Where Celebs Eat: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Brian Williams, Betty White

Maggie Gyllenhaal @ the Fresh Air Fund gala: Al di La and Il Buco: anything there! ● Maggie Rizer: At Nobu I get everything. I like the sea bass and the lettuce leaves, the tuna sashimi salad, the shishito peppers, and the Kobe beef. ● Brian Williams: I’m laughing because my wife and I go to the same two places all the time! There’s a little French place on Lexington; there’s a pasta place on 49th, Alfredo’s, because it’s right next to NBC.

Betty White at the Time100 Gala: Shun Lee Palace. ● Mark Feuerstein at the Royal Pains premiere party at the Lacoste store Fifth Avenue: Anywhere from The Waverly Inn to Smith & Wollensky. The most delicious chocolate souffle I’ve ever had was at the Four Seasons restaurant. In LA, Mastro’s or Boa. ● Henry Winkler: The Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien is unbelievable! ● Amy Landecker: I just had lunch at Blue Water Grill, and it was fantastic. Union Square Cafe has a tuna steak that is just absolutely to die for. And Momofuku in the East Village is unbelievably excellent. ● Jill Flint: There’s one restaurant in Brooklyn that I’m absolutely loving called Prime Meats. My favorite dish is meat with a side of bacon and a little bit more meat. ● John Legend at the Sesame Workshop’s gala: Le Bernardin. I just love the whole tasting menu.

Industry Insiders: Michael Stillman, Meat and Potatoes Guy

Michael Stillman, president of Fourth Wall Restaurants (Park Avenue Winter, Quality Meats, Maloney & Porcelli, Post House, and Smith & Wollensky) calls mid-town steakhouse Quality Meats his “baby” while giving us a tour of the space, speaking of each architectural element with grand hand gestures and obvious satisfaction with the finished product. Stillman is the son of famed restaurateur Alan Stillman of T.G.I. Friday’s and Smith & Wollensky fame, and plans to expand his empire, much like his father in the next calendar year. His newest venture being the Flatiron Tiki-Polynesian outpost, The Hurricane Club. More details after the jump.

On being born into the business: I really didn’t know I would steer in this direction at all. It wasn’t something I was pushed towards. I fell into it after college as one of the many things that I had an interest in so I tried it and loved it. In some ways, I think my dad’s taste for aesthetics is what was passed down to me, and that’s what makes me love the restaurants as much as he does rather than this natural “I grew up in restaurants” kind of thing.

On his favorite room in the place: My favorite is the butcher room. The logs on the wall are all reclaimed logs from the Arkansas River where trees have fallen. This logging company literally goes down and picks them up from the bottom of the river. Then they bring them up and make these beautiful end cuts. It was a nightmare to put up but it’s super cool.

On starting at the bottom: I worked for Danny Meyer when I got out of college, and I ran food, checked coats. I’d do anything. I was completely useless and a smart alec, and they really got me to feel the nuts and bolts of the business. Danny is extremely talented and is a very different feeling from my dad. It was good to see that.

On his steak preference: Charred to medium rare. I grew up in New York so I love charred steaks.

Does the way someone orders a steak say anything about them? We never judge! Only behind closed doors!

Best steak of his life: I’ll always go for the Smith and Wollensky steak when it’s extra aged. The most fantastic experiential steak I’ve had was on a ten day trip through Spain. At one point, we thought we were lost in San Sebastian, but we got to this little place with crates outside and thirty seats inside. They just cooked one steak right after another on top of the open fire. It was spectacular, very downtrodden but still high end.

On expanding Q.M. like a Friday’s franchise: We’ve been looking around in London. I think it’d be a very interesting place to take Quality Meats. They’ve started to have more American meats, but nothing with this look and feel. A lot of the British clientele here love it. We just wanted to be really careful with this and expand it the right way. I’m more interested in “one-off” restaurants and new projects. But if we expand a project I want it to be special with personality. I don’t want it to feel monochromatic.

On the biggest misconceptions about steakhouses: Steakhouses get a natural bad rap because they’re expensive and “for bankers.” They’re not for “real foodies”. Ironically, though, the foodie culture has become so market driven and focusing on the elements and raw ingredients. Steakhouses were some of the first places to emphasize the quality of products. I think when you go to the best steakhouses they’re really ahead of other places in brining in the cleanest, simplest product and not taking away from it.

On his new joint: It’s called the Hurricane Club. It’s supposed to be a modern take on Trader Vicks and a Tiki-Polynesian restaurant. Our idea for the menu is what I call “inauthentic” cuisine. We’ll have all these cool new modern Tiki-cocktails. There’s a less serious sensibility, but equally high-end. I don’t think it’s a summer thing because, what’s better than coming into a place in cold weather and relaxing and drinking out of a coconut? There’s going to be a big bar lounge. It’s a little farther downtown for us, so I think it should drive a big crowd. It’s a little bit of a lower price—50 to 60 dollar range as opposed to 80 to 90 dollar range. It’s at 26th and Park with around 250 capacity.

On changing Park Avenue from Winter/Autumn/Spring/Summer: Each one is scary. We close down the restaurant for two entire days and we change the walls; we take down the ceilings; change the light fixtures and materials; we put in installations; we change the music, the food. We’ve got it down to a science. We knew that we were putting a big bull’s-eye on our back because it sounds so kitschy. But we literally build four new restaurants every year, and we try to make it feel like how you would want to feel in that season.

On bonding with the the Stillman senior: I took my dad to see Lady Gaga. It was hysterical. He’s like 74. I went with some friends, too, who had gone to Sacred Heart with her. We remember her doing stuff down at The Slipper Room. She puts on a good show—not really my cup of tea but it was fun. I loved watching my dad. That was second to none.

Go-to places: Bilboquet. It’s a classic UES show. It’s simple, but it’s got a punch and attitude. Another place is Balthazar. An oldie but a goodie. You can’t go wrong there. For Asian, I go to Kuma Inn on the LES. It’s been around six years. Chef King does some Thai/Filipino tapas, and it’s BYOB.

Worst habit or guiltiest pleasure: American Idol might be both.

Top 10 Spots for a First Date

Variety is key when you are testing the waters of love and lust. To some, love is motivated by how fat one’s pocketbook is. To others, it’s based on where one is able to get a reservation at peak time on a Friday night. Whether your leading lady is a tastemaker with a tiny appetite, or your gent is a sucker for the sauce, there’s a hotspot that’s all the bang for your buck, and a watering hole that may just lead to a bang.

The Little Owl (New York) – Small hotspot where you can view the West Village through rose-colored window panes. A savvy choice for a date in the know, but let your date know you chose it for the greenmarket menu. Swoon. ● Mistral (Los Angeles) – Intimate space, low lighting, the smell of French cuisine, and love is in the air. Couples relish the dark corners. A vast wine list and pared-down menu means easy first date decision-making. Opt for fries over the spinach side; the soft light helps you seem sexy, but it will do nothing for a green tooth.

Nemo (Miami) – Don’t waste this space on someone you’re lukewarm for. Rack up first-impression points with the serious atmosphere at work here. Not too pretentious, but tasty and hip: She just might find a way to thank you after the meal. ● The Bourgeois Pig (New York) – A jump-off point for daters to test the waters before committing to a bite to eat, though perfect as a post-dinner stop when things are going well. Champers, chocolate, cheese make eating sexy as hell. ● Smith & Wollensky (Miami) – Fab first date spot even if your date isn’t a carnivore. For light fare, opt for the cocktail/oyster combo — though the view is the only aphrodisiac needed. Great food, stiff drinks, and unrivaled panoramas of the ocean and the Miami skyline. ● Casa Tua (Miami) -There’s the intimate speakeasy feel that helps to make an impression, especially if your date is young and impressionable. Lamps hang from banyan trees in the garden, inviting atmosphere is conductive to great conversation and even better make-out sessions. Plead your first-date case to the members-only bouncer and see if you can’t stretch out the evening. ● Casa La Femme (New York) – If you’re the dating type that needs a few props, this all-inclusive date spot is loaded with shiny distractions. Tent city flaunts belly-dancing beauties and unbeatable signature cocktails to spice things up. Décor is richly detailed, bearing a genuine elegance to mask the cliché sexiness of it all. ● Little Door (Los Angeles) – Deserving of its reputation as THE place to go on a date — whether you speak fluent or just cinematic French, mais oui. The courtyard will help you fall in love, the sexy candlelight will make you fall in lust, and the extensive drink list will take care of anything in between. ● Mayahuel (New York) – The goddess of agave may be on your side for a modern-day Spanish inquisition. Speakeasy vibe with serious, sexy decor, and food to match. Creative cocktails will impress mixology minors; opt for small, shareable plates and cozy up in a carved-out booth. ● August (New York) – For a date of the handholding variety, turn to this claustrophobic cave restaurant. In the fall, intimate garden and sweater weather inspire premature cuddling, which could lead to other things more mature. ● Bowery Hotel (New York) – Pretend you’re somebody as you whisk your date through the golden doors propped open by smiling bellhops. Good for blind dates, it’s a cozy spot where you can get closer, or direct your attention to Cameron Diaz getting blitzed at the bar. Swill red wine on vintage chairs, surrounded by downtown “it” people. It’s all very very, even if your date is very boring.

Miami Spice: South Florida Gets a Restaurant Week

Restaurant week is a big deal in New York; you can find amazing deals at restaurants you couldn’t even think about going to any other time of year because of the outrageous prices. When else can you indulge in a three-course menu at gourmet spots for under $40 a person? Boston and Chicago have introduced restaurant weeks into their cities, and now Miami is set to follow suit. During August and September, bunches of Miami hotspots will be serving up three-course meals at $22 for lunch and $35 for dinner.

The mission of the Miami Restaurant Week — a.k.a. Miami Spice — is for patrons to discover “the tropical fusion of ingredients that makes Miami dining so wonderfully out of the ordinary.” Some participating restaurants include: Nikki Beach, Meat Market, and Smith & Wollensky.

Industry Insiders: Josh Wagner, Hotel Barman

As regional director of nightlife for Morgans Hotel Group in Miami, Josh Wagner oversees Skybar at the Shore Club, Sunset Lounge at Mondrian, and Florida Room at the Delano. Here, he talks to us about cachaça, Grace Jones shedding tears, and growing a beard.

What are your favorite places in Miami, outside of Morgans properties? The pool at The Standard Hotel is the most relaxing place in Miami, period. There’s an incredible place called Silvia’s. It’s this inland restaurant on the canal where nobody speaks any English, and you can pick your fish in an icebox right there, and they cook it up right on the spot for you. I love the bar at Smith & Wollensky. I like Abbey Brewing Co. because it’s a tiny bar that just has beer and a dart board, and on any night off, there’s nothing better than a pint and a game of darts.

What does “regional director of nightlife” entail? I make sure that we have the proper finger on the pulse of what’s happening. Plus I control the decision-making on anything from special events, music and entertainment, any programming. Anything regarding nightlife or entertainment.

What’s the most difficult part of your job? Sleeping and not being able to find enough time to sleep.

How would you describe yourself? As a gentleman who is calculating and knows what I would like to accomplish in my life.

And what would you like to accomplish in your life? I’d like to have a hotel chain that features great public areas, that has great food and beverage options. It’ll be very much the equation of successful boutique hotels. Then I’ll retire from that, become a politician for 15 years, and teach history to college kids wearing a corduroy jacket with elbow patches and a pipe and a big beard.

Every night, do you jump around between all three places? I spend most of my time at the Florida Room because my office is at Delano, but I bounce around to the three as much as I can.

How do these three spots differ? Symbiotic with the actual hotel properties themselves, each of the properties offers something unique. The properties share certain characteristics that are similar and very distinct to Morgans, but they are also three completely different experiences. Skybar at the Shore Club is a larger venue where you can sit and have a club-like experience in the Red Room, or have cocktails outside in the garden or poolside. You have Nobu and Ago on that property as well. The Florida Room is the smaller, more intimate gem sitting under the basement of Delano. When Ian Schrager built it, the mentality was that we have to build an iconic lounge underneath to follow suit. It’s a Latin-style speakeasy piano bar, and every night, we do live music followed by atypical DJ sets. It’s a very non-South Beach formula of 70s, 80s funk, old-school hip-hop. The clientele at the Florida Room is very mature, and it’s not a forced mentality of bottle service. Any night, you’ll walk down and you can see a performance of anyone from Grace Jones to Perry Farrell. Between all three of our properties, you can really roam and experience something completely different.

How’s business at the Mondrian? The Mondrian is our newest property down here, and the Sunset Lounge is there because Miami has kind of always lacked a place for the people who have a regular 9-5 job. This is a place to have cocktails right after work, or use as a pre-dinner/post-dinner venue for cocktails. The Mondrian is the first hotel built in 40 years on the west side of South Beach, with beautiful views at sunset. We really wanted to create an offering for people to sit and have cocktails and not feel like they’re being forced to enjoy Miami clubland. It’s relaxed and chill. There we have a cachaça bar. Cachaça is what tequila was 15 years ago. We have 60 different types of cachaça, and we infuse 8 different flavors. You can enjoy a wonderful, tropical environment with a properly made cocktail with crushed ice, and anything from cardamom and pineapple to passion fruit and chili. You genuinely feel like you’re on a tropical vacation at the Sunset Lounge.

Are there any personal touches that you’ve added to these venues? The people that work there. One of the things that we really pride ourselves on is seeing people succeed, and for us, it seems that at all of our properties we have our family. You’d experience that when you go there, that there’s someone who cares about their job, and they see their future potential in it. I’m really proud of the teams that we’ve created.

What do you look for in potential employees? I look for people who care, who smile and are friendly. We’re in the business of engaging with guests and talking with people. You have to be a people person. We help create experiences, and when people come out to enjoy themselves at Morgans hotels, they’re looking to make memories, to have positive experiences. I look for staffers who want to help make moments, and we’ve done a pretty good job finding them.

What’s your favorite property? I’d have to say the Florida Room because you never know what’s going to turn up there. Lenny Kravitz designed the lounge, and some of the most intimate moments of live music that I’ve ever seen have been in the Florida Room.

Most memorable experience there? When we had Perry Farrell performing in the middle of the room, surrounded by a cocoon of people … everybody was just completely entrenched in the fact that they would have this man sweating on them. Grace Jones was sitting and crying in front of an audience that she was actually touching in a room that fits no more than 250 people.

How was Lenny Kravitz involved in the design of the Florida Room? Lenny has a design company called Kravitz Design, and the Florida Room is actually their first public project. They created this gorgeous room with Swarovski crystal chandeliers and a $150,000 custom-made Schimmel lucite piano. There’s only three in the world, and the other two are in Lenny’s apartments in New York and in Paris. There are leather ceilings and glass-beaded wallpaper. The place oozes sophistication and intimacy.

What’s going on in nightlife in Miami from a general perspective? Nightlife in Miami is at a major crossroads, and bottle service is obviously dead. It was uncool two years ago. It was a means to be able to gain access and purchase real estate that nobody else was able to buy. But 2009 is the year of the bartender. That guy who used to go out and spend $2,000 on a table is still going out, but now he’s spending $200 at the bar. Places that have great bartenders and great cocktails are places that are not going to see a real dip in sales at the bar. Happy or sad people always like to drink; that’s one thing that always needs to be remembered. The juice in that bottle, that stuff is liquid gold. Go down to Wall Street now, you look at the pubs around Wall Street, and they’re absolutely packed. Those guys are having rough times, but it doesn’t mean that they can’t afford a couple beers at the end of their day.

Las Vegas: Top 5 Late-Night Eats

imageYour stomach does not know or care what time it is.

1. Mr. Lucky’s (Off-Strip East) – The food is merely adequate, but it’s the most convenient — and lively — pit stop between parties. 2. Firefly (Off-Strip East) – This noisy, dimly lit tapas joint serves small plates and specialty sangrias to a crowd of trendy, chatty locals until 2 a.m. 3. Fix (Strip: Central) – Fix’s organic-feeling, wood-lined setting contrasts with the prettified people picking at glammed-up diner food like Kobe beef chili cheese fries.

4. Social House (Strip: Central) – Need to eat but want to keep on partying? Enjoy the Strip-side view over martinis and sushi until the wee hours. 5. Smith & Wollensky (Strip: Central) – Craving a T-bone at midnight? The S&W’s Sidewalk café can accommodate, right down to the creamed spinach and mashed potatoes.

Miami: Top 5 Views

imageRise above the riff raff below and survey your tropical kingdom.

1. Smith & Wollensky Where you can sip stiff drinks by the Deco Bar and watch the sun set while cruise ships steam by. 2. Level 25 Miami has the sexiest city lights. Overlook them while you schmooze, 250 feet above ocean level, on the 25th floor of the chic Conrad hotel. 3. Mandarin Oriental All rooms have balconies overlooking the bay or skyline. But the stars you’ll see in the lobby — celebs dig it.

4. Townhouse Rooftop Lounge Uber-modern red-and-white property is renowned for its rooftop deck, the site of all kinds of youthquake parties. 5. Bahia The 7th-floor pool deck of the Four Seasons Hotel could be in the Bahamas. Beautiful views of palms rising out of pristine blue pools.