Jillette Johnson Samples Five Springtime Cocktails at Rogue & Canon, Responsibly

I think my friend at the record company sold me a bill of goods. “Jillette can drink me, you, and all the Virginmarys under the table,” he told me. I had my doubts, but was willing to give Jillette Johnson, the fetching young singer-songwriter, a chance. Yet here we are at Rogue & Canon, sampling no fewer than five cocktails, and she’s drinking … responsibly. Drinking like a mature, level-headed individual who makes her career a priority and has to go home later to work on some songs. A few sips of this, a few sips of that, pleasant banter, thoughtful answers, and a generally healthy attitude toward work and life. As Dorothy Parker would say: what the hell?

It would help the story if she fell off her chair, or at least got sozzled enough to dish some dirt on the celebrities she’s worked with, but no such luck. I made up for it, soaking up every drop of my cocktail quintet and even stopping by another bar on the way home for the world’s most ill-advised nightcap. So, which one of us just sold out Rockwood Music Hall and has a stellar debut album, Water in a Whale, coming out on Wind-up Records next month? That would be Jillette. And who woke up the next morning with his shoes still on, feeling like a cat had used his tongue as a litter box? No comment.

Irresponsibly responsible behavior aside, Jillette’s a pleasure to have a drink with, and Rogue & Canon in downtown Manhattan is a fantastic venue to do it. The latest spot from Johnny Swet and Larry Poston of Jimmy at the James, Cole’s Greenwich Village, and the late Hotel Griffou (RIP), it’s a casual-cool restaurant and bar with creative takes on comfort food like the Rogue Burger: crispy pork belly, peanut butter, onion marmalade, and aged cheddar. Swet, the visionary behind the cocktail menu, embraces an ethos he calls “accessible mixology.” That means the bar’s all about upscale, innovative drinks that aren’t too precious, with a healthy mix of classics and fresh new ideas. We’ll get to those soon enough.

As for Ms. Johnson, it’s impossible not to be taken by her work ethic. “My philosophy,” she explains, “is to tirelessly work, and forgive myself if I fuck up.” She began playing piano at 6, writing songs at 8, and playing out at 12. Her debut EP, Whiskey & Frosting, came out last year, unleashing a slew of heatseekers like “Pauvre Coeur,” a light yet melancholic ode to ephemeral infatuations with a video that features Jillette looking nice in her underwear.

Water in a Whale comes next, for which she’ll be touring the U.S. with a variety of different acts, including Delta Rae and the Saint Johns. She’ll even perform at Bonnaroo in June, a high-profile enough gig to explain her circumspect approach to a booze-soaked Tuesday night interview. After steadily growing her career for more than a decade, she’s got a lot to lose.

She’s got a lot to drink too, and even though she won’t see the bottom of any of her glasses, she gracious and articulate as she samples each one of Swet’s luscious libations and offers a few words of critique. Let’s get guzzling.

Cocktail #1: Spring Awakening

Tito’s Vodka, Cucumber, Parsley, Lemon, Honey, Seltzer

“This is the kind of thing I could get in serious trouble with. It’s delicious—it feels like I’m eating a salad. It’s something to drink on a Sunday afternoon when you’re hung over. It could be sold at the Olympics as Gatorade.”

Cocktail #2: Bourbon Rose

Bulleit Bourbon, Dry Vermouth, Cassis, Lemon

“Ah, this is my kind of drink. I gravitate to hearty, holiday-ish cocktails. The lemon makes it more of a happy hour drink. It reminds me of being in the East Village right after dinner and right before I get in trouble. The finish is like red wine. Whiskey’s my drink. The reason I got started on whiskey is my dad, who drinks Johnnie Black on the rocks. There’s nothing more gratifying than going home to visit my parents and having a tumbler of Scotch with my dad.”

Cocktail #3: Applejacked

Zubrowka Vodka, Laird’s Applejack, Cranberry, Lime, Agave Nectar

“It’s love at first sip with this one, then over the long term it becomes like an apple Jolly Rancher. There’s so much flavor in it, even in small doses. This would be a good Kentucky Derby drink.”

Cocktail #4: Mint Sazerac

Templeton Rye, Herbsaint, Muddled Mint, Peychaud’s Bitters

“This I love. This is my favorite. It has such a smooth finish. It doesn’t burn. I would order this every time. It’s a real drink.”

Cocktail #5: Boulevardier

Knob Creek Bourbon, Campari, Sweet Vermouth

“I love this one too, but I think I’d only have one of them in a night because it’s bitter. I like the depth of it and the citrus element. This drink is me getting dolled up on a cool night for a hot date. [Jillette says she’s single.] It’s interesting to think about who wins in this drink, the sweet side or the bitter side. My favorites tonight, in order: 1. Mint Sazerac 2. Boulevardier 3. Bourbon Rose 4. Spring Awakening 5. Applejacked. All in all, excellent." 

Photo: Rebecca Miller

[For more great spots to drink responsibly, check out the BlackBook New York Guide; Listings for Rogue & Canon, Jimmy, Cole’s; Jillette Johnson Official Site; Wind-up Records; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter]

Lyon Gets Revamped As Cole’s Greenwich Village

I was sad to see the French brassiere Lyon go last year, but with the onset of Cole’s Greenwich Village in the old spot, parting isn’t such sweet sorrow. After all, the new joint, owned by Lyon’s own Penny Bradley, skips the coque au vin and steak frites, and instead, they specialize in dry-aged Prime New York Strip, fresh pasta, and novel takes on classic cocktails.

On the food side, Bradley has commissioned chef Daniel Eardley, from the now closed Chestnut, who brings his knowledge of seasonal and local cuisine to the table. Try dishes including the grilled sardines with duck-fat potatoes, Eardley’s Tuscan kale salad with parmesan, a double-cut pork chop with white polenta and fig jus, and their stout-braised ribs.

Handling the drink side is booze maverick, Johnny Swet from Jimmy at The James. This means you can waltz into the corner bistro and try drinks laced with all sorts of fun stuff including honey, sage, mint, and peppercorns. Swet acts as a managing partner with David Rabin from The Lamb’s Club and Jimmy at The James‘s Larry Poston.

The space, while it maintains the integrity of its triangular shape, now is decked out with prints and sketches giving it more of a gastropub feel than the classic French that was there before. It’s 2013 folks, just like Bradley, I say, out with the old, in with the new-old-style eateries. 

Aasif Mandvi Gets To Know the Cocktails of Summer 2012

Aasif Mandvi meets me on the exceedingly pleasant pool deck at Jimmy, a posh cocktail lounge on the 18th floor of the James hotel in lower Manhattan popular with models, actors, and bewildered European tourists. It’s late afternoon and the sun is high in a cloudless sky, taking its sweet time floating across the Hudson before disappearing somewhere in western New Jersey. Johnny Swet, who runs the cocktail program at Jimmy—and also owns, with Larry Poston, the elegant Hotel Griffou—is going over with us the details of the evening’s cocktails, a collection of summer drinks that represent innovative takes on the classics as well as a few new ideas. 

It’s an appropriately sophisticated way for Mandvi to break his fast. The actor, comedian, and writer has been teetotal for six months, going on a self-imposed booze hiatus to focus on his creative pursuits, of which there are many. He’s a regular correspondent for The Daily Show, interviewing "crazy people and racists" across the country and trading quips with Jon Stewart. He’s been acting in a number of movies, from Premium Rush with Joseph Gordon Levitt, to Gods Behaving Badly with Christopher Walken, to Ruby Sparks with Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan. He even had a "teeny weeny role" in Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator. He’s been promoting the DVD release of his 2010 romantic comedy Today’s Special, including taping a "culinary tour of New York" that aired on the Cooking Channel. And he’s been writing an as-yet-untitled book. 
"It’s a collection of essays about my life, my childhood in England, both pre-9/11 and post-9/11 America, and growing up as a brown kid of Muslim origin," he says. So what’s it like growing up as a brown kid of Muslim origin? "You’ll have to wait for the book," he adds. "Or just watch Fox News, they know what it’s like."  What we know, however, is that there are seven sublime cocktails that await our critique, so we head inside to a corner banquette, as Mandvi deftly parries the advances of a teetering fan ("Oh my god, are you on The Daily Show? What’s your name?") and tastes the sweet elixir of al-kuḥl that he denied himself for half a year. The results are enlightening. 
Curious George
Muddle a 2 inch chunk of ripe banana with ½ oz lime juice in a cocktail shaker. Add ice, 2 oz Linie Aquavit, and ½ oz simple syrup. Shake and strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh cubed ice. Add a dash of St. George Absinthe Verte and a dash of chocolate bitters. 
"I love the licorice taste in this. To use a musical metaphor, it has a nice bass line to it. It has substance and weight. The banana adds to the tactile experience. It’s like an alcoholic smoothie, and you get your potassium."
Blair Witch Cocktail
In a tall glass, pour 2 oz Original Moonshine, ½ oz lime juice, and ½ oz Velvet Falernum. Add cubed ice and top with birch beer. Stir and garnish with fresh bay leaf and brandied cherries. 
"It reminds me of Dandelion and Burdock, a drink I had growing up in England. It makes me want to watch The Blair Witch Project again. I think that if you drank this cocktail and then watched the movie it would make more sense. Whenever I hear moonshine it makes me think of The Dukes of Hazzard. Cocktails in general have a femininity to them but this is a man’s drink." 
Rosarito Beach Margarita
Muddle two fresh strawberries with a sprig of cilantro in a rocks glass. Add 2 oz Herradura Silver Tequila, ½ oz agave nectar, and ½ oz lime juice. Add crushed ice and stir until frosty. Garnish with a strawberry slice and a sprig of cilantro. 
"I like the cilantro, it’s kind of minty. I usually drink margaritas when I’m trying to get laid. I’m a big fan of tequila. Margaritas just make me happy, this one especially. It looks like an aquarium of strawberries." 
Going Back to Cali
Muddle 3 chunks of avocado in a shaker with 3/4 oz of lime juice. Add ice, 1/2 oz of Tuaca Vanilla Citrus Liqueur, and 2 oz of aged rum. Shake hard and fine strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.
"This has a custardy feeling to it. It’s like a meal. Very creamy. Like a salad and a dessert mixed in one. I feel like I’m eating Key lime pie out of a martini glass. There’s something very soothing about it." 
Summer Negroni
In an ice-filled rocks glass add 1 oz Nolet’s Gin, 1 oz Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth, and 1 oz Campari. Stir and garnish with an orange peel. To make it extra sexy use one large block of ice instead of cubed ice.
"This is ayurvedic. It’s a sipper. It’s a very grown-up cocktail. I may actually be too immature for this cocktail. There’s a bitter quality to it, it has an edge. It’s businesslike. You’re at the Soho House signing contracts with this one. I like things that have a huge chunk of ice in the middle, like me." 
Grapes of Wrath
In a tall glass muddle 3 green grapes. Add 2 oz of Crop Organic Cucumber Vodka, 3/4 oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, and 1/2 oz of lemon juice. Add ice and stir in club soda. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary.
"It’s so refreshing you could swim in this cocktail. This is one of my favorites. It feels fun, like I’m out by the pool. It feels like summer to me, like lemonade. It puts me on a raft in a pool in Miami."
Grilled Pineapple Mojito
Muddle 6 mint leaves and 6 chunks of grilled pineapple in a shaker. Add 2 ounces Barbancourt Haitian rum, 1 oz pineapple juice, and ½ oz lime juice. Dry shake and strain into a tall glass. Add crushed ice and stir. Garnish with mint and a slice of grilled pineapple.
"When I look at this I think of Africa. It might be my favorite cocktail of the evening. This is like a crocodile. No, I take that back, it’s not like a crocodile, but there’s a deadliness to it. It reminds me of a girl I knew who looked slutty but was actually very sweet. I want to say it’s dirty. It looks like swamp water and tastes like fun."
[Photo: Yves Salmon]

Industry Insiders: Mark Strausman, Johnny Swet, and Larry Poston

When Johnny Swet (left) and Larry Poston (right) opened Hotel Griffou in New York’s Greenwich Village in 2009, it immediately attracted a host of bold-faced names to the eclectic, exotic space that brings to mind a 19th century boardinghouse. With its reputation firmly established, the duo decided to push things even further last year by bringing on board a dynamic new chef with a serious pedigree. With experience in restaurants in both Europe and the U.S., including the much loved Fred’s at Barneys New York and his own Agriturismo in the Hudson Valley, Mark Strausman (center) brings a new touch of creativity to the Griffou kitchen, while continuing to turn out the dishes that made it a neighborhood favorite. 

What do you have planned for the menu at Hotel Griffou? Mark Strausman: I came on board in mid-September and wanted to make the food a little bit more approachable. I’m someone who believes that when you take over a space, you have to remember what the space was before you got there. And it was very loose before I got there, kind of like a downtown speakeasy but with a little bit of an Italian and a little bit of a fish thing going on. So my idea was to make good Italian country food that people could share, but keep it in the New York vein. I wanted to do something fun, so we’re doing individual pizzas made the artisanal southern Italian way, with handmade dough and really good farm ingredients. I have a restaurant in the Hudson Valley and I bring down the hamburger, I bring down the suckling pig from the Valley. We’ll also have sliced, cured, and dried meats – the kinds of things that people can eat with Johnny’s cocktails, and go well with a glass of wine.

What’s your restaurant in the Hudson Valley called?
MS: It’s called Agriturismo, and I still run Fred’s at Barneys New York. I’ve been at Fred’s for 15 years, I’m the managing director there. It’s a very upscale, white table cloth kind of place. So when the opportunity at Griffou came along, I thought Wow, what a great thing to have a downtown restaurant. That’s kind of different. Creatively, it’s fun.
What is the difference between a white table cloth uptown place compared to a downtown place like Griffou?
MS: You’ve got to keep it simpler. At Fred’s we can do things at dinner more elegantly, with an elaborate table service. Here the tables are smaller and we have fewer deuces coming in and more parties of four women together or four guys together, just hanging out, and the food is really good, or course, but it doesn’t get in the way, it’s not fussy. At Fred’s it’s a little bit more international, we have people from all over the world over there. 
What’s it like working with Johnny Swet and Larry Poston?
MS: I thought it was a fun challenge and I really hit it off with these guys. I respect their sensibility, and they were just looking for good food. What I love is, I don’t have to worry about the front of the house because you got Larry and Johnny out there, so it’s a great team. I can just concentrate on the food and the kitchen and not have to worry about who’s sitting where and all that stuff. And I love the staff they had in place. My whole thing is, I don’t want to put anyone on unemployment. Everyone said, “You’re going to bring your own crew.” But this is New York City. People have rent to pay, no one can follow you, and we really didn’t lose anybody. Anyway, what do you want to lose a cook for? He knows where the lemons are! They’re good guys, they’re really generous and easygoing.
Where did you grow up?
MS: I grew up in a city housing project in Queens. I have a degree in hotel management. I worked in Europe for four years, in Amsterdam and Germany.
What was that like?
MS: It was all classical French cooking. We had so many white truffles in that hotel in Germany. We used to get five kilos at a time of white truffles, you could smell them down the block. You know, because the Germans are real gourmands.
Are there any particular ingredients you like working with?
MS: We have a purveyor that we buy wild mushrooms from, and I love working with mushrooms like chanterelles and porcinis. Right now I’m trying to work with as many local ingredients as possible and then getting a few things from Italy, like these amazing wild dandelions that are grown outside of Rome. I always say, eat as much local as you can and then you don’t have to worry about the carbon footprint. When everything on your menu is coming from all the way around the world it’s not cool. I prefer to use pears this time of year instead of raspberries, things like that. 
Johnny, how has it been working with Mark so far? 
Johnny Swet: I think things are working out well and Mark brings a maturity and a great reputation throughout the city – people know his food. We’ve always been kind of a fashionable downtown spot and with Mark working up at Barneys and that crowd also, now there’s a place to have his food downtown, so that’s exciting. It seems like kind of the missing link. It fits together well.
Do you have any favorites on the new menu?
JS: I love the suckling pig, and I love all the pastas. What I like about the menu is that you can come down three different nights a week and try completely different dishes each time. It’s all about how you really want to eat, which is great with the cocktail program we have. When you’re sitting down at the table and you see people eating and smiling and talking and they’re just caught up in the moment it’s just what you want a restaurant to be. 
Are you just focused on Griffou right now, or do you spend a lot of time at Jimmy?
JS: Yeah, Griffou’s my baby. I love Jimmy because it’s a fun diversion for creativity with all the cocktails, but my main focus is Griffou.
Larry, how are you feeling with Mark coming aboard? 
Larry Poston: I loved all of our other chefs in the past, they’re great guys, but you do get an amazing sense of experience and know-how from Mark. Also, I like that he’s been a chef in New York City for a long time and has a loyal following, not just customers but people he’s worked with. It’s a very small world, I suppose. We get to know each other the longer we live in New York City. The restaurant business is tricky for anyone and you have to have a sense of humor about it, and Mark has what it takes.

Industry Insiders: David Rabin, Johnny Swet, & Larry Poston of Jimmy at the James

When you ask three nightlife veterans to transform the top of one of New York’s most fashionable new hotels into an intimate lounge, the result is bound to be exciting. But with the opening of Jimmy at The James hotel in Soho, David Rabin (center), Johnny Swet (left), and Larry Poston (right) have created nothing less than an 18th-floor paradise, with original art on the walls, creative cocktails on the menu, and breathtaking views of lower Manhattan from every seat in the house.

Jimmy is the latest in a string of successful nightspots for Rabin, who left a career as a lawyer to open Rex in 1990. Its success quickly led to other endeavors, including the first western-style nightclub in Moscow. (“I still haven’t told my mother half the stories,” Rabin says.) Back in New York, he and his business partner opened now-classic venues Union Bar, Lotus, Double Seven, and the Lambs Club. When approached about Jimmy, Rabin jumped at the chance, provided he could bring along two uniquely creative talents. “I was blown away by what Johnny and Larry created at Hotel Griffou,” Rabin says.

Swet’s introduction to the nightlife industry came just days after moving to New York from Los Angeles, landing a job at the Bowery Bar on the day it opened. “They said, ‘That’s your table,’ and Courtney Love was sitting there. I was like, I think I’m going to like this.” He was soon working with Keith McNally to open restaurants Balthazar and Pastis, and eventually became the general manager of Freemans. But it was the exclusive West Village boîte Hotel Griffou, which he opened with Pastis maître d’ Poston in 2009, that made him a perfect fit for Jimmy.

A native of North Carolina, Poston began his career as an actor in LA, which led to a job as a pool boy at the Chateau Marmont, passing out towels to Julia Roberts and once dropping a full room-service tray in front of André Balazs. He made the move to New York, learning the ropes at Pastis and Graydon Carter’s Waverly Inn. While it’s not even six months old, JImmy is already looking like a downtown institution, drawing a healthy mix of New Yorkers, hotel guests, and celebrities. The party is even better during the summer, as the outdoor terrace and pool deck let the fun spill out under the stars.

[Photo: Brett Moen]

A Tanteo Tequila Valentine’s Day Cocktail

Last night, at Casa Tanteo in Soho, two mixologists went head-to-head in a boozy battle for the tequila brand’s popular “Mexican Standoff” series. Kevin Denton of The Roof Top at Gramercy Park Hotel and Ben Demarchelier of L’oubli were put to the test behind the bar, where they whipped up drinks for a panel of judges that included Tanteo’s in-house mixologist Jason Mendenhall, Johnny Swet of Hotel Griffou, James Jung of NBC’s The Feast, Renee Lucas of CITY magazine, and CBS Sunday Morning correspondent Serena Altschul.

During three 15-minute segments, the mixologists conjured up creative cocktails using Tanteo Cocoa, Tanteo Jalapeno, and Tanteo Tropical, and the evening’s secret ingredients: kumquats, fennel, and cardamon. Denton was eventually crowned the winner, scoring top points in two out of three rounds. And lucky for you, we managed to get our hands on the recipe for Denton’s prize-winner, a perfect Valentine’s Day cocktail.

If There Ain’t Pink in It, I Ain’t Drinkin’ It

2 oz of Tanteo Cocoa .75 oz of Lime Juice .5 oz of Orange Juice .5 oz of simple syrup 3 Kumquats 1 Orange Peel Add ingredients into shaker, muddle Strain into highball glass and top with espuma

Industry Insiders: Larry Poston, Room Service Provider

Larry Poston officially opened the West Village resto Hotel Griffou with business partner Johnny Swet on July 1. Poston made his name in New York restaurant circles as a manager at Pastis and the Waverly Inn, and Swet gained his hospitality know-how at Balthazar and Freemans. Most recently occupying the 9th Street space was notorious speakeasy Marylou’s, but the name of the new joint is after the original, French 1870s occupants. The modern dining rooms are themed as a salon, library, and artist’s studio with a French-inspired classic cuisine menu. Poston gives us an inside look at the new spot.

What are you focusing on now that you’re open for business? My business partner Johnny and I are really priding ourselves on great food and great service. That’s what we know. We’ve learned from Keith McNally that no matter all the fanfare and no matter what comes in, great food and great service are the only things that keep them coming back ten years down the road.

How did you first meet Keith McNally? I started waiting tables at Pastis in 2000, so I interviewed with Keith. He hired me, and I worked there for six months and then moved out to LA with dreams of being an actor. I was a pool boy at the Chateau Marmont for four months. So that was my West Coast experience. I hated LA. I came back and started waiting tables again at Pastis. They promoted me to manager on the floor, and I worked at Pastis for six years.

Most important thing you learned from McNally? Keith had been a maître d’ when he first started out. He taught me a lot as far as what to look for with people, and he would say, don’t just seat the people in front of you with the suits and the flashy money, because they always get a table. Look behind them and see the nervous couple or the little old couple or the funky-looking group that doesn’t always get a table, and seat them. That adds to the room and also keeps that eclectic mix of New York going. You don’t always want suits, you don’t always want fashion people, you don’t want all of any one thing. I would love to have Mick Jagger over here, some drag queens over there with a rock band and then some Wall Street guys. That’s what keeps it interesting. That’s New York to me.

Then you worked with another legend, Graydon Carter. It was just that time, that point of trying something new and spreading your wings and getting out there. And that’s when I met Graydon Carter over at the Waverly Inn. That was a whole other aspect of service and learning people because that’s a man who is like maître d’ to the stars. He’s the epitome of a host. It’s his room, and he knows where everyone should go. I got to know a lot of names at the Waverly Inn, obviously.

What’s the Waverly’s secret for remaining A-list over the years? You have Eric Goode and Sean McPherson who know restaurants, and they also have their own chic clientele of people who they bring to any project they’re involved in. You get that mixed with the energy of Graydon Carter and all these amazing A-listers in there for a great dining experience. You get the mix of a person who knows the people and the people who know how to run a restaurant. Once, I was telling a friend some of the names who went in the place one night, and he was like, “So, what you’re telling me is, if the Waverly was to explode right now, it would be the end of civilization.”

What’d you take from that experience to opening Hotel Griffou? How to deal with certain people. There are a million different personalities here in New York City, and then you have a certain amount of clientele that is …

High maintenance? Well, the great surprise is when the ones you expect to be high maintenance aren’t. It’s just having to deal with personalities. Higher-end personalities have higher expectations. You learn how to coddle egos in a way. I think that’s what the Waverly taught me: how to really deal with egos. That’s a good way to say it.

What came first for Hotel Griffou — the concept or the space? Johnny and I talked about doing this for awhile, and we had a concept. We had this place over in the East Village at one point, because we were thinking of modeling after some of those southern juke joints, speakeasy-type places that have great names like the Playboy Club or the Lizard Lounge. But you have to walk into a space that feels right. Johnny worked at Freemans, and I worked at the Waverly Inn, and both those places are very unique — Freemans is down that alley, and the Waverly Inn is at the bottom of a townhouse. In New York. It has to have a special vibe or a special space, then the bones were here and boom. I was never here for the Marylou’s experience, but I’d heard these amazing stories about what was here before. We’re hoping we can return it to some of its past glory.

You’re obviously alluding to that with the name. Hotel Griffou was what is was in the late 1800s. It was owned by this woman by the name of Madame Marie Griffou. It became this real mecca of ideals, artists, writers, and poets. One of the true stories is that Mae West actually did come here after her indecency trial, which is funny.

How long has this been in the works? From embryo to now — about two years. We initially started construction this past February.

What’s your favorite part of the interior? I can’t really choose. The inspiration Johnny and I talked about was an artist’s town house. There’s something about the feel of the salon, and I like the studio because of the crazy art and all the work that’s been contributed. Johnny spearheaded the design, but it was collaborative, and all the work that was contributed was by artist friends.

How much input did you have in the menu with chef Jason Michael Giordano (of Spice Market)? Johnny and I had ideas of what we wanted on the menu . We wanted those traditional dishes. Classical American cuisine is what we called it, and then we discovered that this place was owned by a French woman, and we had to throw a French nod to the cuisine. We wanted a signature dish, which is the lobster thermidor fondue.

Is that the most popular menu item? Yes, as well as the poutine, which is French fries with duck confit topped with a little buffalo mozzarella. It’s amazing. Also, the fried seafood basket, which is something from home. I love fried food, fried fish, cod, fried shrimp, fried oyster, with chips, we’re calling it Calabash, we’re not going to call it Southern, but yeah, that’s exactly what it is. It’s a mix of some rich dishes and some light dishes. We thought that the idea of a great restaurant was that you can go here three or four nights a week and always have a new experience.

True that the pork cutlet recipe was found on the menu from the 1800s here? It’s very true. We have a sautéed pork cutlet recipe that was on the original Madame Marie Griffou menu from 1892. They’re sautéed, lightly breaded with this delicious pork gravy au jus with green beans. They’re delectable.

How was your soft opening? It was great because we invited a lot of industry people that we’d worked for and trusted their opinion. We got really good feedback and notes that we can take with us to keep improving. You get a little anxiety about your peers coming, and knowing you’re going to really hear the truth — which can be unpleasant, but always necessary. The bottom line is that everyone was pleased with the look, the feel, and the vibe of the place, which is important.

Where do you go out? I like Norwood a lot, and Little Branch. As far as dining I still love Indochine and also Peasant.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure? The Real Housewives of Atlanta.

Photo: Scott Pasfield