthal: We reviewed it on a Monday or Tuesday, and then that weekend, there were 10-15 tweets saying “at Post Office, thanks Immaculate Infatuation, this place is amazing.” That’s when we were like, “whoa, this is happening. We are driving people into that restaurant.”
Stang: And it’s cool because that place wasn’t going to get written up in New York Magazine any time soon. They were doing something cool and interesting and we could help.
Steinthal: Those are the places we love to find. Not the ones everyone is talking about, but yet they’re doing something really cool.

What restaurant just doesn’t get enough attention?
Steinthal: This place in the East Village called Prima. Big focus on fish. They’re not getting written about since there’s nothing really remarkable about the menu – the food is just really simple and good – but they deserve to be known.
Stang: They have this one dessert that’s a classic French puff pastry, it’s really good, but it doesn’t register on the foodie scale, for whatever reason.
Steinthal: L’Artusi also falls into that. It doesn’t really get written about.
Stang: It’s never in the conversation about must-visit restaurants in New York City. That might be my personal favorite restaurant in the city.
Steinthal: This sounds cliched, but mine is Momofuku Ssäm Bar.
Stang: That mackerel sandwich they do? Bananas.
Steinthal: I get so excited every time I eat there.
Stang: The Chinese sausage and rice cakes.
Steinthal: Yeah.

What’s the one dining experience you’ve both disagreed on?
Stang: The biggest beef we have with each other is that I think Ippudo pork buns are better than Momofuku’s porn buns. Ippudo is a Japanese chain of ramen restaurants. It’s so crazy now, there’s like a two-hour wait even at lunch.
Steinthal: I’m obsessed with pork buns. Momofuku’s are way better.
Stang: That is what we disagree on. There is nothing as divisive as the pork bun. That’ll be what ends this website one day. Like on Behind the Music, “where did it start?”

You’ve been working in the music industry for years. How does your work in that field compare with your work in the food world?
Steinthal: At our jobs, we sometimes break bands, and we nurture and develop artists. So, with this website we’re doing the same thing. We’re pulling out every stop, connecting with every person on Twitter, every person we meet, trying to make a connection with everyone.
Stang: We try to make a personal connection with the people who read our site because we’ve seen what a difference it makes when a recording artist has a personal connection with their fans.

So you two work in the music industry – in the same building – and work together in your off-hours. Have you ever lived together?
Steinthal: Oh God no.
Stang: One of us wouldn’t be alive.
Steinthal: You can only get so much.
Steinthal & Stang: Yeah.

Study: Sex and Christmas Day Make Us Happy, According to iPhone App

 “Mappiness,” a new happiness-measuring app launched by the London School of Economics as part of a research project, is a tool used to research the contentment levels of 80,000 iPhone users through regularly posted updates regarding the respondents’ activities, locations and happiness. Research shows having sex makes us happiest, while Christmas won the title of happiest day of the year, with jubilance peaking at 1:50pm.

The study also found despondency at its height on Tuesdays, and specifically on January 31 at 8pm. Other mood-darkening activities include: lying sick in bed, waiting on line, commuting, and working. According to lead researcher George MacKerron, the app is an attempt to “better find answers on the impacts of natural beauty and environmental problems on individual and national well being.”
Okay, so the mission is a little highfalutin, but the research results underpin a pretty trenchant fact: most of our lives are spent doing what makes us unhappy. 
We put in far more hours a year commuting to work or at the grocery store, waiting in line for some bruised bananas and milk, instead of having sex. Even if we had sex on Christmas Day at 1:50pm under the gingerbread men garland and gold tinseled tree, the beatitude of the act would hardly carry over into the new year’s continual grind and flu-like symptoms.
Perhaps the US should give this app a chance. Thanksgiving at 4pm just might top Christmas.

W Hotels Have New Concierge Robots & DJs

People are really taking advantage of their hotel concierges these days. Take the W Hotel. Not only does their concierge team suggest the best places to eat, drink, and shop in the area, and order up room service at the drop of a hat, but they are also personal DJs who help you plan your itinerary with tips on local happenings—and they Tweet for their guests. That’s because in addition to old-school human concierges, W Hotels now have robots—otherwise known as iPhone apps.

W Hotels recently released the W Hotels Worldwide app, a free application that provides information like photos, maps, booking capabilities, and mini travel guides surrounding each of the Starwood brand’s hotels. The apps also ups the ante by providing users with unique music content, curated by Michaelangelo L’Aqua, W Hotel’s music director. Through a collaboration with Coca Cola’s energy drink Burn, emerging DJs will be showcased via the ‘W Hotels and burn DJ Lab.’ There will be an offline component, too, a global tour featuring these DJs, which will also be streamed via the app.

You might be wondering what this has to do with your hotel stay—especially if you have no desire to listen to music (to which we ask: what’s wrong with you?). The app gives you access to room service at just a swipe of a screen, saving you from calling the front desk, or figuring out what extension to dial for towels versus tuna tar tar. Even if you aren’t staying in the hotel, you can order anything from their store and send it anywhere in the world.

TripAdvisor released the results of a US survey that said 60 percent of Americans have downloaded travel apps, and a further 38 percent have used them to plan a trip. To which we say: Download the BlackBook travel guides here! After you figure out what nabe you want to stay in, download the W Hotel app here.

Visiting Movie Sets: There’s An App for That

Here’s a pretty sweet app that is making a run in the iTunes store. The British tourism board coined the phrase “set-jetting” and came out with a great app that highlights famous film spots around the United Kingdom. The app allows users to look up films by name, by location and tourist landmark. You can check out the spots from Braveheart , the DaVinci Code, and the upcoming Sherlock Holmes.

However, the real star of this app is the Harry Potter franchise, as its been shot all over England and Scotland, and has a rabid fan base. It’s cool to see your favorite scene locations in real time. You can also shoot video or take photos on the ground and send them out on Facebook or Twitter. New York tourism, are you listening? I’d like one of these for the Big Apple, thanks.