A New French Wave: Greenwich Project and Cantine Parisienne

For all the love Cahiers du Cinema threw at Hollywood, it’s fitting that Greenwich Project, the newest outfit from the team behind Mulberry Project and Vinatta Project, calls their French-influenced escargot and sweetbreads dish the “Odd Couple.” In a welcome move towards popular sensibilities, the snails and calf parts are cooked and served with roasted garlic and thick chops of bacon. Also good with garlic and bacon? Everything.

Greenwich Project’s two-story Village townhouse sees split menus and atmospheres. Downstairs, a casual setting is focused around small plates and bespoke cocktails (gin is best served Floral and Refreshing; go Boozy and Spicy with the bourbon). Upstairs, the formal menu’s offset by pop art walls and a tin ceiling so reflective it’s kind of kinky. Day boat halibut on a bed of escarole finds its kick from a mandarin jus and a side of seasoned cashews. Any fish is a wise choice for lightness, since there are custard-filled donuts waiting for dessert. They come hot out of the oven, with warm caramel for dipping, so you have to eat them there. All of them. (Scroll down.)

Parisienne

Down on Kenmare Street, Cantine Parisienne at The Nolitan Hotel links up with Le Philosophe’s new trend of doing French in a very un-Balthazar way. The architect Guy Rezicener, who designed M. Wells Dinette, stacks modernist cement pillars to support the mile between Cantine’s grey wood floor and ceiling. Upscale fare like duck foie gras and steak tartare line the menu, alongside bistro classics like steak frites and croque maison sandwiches. For dessert, the white chocolate mousse is perfect. Scott Fitzgerald, a Mulberry Project alum, does a thoughtful cocktail list with fizzy aperitifs fit for the season. Knock back a couple and go dance the Madison, just like they did in Band of Outsiders

 

[Related: BlackBook New York Guide; Listings for Greenwich Project and Cantine Parisienne; More by James Ramsay; Subscribe to the BlackBook Happenings newsletter for all the hottest openings and events] 

New York Opening: Cherrywood Kitchen

At Cherrywood Kitchen, a classed-up New American spot from chef Chris Cheung (Jean-Georges, Nobu), a cherrywood log burns on the fire and makes for a rack of ribs on par with the best of any Gotham barbeque offerings. In a twist of pairings, the apple celery slaw is the real spicy counterpart to the rich but milder ribs. You can eat them with a fork and knife—the bones just fall to the bottom of the plate. In fact, it may be best to keep your hands off, since Cheung doesn’t shy away from slathering on a sweet chili glaze, and the sexy librarian-themed dining room doesn’t exactly jibe with wet wipe packets.

The hands-off approach doesn’t quite apply to the rest of the menu. The market fish stew, which comes with or without the fish head pending your request, is also loaded with a workout’s worth of shellfish to pry open. Behind a frosted glass divide, the bar fare brings a kick of its own. Lobster tacos are a brilliant mix of hot and cold: chilled lobster meat dusted with Old Bay and stuffed in just-fried shells made of eggroll dough. The house variation of a Manhattan sees a smoked orange rind in Knob Creek bourbon, which I recommend over some of the alternatives that lean a little heavy on the sugar.

All said, the best part of the meal might actually be the bread to start. A complimentary loaf of ciabatta, which looks like a horned turtle, comes hot out the oven with a generous bowl of whipped blue cheese. Spread it, dip in it, eat it with a spoon. You can’t miss.

[Related: BlackBook New York Guide; Listings for Cherrywood Kitchen, Jean-Georges, Nobu; Download the free BlackBook app for iPhone and Android; Subscribe to the weekly BlackBook Happenings newsletter; More by James Ramsay]

Ophira Eisenberg on the Merits of Not Getting to Know His Family (Or His Last Name)

In Year 9 (she’s Canadian), Ophira Eisenberg made a Lotus 123 spreadsheet ranking potential candidates to take her virginity. But a few months and one bloody cunnilingus mishap later, she wound up going off-book and lost it to a wild card entrant in a hotel bathroom in Banff. She’s since been with a bassist, a jazz guitarist and an alumnus of a barbershop quartet—although not all at once. There was an improviser, a film critic and a drama student—they had sex dressed as pixies during a production of Midsummer. There was a coke addict, a meth addict, and a guy from Queens with an addiction to stuffed Garfields. She slept with a blind albino who prefaced things with, “I’m warning you, you’re about to see the smallest penis ever.” There was a pastry chef (“His hands were like nothing I had ever experienced before”), a guy who preferred to come whilst having anal beads pulled out of his butthole, and yes, there was at one point a woman.

That said, her memoir, Screw Everyone: Sleeping My Way to Monogamy, is less a book about raunchy exploits than an account of the comedic romance you don’t see in romantic comedies. We get our hearts broken (jazz guitarist, pixie), move to new cities, work shitty jobs (she was a clerk at a waste management plant in Vancouver), and along the way are the stupid rules and games we set up to try and balance our personal ambitions with our desire to feel wanted.

The story ends with a thirty-second marriage ceremony at the city courthouse (you guessed it—she went with the barbershop quartet guy), but she told me recently that along with the love and romance, getting married is like picking the roommate you’ll have for the rest of your life. We should all have the right to get married, but what we do in the meantime shouldn’t be disparaged. There’s a lot to learn in sleeping around.

It never occurred to me that [sex] was for anything other than pleasure—like there was no shame, it was never pathologized, there was nothing dirty about it. But I know it’s not the same as other people. Because other people were raised like it was terrible. That it was a terrible, shameful, horrible act that you better save for one unlucky person.

Is it a generational thing, do you think?
I was a young teenager in the ’80s, and I came of age in the ’80s. And that’s when people were partying, [dancing to] disco, and love was in the air. And historically, the AIDS epidemic really influenced how that generation thought about sex. But I will tell you, by college, a couple of boyfriends who’d mention having sex without a condom—it was like, fine, we’re both going to go get tested. For everything. And that’s what we did, and there was no problem! No one had a problem with it! I guess I just thought that was normal.But in New York, I feel like that’d be a lot to ask of someone—to be like, hey, so we’ve seen each other a few times, clearly you’ve been complaining about the condom, if you want to sleep together again let’s both go get tested and share the results. I mean, I think that’d be the moment where the guy would be like, “Are you kidding me?!”

Was New York discouraging sexually, coming from Toronto?
I was like, “Oh my God, I’m never going to have good sex again.”

What was the main problem?
Detachment. And everyone’s like, “You kind of approached it like a guy.” No. I’m a girl, I was unable to approach it like a guy. Even if it was a physical act, there had to be something happening in that act that connected us. If someone ever turned my head around or whatever—totally unacceptable. I just wasn’t into it. I was like, fuck you, you don’t get that. You want that? Go find some other chick. There had to be something to make it seem fun, even if that was an artificial thing that was only happening in that moment.

With one guy in New York, I did this little artistic act in undoing his pants on the couch, like I was being so spontaneous and cool and on top of it and in-control, and then right afterwards he left. And I thought, “All right, it’s my turn.” And he was like, “See you later sweetheart.” And that emptiness—like, I’m not great with that stuff. I don’t know who is? But I didn’t even know that was possible until it happened, and I was like, okay, that’s not going to happen anymore. But I like the nerdy guys—they had to be smarter than me. So that already takes a huge part of the population out of the running.

There was a headline today in the Observer that said, “Study Finds Xbox Players are Actually Pretty Okay at Sex Stuff.”
I remember being, like, thirteen years old with my niece, who’s older than me, and her boyfriend, at a Stevie Wonder concert, and he said something sexist like, “Ugly girls are really good in bed because they compensate.” What a horrible thing to say. But what he was saying is that the most confident, good-looking person walking down the street might not be. Because they are so involved in themselves. And they never had to develop the skill.

Were there people who surprised you in bed one way or another?
Yeah, that guy who pushed my head down—getting him into bed was a trophy. I couldn’t believe it. He was this good-looking, kind of jock-of-a-guy, very charming. And I’m such a sucker for charm—it’s my weakness. Someone [else might think] that person’s really cheesy, and I go, “They’re magical!” But when he pushed my head down, I almost hit him. And that was it. Then he was one of the ugliest people I’d ever met in my entire life. But there’s that thing where some people are good in bed, some people are bad in bed, and some people don’t work for me. And I don’t work for some people. Like that dynamic, almost chemically or molecularly, just never meshes.

I like the line in the book about how shower sex doesn’t work. I think for it to work there needs to be a weird height dynamic or something.
Right, you need benches and shelves and foot things—if you had a climbing wall on one side of the shower with those little bricks you could put your feet on.

Have you ever been with a guy who’s substantially shorter than you?
I have, yes. I mean, I’m not that tall. But the one I’m thinking of was substantially shorter than me, and it was that thing where it’s like, “Can we do everything lying down?”

Something else you mention in the book is your tendency to meet someone and immediately think, “What would this be like fifteen years down the road?"
Yeah, yeah, I’m not very proud of that—I think it’s a weird, hardwired, evolutionary thing.

But who doesn’t? And most people seem either ashamed to admit it, or they wear it on their sleeve, in which case it’s obnoxious.
I feel like sometimes you just know. There were times where I’d appreciate that, where I’d talk to someone and I would like them, but I would know that the ten years in the future thing—I just couldn’t see it. I couldn’t figure it out. It didn’t make any sense.

And that would keep you from even going with it for a couple weeks?
No, I could certainly do a night. And maybe more than that depending on what was going on. But sometimes that was relieving. When I moved to New York, I thought no one moves here to settle down. Everyone moves here for themselves, so all of us are in the same game. But we still need to be with people—it’s human nature—so there’s going to be this random coupling. But it’s going to be really hard. And that’s when I was like, “I need to take myself out of this thinking because it’s going to drive me insane. I’m going to be depressed all the time and crying.” So, no more of that. But then I liked the thing where I met someone and we would joke and laugh and have a good time, while I’d know that it would never work out in a billion years.

There’s another great part where you’re working at Kinko’s and a co-worker says he likes you, and you ask why and he says, “Because you’re awesome.”
Isn’t everyone primarily driven by some desire to be liked? That’s why people want to be funny, because it’s a gateway to being liked by someone.

Is doing stand-up a good way to get laid?
Oh yeah. Laughter is incredibly seductive, plus you’re up there commanding a stage. [Guys] always have girls coming up to them afterwards—“Hiiiii. You’re really funnnnnny.” Whereas that didn’t really happen to me. It’d always be really weird, like guys would come up and say, “You’re just like me! You’re the female version of me!” What does that mean? That’s so weird. How did whoever I am immediately become all about you?

I think it’s so impressive, by the way, that you wrote a drunk letter to someone.
Before texting! Could you imagine if I had a phone in my hands that could text, what damage I would’ve done? I’m so happy I was born in the time that I was born.

When texting came along, did you ever get into trouble with it?
Not really, because even once people started texting, they weren’t doing it like they do now where it’s basically the number-one way to communicate. It was still the tertiary thing. I think I remember the first time someone texted me “Happy Birthday,” and I thought, “Wow, this is what’s happening.”There’s a story that’s not in the book, but it was a hookup. We met at a bar, and we were both there for birthday parties that weren’t any fun. And we wound up going back to my place, exchanged numbers, but never called each other. But I remember like two weeks later wondering what would happen if I texted that guy. I texted, “Hey, what are you doing?” And in five seconds he was like, “WHERE ARE YOU?” So that’s how that happens. And I’ve gotten those texts that say, “What’s up?” And you think, “Interesting. Yes, it is midnight on a Friday.” At least when you get a letter in the mail, it doesn’t have a time signature on it. It doesn’t say, “This was written at 100 AM.”

There’s an episode of Full House where notable Canadian Dave Coulier—
He’s not Canadian!

He’s not Canadian? Just because he dated Alanis Morissette, people lump him in there?
Yeah, everyone just wants him to be Canadian. Canadians also.

Well, there’s an episode of Full House where Uncle Joey starts doing stand-up, and everyone in the family gets pissed because he talked about them onstage. I know you picked up and moved to New York, but is it still a concern that you’re talking about real people on stage, and now in writing?
It’s a concern. Totally a concern! I don’t know how people will react. Part of me thinks that if they had a big problem with it, I would go, “Hey, listen people—you broke my heart. Or do you want to do a panel? Let’s organize a panel, and you tell your side of the story.” As far as I’m concerned, we ended. I don’t think I gave anyone that unflattering of a portrayal. Maybe the Garfield guy, I said we had terrible sex, but I also mention that he had a huge penis. And I think that would make it fine. He’s like, whatever!

New York Openings: Forty2West and Desmond’s

There are many restaurants in Midtown Manhattan worth passing by with a brisk gait and a scowl, but Desmond’s and Forty2West (pictured), new steakhouses on 38th and 48th respectively, are not among them. That’s a reasonable preface, too, because it wouldn’t be hard to pass them inadvertently—Desmond’s is on the second floor, with an entrance on Seventh Avenue that looks like a stairwell to a janitor’s closet. Forty2West is sandwiched between a Five Guys and a Chinese take-out. Facades notwithstanding, both places should quietly sneak into the top rung of fine dining on their other merits.

Forty2West is an Italian steakhouse from John Di Lemme, Mario Batali’s former understudy at Del Posto, who took over the old AJ Maxwell’s space with less than a blaring makeover (the leather menu books are still embossed with the old name). The new concept really takes off with a beer list that’d be hard to find anywhere else. Le Baladin Nora, a brown ale from the Piedmont region of Italy, comes alongside La Nove, a Tuscan amber ale, and Verdi, a chili-infused imperial stout that burns going down in all the right ways, all of them served in the funkiest little bottles you’ve ever seen.

Forty2West’s sweet-glazed grilled octopus is a steakhouse up-doing of your classic polpo, and a welcome alternative to crab cakes. Sides are simply too heavy, though—the macaroni and cheese is mashed, and one scoop out of the ramekin lets the hollow fill with grease. You’re better off doubling down on the housemade pastas. The pappardelle, thick and served al dente, comes with a hearty, slow-cooked lamb ragu that could be an entrée of its own. A porterhouse comes sizzling in its own juices, which mix with the garlic clove and rosemary garnish. The place stays pretty calm at dinner, but lunch brings its own crowd, and its own menu—the lamb burger with taleggio and caramelized onions, knocked back with a chili stout, will make any afternoon more bearable.

Some restaurants aim to impress; others seek to please. Desmond’s Steakhouse and Grill lands comfortably in the second camp, and they’re all the better for it. The floor is massive and well lit—you don’t have to guess at what you’re tasting—and a soundtrack of old standards is kept at a conversation-friendly level. For a salad, start with the three-inch wedge of iceberg lettuce, which comes topped with thick chunks of blue cheese and applewood-smoked bacon. A tower of tuna tartare with avocado spreads nicely on toast, and the yellowfin tuna steak with herb butter is enough to feed the multitudes.

Traditional cuts like the porterhouse and the cowboy (bone-in rib-eye) are aged 28 days in a meat locker on-site. Unique to Desmond’s is a 14-ounce filet, served on the bone to add some of the flavor back to what’s otherwise a milder cut. While there’s no chili stout on the menu, a tequila cocktail dusted with cayenne does the trick if you’re seeking a little sting.

Regarding that “janitor’s stairwell”—the manager told me that some people like to sneak out to smoke. Sounds reasonable enough. Desmond’s is a classy place, but Times Square may as well be an ashtray.

[Related: BlackBook New York Guide; Listings for Desmond’s and Forty2West; Keep up with all the new spots by signing up for the BlackBook Happenings newsletter; More by James Ramsay]

Slide’s Show: Artisanal Drunk Food for NYC

Amid Village quick stops like Mamoun’s, Artichoke, and the Kati Roll Company, the new Slide fills a much-needed but oft-overlooked category: drunk food worth sitting down for. Stumble into this Greenwich Village restaurant and find fine minimalist form, with options orbiting around three staples–sliders, cannoli, and spiked milkshakes. You can walk it off later.

One of the warranted hesitations about sliders, in light of their trendiness among tapas and “small plates” establishments, is the prospect of being sold a little for a lot. At Slide that couldn’t be less of a concern. The hallmark slider, a chunk of fried chicken, cheddar cheese, and a sweet maple bourbon apple butter (or pear, depending on the season) between two waffles, is dense as hell. The Crab BLT features a crab cake that contains what a crab cake should (i.e. crab), synched with spongy buns. A pork belly slider does well with a thick cut of jack cheese and a crispy film of fried Brussels sprouts. All sliders come in flights of three; the chef explained that mixing and matching just wouldn’t jibe with a line that’s already under pressure. That said, there’s slim chance one could eat a chicken and waffle slider and not want two more of the same.

The dining room goes deep and wide, with a full bar up front and tables spaced out generously through the back. Paintings of hourglasses and stuff line the brick walls; I was told they came from local artists, perhaps by way of Bad Art Good Walls. In any case, the food’s pretty. A thick corn pudding and fried green tomatoes with goat cheese are welcome starts. The cocktail menu, designed by Liam Wager, features variations on classics like the Manhattan or the Sazerac.

Anthony Fontana, who fronts Stuffed Artisan Cannoli, cares for the dessert portion of Slide. He told me his cookie dough cannoli sees three pounds of chocolate chip cookie dough for every seven pounds of mascarpone and confectionary sugar, which accounts for the peanut butter-like consistency of what fills its chocolate-dipped shell. For something a little lighter, the cake batter cannoli fits a more traditional profile, with a twist akin to Momofuku Milk Bar’s cereal milk ice cream (the filling really tastes like cake batter). Judging by the way Fontana’s shirt was clinging, he’s probably never had one, but he certainly knows what he’s doing.

If any of this stuff makes you thirsty, a few sips of shake should help. Three frozen concoctions are available, served with suggested liquor pairings. I had a Sweet Home Alabama, made with butter pecan ice cream and Jim Beam. The dulce de leche shake matched up with Alhambra Lager works, too. Both carry a kick, although the fried chicken and ice cream combo should offset the liquor. Drunk is less likely an endpoint here than sated. But the latter’s all you really wanted.

[Related: BlackBook New York Guide; Listing for Slide; More by James Ramsay]

Latin Love: La Pulperia Comes to Hell’s Kitchen

On a stretch of West 46th Street where elderly tourists in oversized jackets stuff every window frame, one might hope that Latin newcomer La Pulperia can remain a gem just hidden enough. Two weeks after opening the signage has yet to go up outside, and the staff are in playful debate about whether to keep it that way. The door marked 371 is well worth seeking out, especially if partaking in co-owner Victor Medina’s tequila offerings won’t compromise, I don’t know, your evening plans with another revival of Sister Act.

The corridor of a dining room is cozy and generally unintimidating—a rope sashaying along the wooden ceiling makes the whole place, which backs up to an open kitchen, feel like the cabin of a fishing boat. Reclaimed wood and Edison bulbs are in attendance, but the cliché feels forgivable north of 29th Street.

The raw bar and ceviches are definite highlights. Ceviche mixto brings together calamari rings, a thick slice of avocado, and octopi the size of racquetballs. The ingenious salmon brûlée—a patty of salmon tartare topped with cream cheese and brown sugar, torched, and then drizzled with leche de tigre—is a true delight, and not just for those who enjoy cracking their food with a spoon.

Chef Carlos Barroz hails from Argentina, but the menu’s a pan-Latin amalgam. Pacu fish ribs—from a Brazilian cousin of the piranha that’ll grow to about 60 pounds—come stacked and lathered with a bold orange barbeque sauce. They’re served with coconut rice, which doesn’t overwhelm on the coconut front. The parillada—a board of Argentinian barbecued meats—is a tour of cow and pig anatomy: skirt steak, short ribs, sweetbreads, blood sausage, and chorizo. You can pace yourself with the meat; our waiter offered to give it a second flash on the grill. For dessert, alfajores (Argentinean cookies sandwiched with chocolate cream) come stacked like Lincoln Logs around a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

A modest wine list pulls from three continents, and one of the more adventurous cocktails features Kentucky bourbon, along with egg whites, orange juice, and orange bitters (“I love this country—I love America,” Medina assures me). But “Victor’s” cocktail—Riazul Reposado, sparkling water, and lime—is more indicative of the focus. This is a tequila establishment of the highest order. We compared Riazul Reposado and Silver before a bite of anything (“It opens up the palate.”) El Peloton de la Muerte mezcal and Partida Silver also line the cocktail menu, but there’s no shame in knocking them back straight. After all, you found the place. Cheers to that.

[Related: Listing for La Pulperia; BlackBook New York Guide; Subscribe to the BlackBook Happenings email newsletter; Download the free BlackBook City Guides app for iPhone and Android; More by James Ramsay]

J. Press’ Slimmer-Cut Line Opens Shop On Bleecker St.

“I think that the downward fall is going to be very fast…for the entire preppie class,” warned the serial deb escort Charlie Black in Whit Stillman’s 1990 bougie romp Metropolitan. Two decades later, for those preps still hanging on by a thread, that thread may as well be bright seersucker from the just-opened J. Press York Street, the sister line to the preppy label J.Press in Midtown East.

J. Press York Street – the college-oriented, slimmer-cut line by J.Press – opened its storefront last week on Bleecker, far enough from old-guard pinstripers to forge its own following. The clothing itself, designed by Ariel and Shimon Ovadia of Ovadia & Sons, has a playful way of pushing what one can wear and still command any respect. A madras blazer ($525) and all-white bowtie loafers ($430) would make a solid Tigertones getup for the springtime concerts. If you’re going for the Pete-Campbell-working-on-a-Sunday look, v-neck cricket sweaters in navy and white ($225) ought to do it.

Other items can come across as equal parts awesome and completely unrelated to the general theme. American-made red jeans ($195) would go great with a bright red cotton Barracuda jacket ($290)—like a Thriller getup that breathes and doesn’t kill cows. I asked the clerk if the designers themselves grew up in America. He confirmed they had (“they’re Jews from Brooklyn.”)

A room hidden behind faux bookshelf doors keeps an appropriately tame suit collection ($1450 for mid-gray heather or chalk-striped navy). Soft, draping pocket T’s in navy and sun-washed red ($85) come dotted with bandana-style paisley graphics, in lieu of sailboats or tennis rackets. Of course, there’s plenty of that club shit, too. A white shawl-collared cardigan ($225) bears a chest patch with crossed rackets that reads “York St. Tennis Club,” not unlike the hand-me-down “Polo Tennis Academy” sweater I rocked as a one-year-old. Similar juvenilia are peppered about; a multi-colored striped woven belt ($89) takes close examination to confirm it’s not needlepoint.

Throughout the shop, glass cases hold old wooden pipes, tattered Playboys from the ’70s, and tchotchkes from the personal collection of Scott Hill, who designed the layout. The first-edition Horatio Alger novels seem a bit out of place in what’s otherwise a debatably sincere shrine to Skull and Bones nepotism. You can buy a Yale lapel pin for $49 (J. Press itself debuted on the Yale campus), although Princeton’s looks cooler, so maybe go with that one.

What’s notably absent from the York Street label is eveningwear; you’ll have to trek uptown for those classic J. Press coattails and cummerbunds. What you can pick up, however, are four variations of a madras bowtie ($69), which just might be what the next deb season needs. After all, where’s the fun in taking yourself too seriously?

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.

New York Opening: Two Bit’s Retro Arcade

Why shout incoherently at a home video game console when you could do it at a bar in front of other people? “Yeah, son,” “Fuck-fuck-fuck,” and “Yes, yes, fuckin’ no,” were some of the lines overheard recently at Two-Bit’s Retro Arcade, a viscerally satisfying bar with an ambiguously punctuated name on the Lower East Side.

The arcade hall isn’t all that long, but they didn’t waste space with superfluous games. They have all the classics: Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Tetris, Kung-Fu Heroes. Some guy was clearly an expert at Arkanoid, the brick-breaker game (“I have this on my phone, so…”). The five pinball machines in the back include an Avengers set and one for the show 24. Hydro Thunder and Cruis’n World make up the driving games, which are especially interesting after a couple drinks. Actually, most of this stuff is really interesting after a couple drinks.

The owner, Perry Douston, is a big oenophile, and they’ve got about a dozen wines available (a guy yelling “get that turtle” at a Frogger game had a glass of Riesling). The beer taps feature a handful of craft selections, but bottles and cans fit the vibe a little better—the linoleum floor seems designed for cheap beer spills. Alongside 40s of Colt 45 are tall cans of DAB, which the bartender described as the German version of Pabst. The wine geek owner then opened a can of Coors Light—nobody judges.

Over the course of two hours, at least one group of teenagers and two families got thrown out for thinking it was an open arcade. It’s not. You have to be over 21 to get in, and there’s no age maximum, though I didn’t spot anyone beyond their mid-30s. There were two women; one was the bartender.

Barcade’s planned expansion into Chelsea is set to come with refined pub food. Two-Bit’s is more on a hot dogs and candy level. Why get fussy? With over twenty games, it’s tempting to bounce around, but if you hope to get very far with anything, it’s best to pick your match early on. After a DAB and a half, I’d settled on Police Trainer, rising through the ranks of Patrolman and Sargent all the way to Detective. I know this is a sensitive subject, but it turns out I’m pretty good at shooting at the numbers one through sixteen, in order (Sargent Level). Fuck yeah, son.