EMM Group Opens The General, A Sure-Fire Hit

I’ve was invited to the friends and family opening of The Generalthe new restaurant from EMM Group at Bowery and Spring. EMM is Eugene Remm, Mark Birnbaum, and Michael Hirtenstein. They are the force behind Abe & Arthur’s, CATCH, CATCH Roof, CATCH Miami, Lexington Brass, SL, SL East, Tenjune, Chandelier Room, Revel Nightlife, FINALE, and Bow, and lots of other stuff. Bow and Finale are the other parts of the Spring and Bowery space that once housed Boulevard and Crash Mansion. Executive chef Hung Huynh of Top Chef fame offers up modern Asian cuisine in a red-chaired gilded wallpapered paradise. All the inside-info is here.

Opening up this time of year is interesting. Most operators look to open in the early or late stages of spring or fall, and with 300 seats, there will be a lot of kinks to be worked out. Groups like EMM have fewer kinks than most.  Opening now allows the place to hit its stride as the nice weather and affluent snowbirds return. They can do no wrong in my book. The General stretches the Bowery strip from its previous above-Houston Street border where joints like Daniel Boulud’s DBGB, Gemma, Peels and many others serve neighborhood residents and well-heeled visitors. This is not the Bowery of my youth. Little Steve Lewis trivia: my great uncle was one of the famed Bowery Boys.

Most clubs reported near-normal attendees for the week after New Year’s but much lower revenues. People went out but seemed to be tapped or burnt out.  For all except for the very top operators, New Year’s Eve is a loss when you account for the naturally slower nights preceding it and the after-effects. I’m still beat up from all the rushing around, and Christmas bills are still being paid. Getting me out requires special coaxing.

Many people obviously get terribly drunk on New Year’s Eve and try hard to slow it down for a couple of weeks. Then there are those resolutions which often include a step back from the boozing. My resolutions always end in a vow to break all my resolutions ASAP. We are still enjoying tourist dollars, but those will fade away as vacation bucks tend to fly to warmer climates this time of year. The cold keeps people in and, well, you get the idea.

EMM group is way ahead of this game. They have a built-in clientele that’s enamored with all their other joints. CATCH is still more than killing it, and the word "NEW" is always a sure draw. The General, a NEW offering from an established hospitality group enters as a sure thing. I’ll keep you posted.

Drink Your Perfect Bloody Mary: Lexington Brass Launches New DIY Bloody Mary Bar

Now that Midtown East’s classy American bistro Lexington Brass has launched their DIY Bloody Mary Bar, weekend brunchers everywhere can drink Their Perfect Bloody Mary. The Sunday & Saturday afternoon addition equips you with your own little checklist of ingredients – from spirit to rim to spice – that you mark with a pencil, hand to the bartender, and watch (and salivate) as they make their mixing magic with your choices.

For $9, you can choose between sauces like Worcestershire, Tabasco, and/or horseradish; yummy little toppings like pickled okra, pepperoncini, and celery; and even an additional $5 upgrade to the big boys: Grey Goose, Sapphire, or Avion.

It’s fun getting what you want, isn’t it?

Get the inside-scoop on Lexington Brass, & follow Bonnie on Twitter here

EMM Group’s Sweetest Weapon: Pastry Chef Thiago Silva

Arriving ravenous to an interview with a renowned pastry chef was a bad idea. I knew it the moment Thiago Silva – the 28-year-old Brazilian executive pastry chef behind all OF EMM Group’s restaurants –  placed a massive, glazed green tea donut and mini honey jar before me, and uttered three little words: “It’s cream-filled.” With that, I was off to the races, cutting open the donut, scooping up the green tea mascarpone cream, drizzling the honey all over its lemon honeycomb-topped self, and leaving no crumb behind. Thiago wasn’t fazed. It’s most patrons’ natural response to the signature dessert at The General – EMM’s newest hotspot: an Asian-inspired bar, restaurant, and downstairs jazz lounge.

But at The General, the doughnut doesn’t stop there; the Bowery spot has become known for Thiago’s most nostalgic, breakfast creation: cereal-topped doughnuts. Yes, doughnuts topped with Fruity Pebbles, Cocoa Puffs, or Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and filled with their respective cereal creams. “A lot of people think I was high when I came up with the idea,” Thiago says. “But I wanted a breakfast item, so I combined my favorite breakfast cereals with my really great doughnut recipe.”

The doughnut recipe is another wildfire idea Thiago’s concocted that’s become EMM Group’s top-ordered dessert across all their restaurants. On the sweets menus of their spots CATCH NY, CATCH Miami, Lexington Brass, and Abe & Arthur’s, you’ll find one signature doughnut. For CATCH Miami, it’s their key lime doughnut. At The General, it’s green tea. For the rest it changes, with flavors like pumpkin and peaches and cream.

But Thiago – the man who grew up in Astoria and ironically bellowed “Feed me, feed me, Seymour” in his star-turn as the man-eating house plant in his high school’s production of Little Shop of Horrors  – brings more than doughnuts and plated desserts to NYC. He’s also a master of cakes, known for creating outrageous cakes for EMM’s clients, most notably a four-foot-by-four-foot 16th birthday cake with a confetti cannon, fog machine, and lights. Suddenly, the chef doubles as an electrician.

“I googled how to do the electrical and wood work for the cake,” says Thiago. “And that’s what I love about making cakes – you never make the same cake twice, you never know what kind of order you’ll get. It’s a collaboration with the client, and you’ve got to deliver and make it memorable.”

Thiago, who’s had no formal culinary training, has made lots of memorable cakes for folks you might recognize: Brooke Shields, three cakes for Sofia Vergara, and the entire New York Giants squad, the day after they won the Super Bowl.

“That was the best, they’re my team,” says Thiago. “And Sofia is funny; she told everyone at the party that she stayed up all night making the cake.”

But nowadays the chef is staying up all night for a whole new reason: he and his wife have just had a baby boy. Full name: James Brenden Silva (adorable video here).

“He’s my favorite kind of sweet,” Thiago says. “Him, and tiramisu.”

The General

Learn more about chef Thiago Silva, & follow Bonnie on Twitter here

Jade Dynasty: A Retro Hotel and Tavern for the Village

In contemporary New York, you have to look backward to be forward. The city’s first new lodging of 2013, The Jade Hotel, takes its cues from almost a century ago. The name sounds like the setting for a noir murder mystery, which is fitting given the Art Deco styling inside. Twenties Paris blends with classic-era Greenwich Village for an elegant new boutique.

Up in the rooms you’ll find quirky touches like rotary phones and analog clock radios. There are lux accents (ebony, marble, and leather) and colors (crimson and gold) in rooms inspired by Deco legend Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann. Given the central location in the low-rise Village, you can also expect killer views from the upper-story berths.

The in-house tavern, Grape & Vine, carries over the retro theme. The speakeasy trend won’t die here: antiques and a fireplace recall venues like ur-Village hang the Grapevine Tavern. Beatnik-era pics nod to the nabe’s ’50s heyday, but the menu is of the moment. Frederick Lesort, of Opia and Plein Sud fame, delivers a Nouveau American array with locavore shadings. The nearby Union Square Greenmarket helps source Cobb salads with duck confit, and grilled tofu with mango and spicy quinoa.

Lesort has an all-star team pitching in. Executive chef Vincent Ricciardelli is coming off of stints at Artisanal and Lexington Brass, and the sommelier is from Bouley. As a hotel operation, all three meals are served, running through the far side of midnight. There are fancy cocktails, of course, and a full juice program. You can mortify yourself after a rough night with a blend of fresh-pressed celery, kale, cilantro, cucumber, and lime. Grape & Vine opens its doors on Monday, March 4.

[Related: BlackBook New York Guide; Listings for The Jade Hotel and Grape & Vine; Download the free BlackBook City Guides app for iPhone and Android; Subscribe to the BlackBook Happenings email newsletter.]

Industry Insiders: Jo Rausch, Maitre D’ at Lexington Brass

At Lexington Brass, Iowa-native Jo Rausch knows most of her guests by name—and with good reason. As the maitre d’ of one of New York’s classiest American bistros, she encounters a gaggle of regulars daily, all looking for an enjoyable time alongside their lobster mac ‘n’ cheese and buttermilk fried chicken. But her career didn’t start as maitre ‘d; she worked her way up across the EMM Group’s lauded venues, from bottle waitress to host. Here, our September 2012 Industry Insider shares her average day, where she gets her favorite cocktail in NYC, and her encounter with one of the hottest actors in Hollywood.

What inspires your work in the hospitality business?
When I went to the University of Northern Iowa, I took advantage of every travel program offered. I climbed the ancient steps of the Acropolis, ran straight off of the Swiss Alps with a parachute on, stood in awe of the Sistine Chapel, and danced and sang on tables at Oktoberfest. Travel opens your eyes and puts you on a different level of understanding people and culture. You can manage life so much better with an open-minded view of things. That is directly transferable to my everyday life working in hospitality.

What does your job as maitre d’ entail? What’s an average day like for you? 
My day starts with a giant cup of Stumptown coffee when I get to work—it’s life changing. We serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner at Lexington Brass so there is never a dull moment for us. I go through reservations and plot the floor for lunch. A casual diner won’t pick up on the amount of planning that goes behind your seating arrangement. I spend the afternoon reaching out to guests and keeping up with our regulars. Hospitality doesn’t have a down time and that’s one of the many reasons it keeps me interested and challenged.

Describe the food and atmosphere at Lexington Brass. What do you think is unique about it that keeps people coming back?
We have an awesome team here and when you start with that solid base the rest comes very easily. Our menu is classic American bistro with a lot of unique flavor pairings. Executive chef Chris Leahy is so creative and always trying out new things here for us. The dessert menu is where I get into trouble though: the Fried Apple Pie is incredible! 

You’ve been working with the EMM Group for years. Describe the brand and what has kept you working with it.
When I started with the company, The Chandelier Room was their second venue. I’ve watched the company quadruple in size over my three years with them. That in itself is a phenomenal testament to the drive and work ethic that keeps them going. I’ve also loved being part of a company that you can grow with; if you have the drive, they recognize it and help you actualize your potential.

Where are your favorite places to drink and dine?
My friends and I have been working our way through Adam Platt’s top 101 restaurants list and, as you might guess, Eleven Madison Park has been my favorite, but I also love classic tiny spots like the original Westville. For drinks you can find me all over the place, from The Red Lion listening to an amazing David Bowie cover band, to Catch with my favorite tequila cocktail—the Cane—in hand. (For an extended list of Jo Rausch’s all-time favorite NYC spots, click here. )

What’s the greatest lesson and advice you’ve learned across your career in nightlife?
You have to remember that everyone that walks through the door is there to have a good time and your job is to make sure that happens. If you aren’t having fun, that will manifest its way to your guests. When I go to work I don’t feel like it’s a job and I think that’s the key to happiness in your career.

Amid your work as a bottle waitress, host, and now Maitre D’, what is the craziest thing you’ve encountered someone do?
That’s a story to tell over drinks but it involves John Stamos, or maybe that was just a dream I had.  

Industry Insiders: Eugene Remm, Mark Birnbaum, Michael Hirtenstein, & Hung Huynh

It looks like it’s going to be a while before Eugene Remm, Mark Birnbaum, and Michael Hirtenstein (seated, left to right) get a vacation. While they’re already busy running such white-hot New York nightspots as Tenjune and SL, the EMM Group partners now have two exciting new restaurants to oversee. The first, Lexington Brass, is a stylish New American bistro in the Hyatt 48 hotel that serves three meals a day, seven days a week, along with signature cocktails and craft beers. The second, Catch, is poised to become nothing less than Manhattan’s seafood Mecca, with multiple levels, a glass-enclosed rooftop lounge, an outdoor terrace, and some major firepower in the kitchen courtesy of Top Chef Season 3 winner Hung Huynh (standing).

“Catch represents a dream come true,” says Remm. “It keeps our company expanding while maintaining the integrity and standards of our other properties.” The restaurant fits the Meatpacking District to a tee, while offering an experience that is at once comfortable and invigorating. “From the outside, Catch fits in with the industrial aesthetic of the neighborhood,” adds Birnbaum.  “Inside it’s such a warm, glowing space – people have raved about the interior, and, most importantly, they’ve loved the food.”  As striking as the design is, it’s the people that complete the experience. “It’s a beautiful space, and we have the staff and team to do it justice,” says Hirtenstein. But what can the dining public expect from a trio with a background in nightlife? “When we opened Abe & Arthur’s there was a lot of chatter that we were just club kids, and that we would be one-hit wonders in the restaurant world,” explains Remm. “That just motivated us to put out an exceptional product. Our food is excellent, but our client base wants more than that, and we know how to deliver it.” For his part, Executive Chef Huynh is in his element. “For as long as I can remember, all I ever wanted to do was cook, and every day I’m striving for perfection,” he says. “I turned down a lot of opportunities in search of this. This is my dream kitchen.”

Tell me a little bit about your background. Where were you born, where did you grow up, and what kinds of things were you into as a kid?

Remm: I was born in Russia and immigrated with my parents, first to Queens and then to Bergen County, New Jersey, where I grew up.  I’ve always loved sports – basketball and tennis in particular.  And I’ve had a passion for music from a very early age.

Birnbaum: I was born and raised in Long Island. As a kid I liked driving go-karts and playing tennis.   And I played video games … Constantly.

Hirtenstein: I was born and raised in New York City and hope to never leave!

Huynh: I was born in Vietnam, where I lived until I was 9 years old.  I then moved to America, to Pittsfield, Massachusetts. For as long as I can remember, all I ever wanted to do was cook.  It was the only thing that interested me. I was always cooking and eating, from the time I was five years old in Vietnam. I would cut myself every day.  

What kinds of jobs led to what you’re doing today?

Remm: I started out in public relations and promotions, working at Harrison & Schriftman here in New York. From there I went on to work at Midnight Oil, where I was the promotions coordinator for their properties.  I then landed at B.R. Guest Restaurant Group where I was lead of promotions and operations for Level V, among other spaces.  It was after that that I joined forces with Mark to form EMM Group and open our first club, Tenjune.   

Birnbaum: While in college, I ran a club in Ithaca, New York.  I also promoted parties in NYC from the time I was 17 years old to roughly 22.  I tried my hand in insurance but left at age 23 to return to nightlife, opening my first club in 2002 and starting EMM Group with Eugene in 2005, when we pitched W Hotels for the bar deal at the then-under-development W Hotel in Hoboken, New Jersey.   

Hirtenstein: My background is in telecommunications and real estate – which I still do to this day.  I came to know Mark and Eugene as they were first making a name for themselves in hospitality.  I knew they were on their way to building an empire so when I was invited to be a part of it I happily came on board.  

Huynh: When I came to America my parents had a restaurant – I started working there, washing dishes, when I was 9 years old.  Then I started filleting fish and slowly getting acquainted with all aspects of the kitchen.

Tell me about Lexington Brass and Catch. Where did the idea to open them come from, and what was the process like? Do they represent a dream you’ve had for a long time? 

Remm:   With Lexington Brass and Catch we sought to add something new and different both to the hospitality landscape and to our own company portfolio.  We don’t want a customer coming into Abe & Arthur’s one night, and then feeling as though they don’t need to check out Lexington Brass or Catch.  Lexington Brass is a three meal period bistro and Catch is a seafood restaurant with a raw bar. Each place offers a different experience, but with the same standards of service.  With Catch in particular, we saw the space open up seven months after opening Abe & Arthur’s.  We love the Meatpacking District,  we work here, we live here, and we knew there wasn’t a seafood restaurant of note in the neighborhood.  We wanted to bring in something different.

Birnbaum:  Lexington Brass and Catch are very different from each other – Lexington Brass is a 100-seat brasserie on the ground floor corner of the new Hyatt hotel  in midtown that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner 7 days a week.  Catch is a much bigger operation – three floors, 275 seats, a glass-enclosed rooftop lounge and outdoor terrace.  We jumped on both spaces as soon as they were presented to us.  We knew they were the perfect locations for us to create new concepts and expand without having to get on an airplane to do it.   

Are you having fun?

Remm:  I Love what I do. I get to spend my days working with my best friends and colleagues, with all of us working towards the same goal.  We’re willing to take enormous financial risks to keep doing what we do.  There are always challenges – I encounter something new every day.

Birnbaum: Lots of fun! If we didn’t love what we did it would be impossible to do this job.  The things I enjoy most are working with ICRAVE to design and build out new spaces, and brainstorming with our team to come up with original concepts for people to enjoy.  The biggest hurdle has been dealing with community boards and finding the perfect spaces.   

Hirtenstein: Yes I’m having a great time.  My background is in telecommunications and my other current endeavors focus mainly on real estate, so anything having to do with EMM Group is a nice change of pace – I enjoy being a part of this world. 

What do you do to relax when you’re not working?

Remm: Music is my passion. I have a DJ booth in my apartment and it’s something I take real pleasure in doing. I love to work out. Boxing and spinning at Flywheel are so therapeutic to maintain a balance with all that we have going on.

Birnbaum: I love to travel when I can – and I try to unwind a little during the summers and enjoy weekends with friends at our house in the Hamptons.   

Hirtenstein: I am extremely active –a healthy lifestyle is important to me.  I swim, golf, play tennis – I love it all.  I also love to travel and like to escape to unwind.

What’s the secret to your success? What advice would you give to a young restaurateur or chef?

Remm:  There’s no blueprint for success in this town – the landscape is constantly changing.  I think we’ve managed to do what we’ve done based on an unwavering commitment to consistency and attention to detail.  

Birnbaum: Take your time in developing any new concept – make sure you have the menu and the service on point before opening.  Also, if you’re opening your first place, find a manageable space, nothing too big with too large an overhead.  A great location is also essential.

Huynh: There is no secret to success, but every day I try to improve and get better.  My words to a young chef would be that this is not glamorous, this is nothing like TV.  Put your head down, work hard, be dedicated, and work your way up.  In a kitchen, there are a million things that could go wrong with each dish you put out. Every time I show up to work there’s a new challenge to address, but it’s part of the excitement.

[Photo: Brett Moen]

New York Openings: Crown, Lexington Brass, Family Recipe

Crown (Upper East Side) – John DeLucie’s uptown townhouse scene. ● Lexington Brass (Midtown East) – Abe & Arthur crew serving up three bistro meals a day at the Hyatt 48 Lex. ● Family Recipe (Lower East Side) – Japanese gastropub with a home-cooking soul.