Striking Up Friendships

A working weekend kept me hot, bothered, and a little short on steam. But I was able to attend the Carrera Sunglasses party on the fabulous roof at 505 West 37th Street. The roof—some 40 stories over the Javits Center, train yards, and the Port Authority Bus complex—is so high that it made those places seem romantic. A pal asked me what that place across the Hudson River was, and I replied “America.” New York did seem far away from America this week, with the World Cup bringing so many accented tourists to the haunts I hang in. The Carrera event had a slew of downtown types who followed GoldBar honcho John Lennon and downtown PR flack Dana Dynamite uptown. I chatted up a very nice Whitney Port, who I was told is in that show The City. Watermelon, cold cans of Café Bustelo, and clear views of places I rarely want to see up close kept me happy for hours. I visited an apartment downstairs where they hid the swag, and I was told that the one bedroom with those views goes for $2200 a month. Almost cheap enough to forget the $15 cab fare to anyplace I’d like to be. Still, I think there will lots of fabulous events at this sweet spot.

An expensive yellow limo returned me to downtown where I belong, at the behest of Fuse Gallery/Lit bigwig Erik Foss. I attended the art opening The Hole Presents Not Quite Open for Business, “A conceptual group show of unfinished art, unfinished poems and unfinished symphonies.” When Jeffrey Deitch split to be the director of MOCA in L.A., it left the presenters confused as to what to do next. Some funding problems and an artist not quite ready to show was turned into a positive thing, as artists were asked to show their work in the stage it was in, a caught-with-your-pant-down approach to curating. The result is a fun, thought provoking, and unpretentious good time. I joined Erik Foss over at Lucky Strike and watched him have a snack. Erik is just back from Mexico City where he brought his Draw show. I hadn’t been to Lucky Strike in a long time. A friend of mine who used to work there was killed in his apartment many years ago, and it stirred up bad memories.

Mike “Seal” used to be my head of security over at Life, and his untimely death under mysterious circumstances made me wonder. When you go out to eat or play, you don’t necessarily need to be reminded of sad things. Lucky Strike wowed them back in 1989 when it first opened. Like all Keith McNally joints, it has an energizer bunny type of energy and the basic bones to last forever. The service, the staff, the design, and the fare are timeless and I felt good to be back. I still visit Pravda, Odeon, Pastis, and Balthazar from time to time, and his other entries Minetta Tavern, Morandi, and Schillers are magnificent machines. I am currently building in his old Nells space, trying to create something worthy of its lore. Pulino’s opened in my hood a little bit ago and although it wasn’t reviewed well by one prominent critic, the crowds have voted it a winner.

I will be DJing at the other Lucky Strike, the bowling alley and lounge on far West 42nd Street. The occasion is the birthday bash for Noel Ashman, who was at one point the operator of the Nells space when it was Plumm and NA. The invite reads “National Academy of Television, Arts and Scienes… Emmy Awards along with…” And it goes on to list Chris Noth, Patrick McMullan, Damon Dash, and a slew of others. Grandmaster Flash, Jamie Biden, Ethan Browne, and DJ Reach will join me on the wheels of steel. In the left corner is the logo for adult entertainment company Wicked. There’s hosts like Richie Romero, Brandon Marcel and Matt de Matt listed as well. Every time I write about Noel, a slew of haters come out of their holes and hovels to spew dirt. I am always asked why do I write about him. Noel has made a ton of omelets over the years and I guess in the process has broken his share of eggs. I personally have never had a bad experience with him and the naysayers are always of the suspicious variety. The diversity of the people on this invite and the crowds that will attend speak well of him. I am always asked why do I write about him. The answer is short and sweet. He’s my friend.

Industry Insiders: Farryn Weiner, Fly Girl

Farryn Weiner really loves her job. As the associate editor of Jetsetter, the flash-sales travel site allied with Gilt Groupe, the Miami native gets to peak around the four corners of the world in search of premier hotels, properties, and adventures for members of the site. Launched in September ’09 by Drew Patterson, formerly of Kayak, Jetsetter makes the decision to travel easy with incredible steals on hotel stays and members-only experiences. More after the jump on Farryn’s must-have travel tips and the story behind Jetsetter.

On catching the travel bug: I was an NYU undergrad and went on a semester at sea. We circumnavigated from Puerto Rico and ended up in San Diego. It really opened my eyes to all these amazing stories that you can tell through travel and the art of storytelling that was happening through my photography and my writing. I came back and totally changed my career path and started working as an assistant for Zac Posen. I ended up back in grad school doing a masters degree in travel content. I started freelancing and worked for National Geographic and Daily Candy.

On fitting in at Jetsetter: The moment I heard about Jetsetter, I was like, that has to be my job. When I came in to interview, we all just clicked. They’ve built a team of people who are passionate about what we do. We sit around and talk travel, we breathe travel. That’s what I was doing on my own, so I finally found a place where I wasn’t the odd man out. It was the norm to die over a new hotel or a new article.

What is Jetsetter, exactly? Our CEO, Drew Patterson, has two questions: where do I want to go next and where do I want to stay when I get there? He’d met with the founders of Gilt and thought that their flash sale model would be really well-suited to travel. We ended up working with them to develop Jetsetter, which is an online private sale site for people to come and find the world’s best experiences, best hotels, and even things like safaris and luxury cruises for a really great value.

On securing good deals: We have a really wonderful marketing model and the places that we pick are places that we’d actually go. We work with the properties to find a way to offer something exclusive to our members. The sales normally last 5-7 days, and gives members the opportunity to get in and get a great value that they can’t get anywhere else. People want to know how we pick our places, but it’s really just places we love. We want to send our members to places that they’re going to come home and brag about to their friends.

On loving the gig: When I’m in a bar and someone asks me what I do, I’m like, You do not want to ask me this right now. I might go on for an hour. It’s really exciting to be somewhere that’s growing and where people are passionate and really just love what we do. We’re crazy.

A typical day: On a normal day, I’m working with the writers. I’m working with the correspondents. I’m finding new properties. I have a writer right now in China who is just hearing about this new property that she thinks is perfect for us. I spent yesterday speaking with the people from that property, trying to see if they were interested, and developing these relationships. We want to work with people for the long run. If we put our stamp of approval on you, you’re a part of the family. A lot of what I do is putting together the bits and pieces of the writing, the photography, and, of course, the property. When I’m not in the office and I’m out in the field, I’m shooting for Jetsetter and I’m covering events. I was at Coachella and did a whole big spread. People were in Palm Springs for the first time. “Where do I go? What do I do? Where do I eat?” A perk of the job is being able to have those kinds of experiences and share those with our members.

Favorite destinations: I think everyone should go to Tokyo. It’s like New York in 20 years, or at least what you hope New York will be like in 20 years. I was just in Barcelona and then Turks and Caicos visiting Zanzibar Hotel which is such a perfect escape, especially for city goers, who really will feel comfortable hopping on flight and relaxing for a weekend. I’m dying to go to Napa Valley.

On the concierge aspect of Jetsetter: All of us are travelers and we want to share that information. Sometimes Drew will answer an e-mail at midnight because he wants to make sure that our member who’s out in St. Lucia knows exactly where to go. We all race to be the first person to answer! We also get tons of feedback and we listen to all of it. We’re very hands on.

Summer travel trends: The dollar’s getting stronger, the recession is subsiding slightly: people are starting to realize that they can do things that maybe in the last two years they haven’t been able to do. People are really looking for value. When they have one week off in the summer to take or they’re going to go on one big trip in the year, they want to get the best value. We’re seeing a lot of interesting bucket list trips like visiting the pyramids in Egypt. We sold an amazing Experience Galapagos cruise and we’ve seen such a peaked interest in things like this. We sold safaris in Africa and we did a trek up Kilimanjaro. They’re more than adventure trips, they’re those once-in-a -lifetime opportunities things that haven’t been all that financially accessible the last few years.

Tips on packing light: Pack half of what you think you should pack, and pack a duffle bag. On the way back, you can always take it out. You’re going to buy things. You’re going to have dirty laundry. Go there with a carry on. Don’t worry about coming back. I’m a big fan of versatile clothing—anything you can wear twice. If you can’t wear something out at night and during the day, then you probably don’t want to bring it.

Travel as a learning experience: You really need to be open to new experiences and you need to be ready for everything. Being prepared and cautious is important, but it’s more about being open-minded. For me, traveling with the right group of people is so important. It really can make or break a trip. When I was younger, I’d travel with friends. When I got older and started to have a really good sense of what I wanted to see and do, it became even more important to pick the right group of people that are on the same level .

Other favorite travel websites: TripIt is an amazing tool! It’s an online itinerary builder. You can forward them your flight information and they put that right into your itinerary. They give you a map of your itinerary. They give you the weather. They tell you when your flights are delayed. I get a TripIt update on my flight delays before I find out from the airline. You can import articles you find directly into your itinerary. You can also connect to other people. So, when I’m away, my friends, my sisters, and my parents can look online and see exactly where I am and where I’m staying and the phone number of the hotel. Kayak is great to book flights. I’m a fan of this woman who writes this blog called Eating Asia.

Go-to’s: Locanda Verde. One of the best meals I ever eaten. I couldn’t speak. Café Habana is one of my favorite restaurants. I love SL. Abe & Arthurs is a wonderful restaurant and it’s really fun to hang out downstairs. They always have really good music. The Jane Hotel. Morandi is the best lunch. Balthazar is a staple. I think Balthazar at 8 a.m. is secretly one of the best things to do in the city.

Where Celebs Go Out: Green Day, Serena Williams, Dr. Oz, Carla Gugino

Billy Joe Armstrong at the Broadway opening of Green Day’s American Idiot: I don’t have any favorites. I like anywhere and everywhere. I went to go see “Everyday Rapture” last night, and then I went to punk-rock karaoke down on the Lower East Side, it was at Arlene’s Grocery. ● Mike Dirnt: Honestly, I like to meet friends for a nice pint at McSorley’s, the oldest pub in New York. ● Tre Cool: I like to go to Gray’s Papaya at 72nd Street and get cheap hot dogs.

Serena Williams: Oh, I don’t go out too much. I love Mr. Chow in Miami. ● Donald Trump: Only at Trump properties! Jean Georges. ● Carla Gugino: I’m a big fan of Morandi. I just went there for brunch for the first time. And I love a little Mediterrean place called Taim. ● Camryn Manheim: The truth is I like to go to a casino and play some poker in Los Angeles and Vegas. And I love to go to all the places here after the show. Joe Allen, Angus, Bar Centrale. ● Whoopi Goldberg: I don’t go out, but when I am out in the city, I go and get my hot dogs from Gray’s Papaya. Which one? I like all of them. ● Dr. Oz at HealthCorps “Garden of Good and Evil” gala to fight obesity: I like Candle 79 a lot. It’s my favorite vegetarian restaurant. It’s easy to get to, and I love the way they pull together tastes that are unique. And by the way, they supply my food in the green room, for my show. I order out, and Candle 79 caters it. They have a seitan dish and they look like chimichurri. ● Roger Ross Williams: I hang out a lot at Norwood, which is a private club, on 14th Street. It’s a whole brownstone. There’s a restaurant and a number of bars. I live on the Lower East Side, so I hang out there at a lot of different bars. I love restaurants, so sometimes Spotted Pig, Pastis a lot for lunch. Right now, I’m like editing in the Meat Packing District at an edit house, so I’ve been to the Standard a lot. ● Rocco DiSpirito: I still go to Balthazar and Spotted Pig and places like that. I love going to Balthazar and getting a big plateau of fruits de mer, you know the three-level plateau, with a couple of friends and some good white wine. ● Ben Vereen: Koi restaurant. I like the food, the ambiance, and the people.

Where Celebs Go Out: America Ferrera, Harvey Keitel, Hope Davis

At the premiere of Our Family Wedding:

● AMERICA FERRERA – “My favorite restaurant of the moment is Broadway East, on the Lower East Side.” ● CHARLIE MURPHY – “I’ve been going to this Mexican restaurant in New Jersey. I think it’s called El Torito, whatever. That’s one of them. I go to so many restaurants. This is what I want to explain, so no one’s insulted. I’m on the road 48 weeks of the year in different towns, and I go to a lot of restaurants, so to ask me what my favorite restaurant is, is kind of a hard question to answer. I like going to Baja Fresh in L.A.” ● GRETCHEN ROSSI – “In Newport Beach, it’s Flemings. It’s a steakhouse, and I eat the steak and potatoes and everything that you can imagine on the menu. But I just eat small portions, so that you get a taste of everything.”

● LANCE GROSS – “I love Tao here in New York. I don’t get to New York a lot, but the Cafeteria. I love the Cafeteria. I do all the nightclubs. I don’t even know the names. I just go into them.” ● REGINA KING – “Right now, I’m really loving Osteria Mozza in L.A., Mario Batali’s restaurant. It’s so funny because where he opened was a place in L.A. that there’s been four restaurants that tried to make it there; came; spent a lot of money; closed down. And he has been booming, banging with business, and rightfully so. So, if you go and get the oxtail ragu — oh, my God! Hah! It is so good, and mmmm, the pizza next door is even better, because it’s Nancy Silverton from La Brea Bakery making the dough. I love to eat, clearly.” ● PRAS – “Geez! Right now it’s gotta be Dylan Prime. That’s in my neighborhood. Every time I’m out of town, I always take a trip back to Dylan. I feel like I’ve landed back home. Do you like steak? I love — I’m a big meat eater, despite all the things they tell you about eating charred beef.”

At the opening of A Behanding in Spokane on Broadway:

● HARVEY KEITEL – “A candy store in Brighton Beach, in Brooklyn. It was called Ali Baba & the 40 Thieves.” ● ANTHONY MACKIE – “Hey, book that is black! I love to go down to STK. One of my very favorite restaurants is Three Sisters, on Madison and 124th — the best Caribbean food you can find in New York. ● JENNIFER MORRISON – “I have had no chance to discover that yet because we just opened last night. Where in L.A.? I love Madeo restaurant. We eat there all the time. Dan Tana’s, some of the usual spots. I’m a huge fan of spaghetti and meat sauce. It’s my weakness, anywhere I go.” ● ZOE KAZAN – “I love your magazine! I haven’t been going to a lot of bars or clubs lately. I’ve been going to theater hangouts, like the West Bank Cafe or Bar Centrale. In my neighborhood, I love Buttermilk Channel, which is a restaurant in Cobble Hill or Frankie’s 457. I like the fried chicken at Buttermilk Channel.” ● MARTIN MCDONAGH – “Angus McIndoe.” ● HUGH JACKMAN – “Oh, c’mon!”

● DANA IVEY – “I don’t want to give it away ’cause too many people will go there. I don’t want to say because it’ll be infiltrated by everybody, and I won’t get a seat! No, but Joe Allen’s is always good. That’s one of my faves. Oh, they have this great, great salad that I really, really like — trevisano, something, I can’t remember, but that’s what I get every time.” ● HOPE DAVIS –Buttermilk Channel in Brooklyn.” ● JOAN HAMBURG – “You mean in this neighborhood? I love to go to Orso’s. Oh, I like a lot of places. I like Blue Hill downtown. I got a list!” ● SARAH PAULSON – “One of them is a secret. I don’t want anybody else to know about it, so I won’t talk about that place. I love a place called Café Cluny, on 12th Street and West 4th Street, down in the Village. Any favorite dish? The burger and the Cluny. It’s a giant martini, which is always really good. I’m, kind of, like a person who only goes to places that are in the neighborhood I happen to be standing in, in the moment, which is what’s so great about New York — you’re bound to turn around and hit something great.” ● MARCIA GAY HARDEN – “Oh, God, we never go out. Honestly, we don’t go out. Our living room, our kitchen, our dining room. What about in L.A.? Oh, God, I wouldn’t say L.A. before New York! I couldn’t possibly say L.A. before New York. Okay, wait! We like Settepani in Harlem. We love Orso. We love Orso.” ● STACY KEACH – “It’s a tough one, isn’t it? There’s so many. Joe’s restaurant in Venice. Everything is good, but I, particularly, like steak ‘n eggs, yeah. In New York, there’s so many wonderful restaurants, and we just got here. And every time I come back to New York, I discover new places, so I’m hesitant to give you names of places.” ● PABLO SCHREIBER – “The old standards are the — what’s the place over here on 46th where we go after the show? It’s right above Joe Allen’s. Yeah, I, always forget the name of it ’cause they have no sign. [That would be Bar Centrale. -ed] That’s my favorite place for after-dinner drinks. I went to a great Greek restaurant last night, called Molyvos, on 7th Avenue between 55th and 56th. That place was pretty delicious. I had the whole fish. It was a black sea bass, and they did it perfectly. I’m a father of a 16th-month-old kid, so I don’t get out much these days.” ● DAVID HYDE PIERCE – “No, I don’t have any. I don’t have a lot of places to talk about like that.” ● LILY RABE – “I love Maialino. It’s in the Gramercy Park Hotel. It just opened. It’s amazing. Yes, it’s really good. And I love Café Cluny. Morandi. Those are my favorite places to eat. And the Breslin is also really incredible. The Breslin has this pork belly that’s one of the most memorable things I’ve ever eaten in the city.” ● JULIE TAYMORE –Craft, Maialino, Bobby Flay’s restaurant Mesa Grill.” ● TOM WAITS – “Oh, gee, I eat at home. I eat at home.” ● PAUL DANO – “Eton’s — it’s a dumpling place in Brooklyn. Po. Franny’s — all Brooklyn.” ● ANTHONY ANDERSON – “I really don’t hang out much in New York because of the work schedule that we have. But when I do, I find myself having a drink at Tillman’s. My favorite eatery would have to be Abe & Arthur’s.” ● GRIFFIN DUNNE – “I’m mostly upstate these days, so I’ve got little holes up there that I hit, in Duchess County. What do I want to plug? Gigi’s, an Italian restaurant — very, very good. I think that’s in Rhinebeck, yeah.”

Gastro Gamechangers: Keith McNally’s Pulino Plans Go Public, Now Hiring

Keith McNally’s the celebrity and buzz-magnetized brain behind New York’s SoHo standby Balthazar, the center of gravity in the Meatpacking District, Pastis, the Lower East Side’s de facto cafeteria of the young and moneyed (Schiller’s), and The Hardest Table in Town of the moment, Minetta Tavern. Every opening of his is an event, and even when a restaurant of his doesn’t blow away the critics, it still packs ’em in nightly (see: Morandi). Problem is, they tend to be just out of the price range of New York’s young and hungry. Until now, or soon, as Pulino — McNally’s pizza place — is coming, and it’s coming downtown, to Bowery below Houston. Today, Pulino chef Nate Appleman twittered that he was hiring. Even better, NBC Local tossed Pulino’s plans on their website. What’s it (maybe) look like?

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Per Matt Duckor at NBC:

One of the most prominent features highlighted in the plans is the massive, semi-circle bar adjacent to the kitchen, which should prove useful for neighborhood drop-ins. Other discoveries include: 1) The bathrooms are located in the cellar like they are at McNally’s nearby spot, Schiller’s, though they don’t appear to be unisex. 2) While the restaurant seems to sport a closed kitchen, the plan depicts a completely open pizza station, so crowds can potentially witness live, Appleman dough-tossing magic.

And Appleman dough-tossing magic we’ll await. Nate Appleman’s formerly of A16 in San Fransisco, who he left two months after winning his 2009 James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef. He’s only the second chef to open a McNally joint since Jodi Williams at Morandi who isn’t Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr, McNally’s kitchen lieutenants at all his other properties, (and we all know how Jodie’s tenure turned out: ugly). Needless to say, the anticipation’s been high, and this just upped it.

Centro Vinoteca Bankrupt, Food Network Star Anne Burrell Sued

It seems like every other week, someone’s trying to paint someone else in the cutthroat restaurant world as some kind of villain. And in the last 30 days, literally: first, there was psychotic restaurant owner Vadim Ponorovsky, who scre-mailed his employees a tirade somewhere just short of the Downfall meme. Now, in the wake of West Village restaurant Centro Vinoteca‘s Chapter 11 filing, Food Network chef Anne Burrell is being sued by former employees in a salacious discrimination filing accusing her of calling employees ‘slutty,’ ‘saggy,’ ‘ho,’ and ‘whore’.

Wait, that Anne Burrell? Yup. Try to keep up:

Centro Vinoteca’s a West Village Italian place, owned by restaurateur Sasha Muniak, that opened with Food Network star Anne Burrell in the kitchen before she was on TV. It pulled a pretty decent one-star review from Frank Bruni, shortly before one star was awarded to born-famous hotspot restaurateur Keith McNally’s West Village den of Italian eats down the street, Morandi, which also took chef Jody Williams from Gusto, another one of Muniak’s places. Some would say that she took some of her recipes with her, which isn’t exactly looked kindly upon. Jody Williams and Morandi eventually broke up, but problems continued to plague Centro: complaints came through the food blogs about bad service, their chef, Anne Burrell, leaves them for greener (read: televised) pastures.

They get a new chef, Top Chef-alum Leah Cohen, who leaves them, too. It keeps going: the city closes down Centro, and Burrell gets some smack talked on her by Cohen who wasn’t too pleased with her as a boss. Oh, and Gusto alum Jody Williams? One-starred at her new place, who’s co-owner then sued her. It should go without saying at this point that Gusto lost another chef in 2007 after getting the bodyblow of losing Williams, but are you starting to get a decent picture? These places have some shit to deal with, and these are restaurants that have had a fair amount of success in New York. Imagine what working with a lesser-known restaurant in this city entails. You have to be, on some level, clinically insane to knowingly involve yourself in this business. And so Burrell’s lawsuit and Centro’s Chapter 11 filing shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. We’d try to explain the Service Industry’s Nikki Finke — PX This blogger Abbe Diaz — and her involvement in this (besides being Muniak’s wife), but my head’s spinning too fast.

Needless to say, it sucks when a restaurant has this much shit to deal with, but that’s New York’s service industry — if you can make it here, you’ve probably had someone killed. At the end of the day, people want to make money and serve food, often, not even in that order (again: insane). Meanwhile, Burrell’s got quite the set of allegations to answer for. Another bad day for another bad boss? We’ll soon find out. Elsewhere, Abbe Diaz has a fairly substantial (and, with inquisitor Dick Johnson, hysterical) explanation for financial problems relating to businesses like Muniak’s and how they’re being affected by the government’s chin-check of American banking institutions. It’s worth a read.

And now, if you ever aspired to open a restaurant in New York, you’ve hopefully reconsidered.

Industry Insiders: Murat Akinci, Morandi’s Front of House

“I’m a product of the city. I learned this business and hopefully I’m going to stay here until I retire,” says Murat Akninci, manager and maître d’ of Keith McNally’s Pastis and Morandi restaurants. The hospitality pro has worked in venues all around New York, starting when he arrived from Istanbul in his college years. With this experience under his belt, he has high expectations for the forecast of the business. “There was an inflation of restaurants that just opened up without smart planning. We’re seeing them actually disappear from the scene, opening up space and opportunities. In the next year and a half to two years, there’s going to be a new generation of restaurateurs in New York City.”

What’s your position with Morandi? I do managing of the dining room and also maître d’. These are two different positions. One of them is accommodating guests upon their arrival and finding them the best fit in the restaurants with tables and service, and the other is managing the whole dining room.

What about at Pastis? There, I’m mostly managing the dining room and making sure that service runs well. Making sure that the connection between the kitchen and the dining room is ever-flowing. It’s a very busy place, and that’s what makes everything go round. Once the guest sits down, we have to make sure that they’re taken care of.

What do you enjoy more, being at Morandi or Pastis? Since I’m in the restaurant business, I like all aspects of it. I’m just lucky enough to be on different ends of the management. One of them, being at the door, is more hospitality-oriented; the other one is more operations management, seeing the overall service. So it allows me to be versatile.

How’d you get started? I started working with Keith about a year and a half ago but I’d known him for a while. I came to the U.S. for college from Istanbul, and I started working in restaurants to support myself. College expenses are … well, you know. I studied economics, and instead of doing that, I stuck with the restaurant business.

What was the first restaurant you ever worked? The first restaurant I worked at in the city was the Garage on 7th Avenue South. My most important job was on the corner of Bleecker St. and LaGuardia, a little place called the Village Grill. That’s where I met Richard Emolo, who is the general manager of Barolo and all Paolo Secondo restaurants. He mentored me on what to do, and I took him as an example because he’s an old-school New York City restaurant buff and still going hard. I changed jobs, and I ran some of Keith McNally’s restaurants for a while. I bartended and managed back and forth. I worked at Sushi Samba. I managed the Park Avenue South and 7th Avenue locations, and after that I worked with Simon Oren at L’Express, and I ran French Roast as general manager for about four years. I worked with him in managerial capacity, in and out, for about seven years.

When Morandi first opened, there was a lot of criticism on the location. How do you feel about that? When Keith was working on this project, he brought me in and showed me around. He was very excited, telling me how different things were going to be from some of the other places that he had. When he asked me what I thought about the location, I said, “Keith, you make the locations. Locations don’t make your restaurants.” What it turned out to be is a low-key restaurant, not in a high-turnover neighborhood, with an excellent quality of food and service. I think that Keith is diversifying his clientele. If we’re here, we get a lot of neighborhood people, a lot of returning guests, in a very nice setting that is not actually very busy like the SoHo location or the Meatpacking District location. I think it’s wonderful culinary-wise as well.

Where else do you go out in New York? I work all the time, but I really like Korean food. And of course I like Turkish food. Some of my friends own Turkish restaurants. I go to Zeytin’s Restaurant on Christopher and Columbus, owned by a really good friend of mine. Sometimes a culinary experience for me is going to a taco truck in the city. I specifically go to them before or after work, just to be able to get some flavor that’s off the grid. I like Super Tacos on 96th and Broadway. I go to Pera, which is a Turkish restaurant on Madison Avenue. It’s a new take on Turkish cuisine. From time to time, I do like to go to Sushi of Gari. I like classical types of sushi. And with my wife, I go to Casa Adela on Avenue C. It’s a Puerto Rican restaurant; some good home cooking there.

What about bars? I go to Brass Monkey in the Meatpacking District, which is right around the corner from Pastis. It’s where some of the staff hangs out. In Brooklyn, I go to Union Hall in my neighborhood in Park Slope. It’s an old-style pub, but it’s very well done, and has some good beers on tap. I like one place in the East Village called Decibel with a sake bar.

Any trends you’ve noticed in hospitality? I’m just blessed with working in Keith McNally’s restaurants, because we went on really strong for the last year and a half since I’ve started with this company. Not every place was so fortunate. On a positive note, it was good to see the reaction of established and successful restaurants to hard times. How they’ll change and transform themselves to their desirable destinations and show great examples of accommodation to guests in need. The guest has become the paramount of the restaurant business, and the demands of the guest. This has always been the case with his restaurants. Consumers and guests recognize that, and that’s why they’re flooding into his locations more than ever at this time.

What’s your dream spot for a venue? If I were to open a place, I’d probably open a little restaurant at the beach in the Caribbean somewhere, on the sand, with plastic forks and knives. I’d just sit back and enjoy the view. If any customers come over, I’ll sit down and have a drink or food with them. That’s what I’d like to do.

I hear Morandi does a great breakfast. Better than Balthazar? We don’t get many tourists or people who are transiting. We do get people here because we are a destination for them to come and have breakfast. So, a lot of neighborhood people come in, some business people from the hospital, a lot of people from the institutions in this neighborhood. From the breads, to the hospitality when they come in and see the same people providing them service in an upbeat and positive manner, it attracts the guests here and at other Keith McNally restaurants.

The bread comes from Balthazar Bakery? Yes, all of our bread comes form Balthazar Bakery daily. That’s what I think about when I think of breakfast — bread, coffee, eggs, jam.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure?

Are Restaurants the New Nightlife? An Existential Evening at Minetta Tavern

I think it was sometime on the cab ride home from Minetta Tavern that the question hit me, like a velvet rope’s brass clasp to the face: are restaurants the new nightlife? Are clubs — once a standard for much of what simultaneously cultivated, codified, and confirmed what could be considered “culture” in New York — incapable of doing that anymore? And are restaurants doing it in their place?

I felt like I’d just come out of a club, for one thing: my wallet was, stupidly, far lighter than when I’d started out the evening, for one thing. I was plastered, well-fed, and had stumbled out a door and into a car because, after you blow that much cash, who takes the subway? My ears were ringing, it was late, and I’d spent as much time trying to get seated at a table as I did being seated at the table. I was openly ashamed, secretly satisfied, and beyond that, vaguely guilty about being secretly satisfied.

Nightclubs are in a sorry state: the ones that aren’t closing can’t control their doors and have had a primary source of income — bottle service — declared dead twenty times over. Even our own Steve Lewis has admitted it: “The sky is absolutely falling,” the nightlife legend wrote in a headline for a post advertising an event aligning club owners with politicians. Nightlife owners now have to face constituencies of elected officials who aren’t protecting the owners’ industry from being pushed out of New York. Again: club owners asking politicians for help. To say things for New York’s nightlife aren’t looking good would be a vast understatement.

Not far from west Chelsea, in Greenwich Village, Keith McNally’s newest restaurant, Minetta Tavern, is identical to so many like it. Preceding its March opening, it was the subject of an absurd amount of local and national press. For the microcosm that’s the New York restaurant scene, it had the kind of mania surrounding it that, say, a new Harry Potter flick would. And for fans, it’s pure feverpitch. The metaphor’s more than apt: McNally’s restaurants have proven themselves critic and recession-proof, and it helps that they’re all quality places, giving them the kind of unflappable cred from those in the service industry that certainly can’t be bought (or doesn’t require publicity). They’re also consistently attracting big stars (making it somewhat incidental that McNally was once a filmmaker, way back when). But unlike films, McNally’s restaurants can be, at times, difficult to get into, a little pricey, and the very least, always a scene, vacuum-sealed with celebrities obvious and obscure, many of whom McNally counts as friends.

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How bad could it be? It was a Monday night at 9. Sans reservation, I’d never waited longer than half an hour at Balthazar, Pastis, Schiller’s, or Morandi, and I’d never seen anyone else wait longer, either, but I’m sure it happens. But for a twice-fired employee of his, I get treated fairly well in his restaurants; I can’t speak of a bad experience ever working for him. Maybe McNally, who once got “let go” as a busboy in New York, is empathetic to my cause. Or maybe he doesn’t remember, or doesn’t care. Probably the former. But like the prodigal son I am, I keep going back for more eggs, steak frites, and the like. It’s something I should probably bring up with a professional.

It looked pretty quiet, from the outside. I go to open the door, and it almost slams me in the face: Barry Diller and Diane Von Furstenberg fly out as if ejected by a kinetic force onto Macdougal Street, the IAC chairman looking for his towncar — lost, towed, AWOL, or something — and the fashion designer looking completely confused. They turn south and head down the block after I stand there staring at Diller trying (unsuccessfully) to hail a yellow cab.

We walk in and I try the I’ve-Worked-For-Keith thing again — no shame, because, you know, I’m hungry — this time, with a human face, someone from the company I’ve seen before. She looks at me like one would a helpless cute animal with a broken wing or something. And then gently snaps my neck back into reality, out of the misery of false hope: nothing until 10:30, at least. Can we eat at the bar? I ask.

Sure, she tells me, if you can find a spot. You should see the back room. Kind of insane tonight.

Kind of insane didn’t begin to describe it. It felt inches away from the chattiest production of Lord of the Flies I’d ever seen; people staring over the backs of other people, looking to see who they are, and if they could somehow be lodged out of the way for a seat at the bar. Maybe a slow bloodletting or something. We looked for a seat, which was triple-stocked. I clumsily backed into someone who, mid-sentence, glanced over, barely registered the event (if at all) and kept going full-speed. It was Harvey Keitel. Models and other assorted tall people flanked the bar. I was reminded of Skee-Lo. I was scared. Would I be able to penetrate the barrier, or come even close to the same place where Chelsea Clinton and Sacha Baron Cohen dined two days before? I was going to be persistent.

Hey, I told the hostess. It’s a little crowded in here. We’re gonna step next door for some drinks. She smiled at me empathetically, and as if she’d never see me again, told me to come back at 10:30 and there should be something for me then, and that she was really sorry.

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My date was getting hungry. We went next door for drinks. At a bar called The Grisly Pear, a few doors down from Minetta, we sat down on some stools and ordered. The place was empty; hollow, almost. A complete counterpoint to what we’d just experienced. It was the directors-cut scene from Apocalypse Now, where the boat of soldiers stop at the French heroin plantation for dinner in the middle of their mission going up the river. “You want menus?” the bartender asked. We explained that we were having dinner next door, we were fine. “You see anyone?” he asked. I told him about Harvey Keitel. “Yeah, Tim Roth used to be a regular here,” he says of Keitel’s Reservoir Dogs co-star.

Two drinks later, and we tried again. This time, we landed at the bar. It had been an hour now: it was ten. We ordered two rounds at the bar, four different cocktails, all of which: solid. The bartenders, almost sympathetic, did their best to keep things lively; they were engaging, part of the show, the most relaxed out of anyone in the restaurant, there when needed and otherwise amongst themselves unless engaged. In other words, perfect in the great tradition of bartenders. I was worried it was a setup. The Rolling Stones blasted throughout the restaurant, and now we could feel the looks over our shoulders. Finally, we’re called in: our table’s ready.

We being moving past the front to the back room — on the bema, inside the holy ark — and make it through. I checked the time; it was 10:30, exactly. And we were four drinks under, about to be five. The backroom is slathered in celebrities or people who’ve done a great job of impersonating the aura of celebrity, or being prepared for the projection of it (the written note reads: slick pimp/french models next door/giants lineman/hal sparks?! no way/joe francis lookalike). Of course, the most interesting of all: the man himself, Keith McNally, sitting in the corner four-top with two women and a friend. He was playing king of his court that night, as much as he possibly could. A look of recognition registered in his face, but I wasn’t about to say anything; I was hungry and terrified that Roberta — McNally’s longtime lieutenant who’s running things there right now — would smother me in Minetta’s Pat La Frieda meat if I got near him (a fate, I decided, that could be worth the risk). I continued the five feet past his table to mine, which was pulled out of the banquette so my date could be vacuum/table-sealed back in.

What followed was, essentially, the meal we came in for: Balthazar Bakery bread — flaky, chewy, melt-in-your-mouth soft — with a pad of room temperature, spreadable butter and sea salt laid out at the table. It soaked up the booze nicely. We went with three appetizers and an entree, the lobster salad and the tartare trio first, the bone marrow appetizer and a steak frites second. The salad was light, rich, and brilliant: it felt like a series regular from Los Angeles that’d snuck away to find legitimate acting credentials working in New York theater: this lobster had found its artistic renaissance at Minetta. Or it was just a good goddamn salad. Either way, there were huge, orange pieces of lobster reminding you of all the times you actually had to work it out of a claw. The tartare trio — lamb, veal, steak — was fascinating to look at, boring to ear: under-seasoned and unimpressive, considering my high hopes from the peppery, creamy, rich, slightly spicy steak tartare at Balthazar that were thoroughly dashed.

If you’re hungry, the oft-discussed bone marrow appetizer has far more flavor than actual marrow in it. The steak was better than good, and it’s no secret that McNally’s restaurants toss a pile of the best french fries in New York on your plate with your steak. We had a scoop of lemon sorbet for dessert. And that was it. Or so it’d seem.

At one point, the couple next to us got up and left, which meant us having to take our table out of the banquette. It somehow turned into an ordeal, as McNally passed by me, and we both said hello. I’m not sure what was said, exactly — he told me I’d done well to order the bone marrow. I think, while I intended to tell him how much I enjoyed the salad, I actually deciding complimenting him on a salad in a place devoted to steak would be trite, and that saying something about the steak would be cliché, and saying something nice about the tartare would be a lie, so I think I spat out something like “I enjoyed the ice cubes. And the drinks. The drinks are fantastic.” He asked me if I had any trouble getting in, though, I think I absolutely lied and told him “no.” This is what the harsh soft-light of Minetta will do to you … I felt weak-kneed, and full. This is what Keith McNally does to those who begrudge him curses on his reservations systems: gives them a good enough meal to lose or forget the grounds on which some kind of complaint had originated from.

And after drinks, dinner, and a word with the man himself, we were gone as quickly as we left.

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So: an extensive wait, a sidelining, celebrity encounters, an expensive menu, almost happily paid for. A packed room, loud music, flowing booze. A carefully curated scene of people. And this isn’t the only one: New York Times food critic Frank Bruni just filed his review on Graydon Carter’s Monkey Bar yesterday; he could barely get in to eat there. His Waverly Inn — for which reservations are mostly made through his personal assistant — is constantly swarmed with paparazzi and a careful layout of who goes where in the restaurant (i.e. “Siberia” is for the no-names, while the center of the room goes to celebrities). Sure sounds like a club. So: is this the future of nightlife?

No. They’re ostensibly a part of it, but at the end of the night, restaurants (while they do play favorites) will get you in eventually, as proven. If you have cash, and you’re hungry, they’re proud of their product — they’ll want their famous friends to bite, literally — but past that, they’ll want the hoi polloi to taste it as well and you can still throw Graydon’s mac and cheese in a doggie bag. A restaurant offers a tangible product for which they can be judged. Other than drinks — and most of the time, not serious drinks, or serious food — club offerings are slim to none in this regard. Restaurants are first and foremost a place to eat, and sometimes, people-watch. And if you can’t get a Waverly reservation, there’s almost always a better place out there more than willing to open their doors for you. The product restaurants offer is for everyone. But nightclubs?

The product they offer is entry, mostly. The promise that you’ve been curated by a doorman to be a part of his cast that night. Truth be told, nightclubs are lacking exclusivity and a product worth writing home about, because the candidates for entrance — the social makeup of the club — can buy their way in via high covers and bottle service . The crowds seen in the Meatpacking District and west Chelsea represent less the ancestry of Studio 54 than they do the people who would’ve despised it. Owners are even so ashamed of their sorry state, they’ve come up with lame euphemisms to replace the truth: “bottle service” is “table service” and “nightclubs” are “lounges.” The product sucks, and they can’t compete because of it. The aforementioned Steve Lewis once said something about doormen, that it’s a lost art. I wouldn’t go that far, as it appears some people in New York are revitalizing it. They’re just being far more subtle.

That isn’t to say there aren’t exciting things going on in nightlife right now. Collective Hardware is one of them, a place taking people from all different stripes, and throwing them in a room together. Then again, they still don’t feed you. But at least there’s not a cover. Or bottle service. Or a velvet rope.

Keith McNally Defies Puking Kids from Bensonhurst

Keith McNally once said that Morandi would be his last restaurant ever. Well, he lied. And leave it to restaurant monarch McNally to defy the masticated innards of inebriated Brooklyn punks by launching a new business in their midst. The New York Observer sat down with the owner of Balthazar and Pastis to ask him about his forthcoming restaurant Minetta Tavern. He mentions its less-than-ideal location on Macdougal Street between Bleecker and West 3rd, and then elaborates, “It’s the Village of the ’50s and ’60s that’s been out of fashion since Dylan went electric. Weekend nights it’s packed with kids from Bensonhurst throwing up on the sidewalk.” Hey man, as long as your daughter is there, then so are we.