Witnessing Arlington Club’s Laurent Tourondel & Paul Goldstein Respond To NYT Review

While the steakhouse remains a particularly American concept, nothing’s more enjoyable than the sound of a Frenchman saying “piece of boeuf.” And though the pairing of chef Laurent Tourondel’s steakhouse variation with a punch of TAO Group atmosphere is less than conventional, it seems more than a good idea. Arlington Club, which opened last fall, has already made itself necessary; it’s a fine-dining spot on the Upper East Side with the energy to push past a nine o’clock bedtime.

The high-ceilinged, vaguely steampunky dining room lends itself to a party more than Maloney & Porcelli’s equestrian portrait hall, but conversation dictates the volume; there’s no Rihanna-fueled dancing on tables a-la sister properties TAO and Lavo. But the front bar is buzzing enough to have a waiting list of its own, and greeting one’s neighboring table is common practice.

The menu, which still features a 28-day dry-aged New York Strip and filet, has a pretty loose adherence to steakhouse orthodoxy. The two cuts that come most recommended—a cote du boeuf (for two) and an American Wagyu skirt steak—are abutted by seven available sauces. The macaroni and cheese comes as a ramekin of rigatoni noodles, stood on end like soldiers and crusted on top (with a crème brule torch?). The meal starts with a bowl of hot popovers, cheese-crusted on top, and just-baked on the inside. Old-school touches, like Brooklyn-gassed seltzer bottles and halved pickles, trade off with more novel steakhouse offerings. For example, they’re doing brunch.

But so far, the only sticking point has been the presence of sushi in the top corner of the menu (the main roll is an Osaka-style spicy tuna with Sriracha). But as critics scrunch their noses, the chef contends they’ve barely kept up with the demand from guests. That’s not to say the reviews don’t matter—Tourondel’s BLT restaurants and LT Burger have garnered him an esteemed reputation among critics over the years.

And when I sat down with Tourondel and TAO Group partner Paul Goldstein last week, their publicists were compulsively tapping their phones to refresh the New York Times Dining page. Halfway through this interview, Pete Wells’ piece went up. Wait for it.

You started cooking in the French Navy, but did they train you as an infantryman?
Laurent Tourondel: Yeah, I’m a sniper.

Really?
LT: No, I’m joking. But I was in France—I was in a hotel, actually. They put me at the private hotel of the Admiral. So we were, like, fifteen [of us] inside the private hotel of the Admiral, clueless about the Army, clueless about the Navy. And one day we receive a phone call from the base. And they say someone’s going to attack the Admiral’s house, and it’s going to be an aircraft carrier from America. So the Marines, they attack the house. And in something like three minutes and fifty seconds, they tied me up, tied the guy up. And we were like, what are you guys doing? We’re not here to do war! But it was an exercise. Someone had told us there was going to be an exercise, but we didn’t know when, it was very vague.

Is the steakhouse a uniquely American thing?
LT: Definitely, I don’t think there is any other meat-specializing restaurant around the world.

Then what drew you to steak and burgers?
LT: Well, it was not really French cooking, so for me it was something different to explore. I like learning different things so, you know, it was a big challenge for me to make it successful. You know, I’m a big fan of this meat—the American beef.

Do you have strong opinions about which cuts you like and which ones you don’t?
LT: Very much so. If you come to eat and you ask me, I’ll tell you, I dis-recommend a porterhouse. I will recommend you a skirt steak, I will recommend you a good New York steak because here, we actually have an amazing New York steak. It’s prime, top quality beef.

There are a handful of steak sauces on the menu. Is that something that gets the thumbs-up?
LT: Yeah, I think it’s good to give people options. It’s part of the sharing process at the table, and sharing is what we oriented this restaurant around. It’s very much about the center of the table—everybody shares.

Is Arlington Club looking to build an atmosphere similar to Lavo and Tao?
Paul Goldstein: It’s a bit toned down. We go into every one of our properties with a vision, but we also just go with it. Lavo wasn’t meant to be this dancing-on-tables-and-chairs party atmosphere, but it just kind of played out like that, and it worked. And we thought Arlington Club was going to be a little bit more fine dining than any of our other restaurants, and it is. But we’re getting a fun crowd, which is creating a little bit of a buzz. You know, at a point we thought it would be fine dining, and now it’s just more fun dining. We get that earlier crowd that likes that fine dining, and then 7:30pm, 8pm, it turns into the Upper East Side who’s who.

How have you managed to be successful at bringing in crowds late at night in this neighborhood?
PG: We create a buzz. It’s turned into a little bit of a destination spot for the downtown crowd.

So people are coming up?
PG: Some people are coming up—I think it’s more of the downtown crowd that lives uptown, that doesn’t want to go downtown. I heard a story about Blue Ribbon—when they started Blue Ribbon, it was dead. And they were like, we got to push it, we got to stay with it, we want to be that late-night spot. And two, three years into it, the chefs started coming, people started hearing about it being a late-night spot, and it’s now obviously what it is today, packed ’til four, five o’clock in the morning every single night. And that’s kind of something that we always think about. If we keep on pushing it, and keep on pushing it, we’ll eventually be able to get that crowd.

Is it difficult to get through that three-year period before you wind up where you really want to be? Is there the threat of things shutting down before you get there?
PG: Fortunately, you know, we’re there. I don’t want to be, um . . . I just think that we have a decent reputation for creating a bar scene, creating a little bit of a vibe. And we’re getting it. Guests like coming in later.

LT:It’s amazing to me because I had a restaurant on 77th street, and we used to do early seatings. But last night, it was like ten o’clock, and we had, I don’t know, seventy people that just sat down. It was crazy, you know?

And that’s not something you’ve experienced before?
LT: Not in this neighborhood, no.

PG: (to his publicist) Did it come out?

Publicist: We’re being told that, yes.

PG: And?

Publicist: Opening it. 2 stars.

(A moment later, applause erupted from the kitchen. Pete Wells gave the restaurant a great review overall, pointing to the sushi as the one awkward mistake, and diagnosing an “identity crisis” based on the deviations from standard steakhouse food and atmosphere).

PG: He loves that. The whole “identity crisis” thing.

Well, what was the inspiration for combining sushi with a more traditional steakhouse menu?
LT: You know, I think what we wanted to do was provide a different kind of appetizer. So instead of, you know, the typical crab cake you have on every steakhouse menu. We still have it here, but we modernize it a little bit.

At this point in your career, do you still get nervous and excited about reviews?
LT: It’s funny, I didn’t think about it today until [our publicists] came, like an hour ago. I’ve been rated probably eight times, ten times, I don’t know. Three times I’ve gotten a three star, bunch of times two stars. We have to pay attention to it because our clientele around here is very much the Upper East Side, and they read the New York Times everyday.

PG:This will help where we need help. This will help the five o’clock seating. Restaurants in New York, they’re busy from seven-thirty to nine. That doesn’t impress us. To be busy at five-thirty? That’s impressive. To be busy at eleven-thirty? That’s impressive. And the crowd up here, they go to good restaurants, and they go at five-thirty. And two stars—that’s a great restaurant. I know it’s two out of four, and some people would say it’s fifty percent, or whatever, but two stars for the style of service we have is top-notch.

What does the vibe become at 11 o’clock at night?
PG:A lot of chatter, a lot of talking. This table getting and up and saying hi to that table, tables combining. We never raise the volume of the music higher than the noise of the guests speaking. Whereas in our other restaurants, as the volume of the guests’ speaking raises, we raise the volume of the music to kind of, you know, add fuel to the fire. Whereas here, as the volume of the guests go up, we actually lower the music and let that be the atmosphere.

I don’t often think of steakhouses as being brunch restaurants, but you guys have it.
LT: It’s a good point. But besides being a steakhouse, we’re also a neighborhood restaurant. And I don’t think there’s much going on around these couple blocks at the time of brunch, so we could be really busy, doing maybe a late brunch, with some great drinks. Maybe more family oriented, you know, on Sunday.

PG: The partnership that we have, although it’s the first, I think it’s really worked out. It’s taught me a lot. He deals with the back of the house, and they let us do what we do at the front of the house.

What We’ve Wanted All Along: Long Island City’s S Prime

S Prime, the steakhouse that opened this fall in Long Island City, certainly has some competition from the other side of the bridge.

In 1985, Paul Castellano, boss of the Gambino crime family, was gunned down in front of Sparks at the behest of John Gotti, and it’s for this reason I’ve always had an affinity for steakhouses. I’m not partial to violence; I’m terrified of guns. But growing up as a native New Yorker plucked from my home city, visits back were always validated by a visit to Sparks (or Keens or Peter Luger), where the grounds of something as cartoonishly New Yorkey as a famous mob hit helps to beat on against the current of The Lion King on Broadway.

Which is to say, a good steakhouse ought not to dazzle with anything too inventive. Rather, it should give us those reminders—oysters on the half shell, thick-ass filets, buttered-up vegetables—of what we’ve always loved enough to shell out hundreds of dollars for. And it’s in this regard that S Prime knows what it’s doing.

The executive chef Joel Reiss – who’s made the rounds of The Post House, Maloney & Porcelli, Orsay, and Artisanal – strikes a blend of sincerity and not-taking-things-too-seriously that seems to get rarer in this city, between the purveyors of hipster ramen and any of those farm-to-table gastropub people the New Yorker has profiled. The only addendum to the meat itself is an optional Cajun spice rub. Every time Reiss mentioned it, he’d hold up his palms and go, “I make it myself,” all in one syllable.   

The signature cuts vary a bit from my admittedly infantile adherence to filet mignon (if I couldn’t gnaw through a rib eye at 5, why try now?). A 28-ounce, 60-day dry aged rib eye is Reiss’ trophy steak, again with the self-made Cajun spice that is, indeed, spicy.

The trio of tartares is a must: smoked salmon with bagel chips, spicy tuna with wanton chips, and a steak tartare you could eat a whole sandwich of. The sides list, divided between “Good Sides” (vegetables) and “Bad Sides” (fatty stuff), features a Lap Cheong fried rice and baby brussel sprouts rolled in butter and parmesan, which are much less bitter (maybe it was the butter?) than their larger siblings and are also, as I’ve discovered, incredibly hard to find in the grocery store. And then there’s the crab cake, which is pleasantly made of crab, as opposed to celery and bread crumbs. 

All this stuff is served in ample portions, and the food itself is appetizing enough that no frivolous design affects are necessary. The dining room, with tall ceilings and tufted leather booths, is night-clubby in a Queens sort of way. But the best part is that despite all the dark accents, the place is lit up enough so you can see what you’re eating.

Reiss, a Queens native, now lives in Oceanside, where he keeps a fishing boat that he takes out most mornings. “Catch a striped bass—that’s dinner for three days.” After a long whimsy about steaks, he conceded that most nights these days, it’s chicken or fish. “Twice a month I’ll have a piece of meat.” You know, as a reminder.

Delmonico’s Dresses Down to Spread Its Reign: Q&A With Owner Dennis Turcinovic

When brothers John and Peter Delmonico opened the first Delmonico’s in Downtown Manhattan in 1827, they helped pioneer fine dining in the city. As one of the top establishments of its time, the famous steakhouse created what are now classic dishes including lobster Newberg, baked Alaska, and of course, the Delmonico steak.

Over the years, the original Delmonico’s changed hands and buildings. Now, it’s owned by Dennis Turcinovic, who just opened Delmonico’s Kitchen, a more laid back version of the iconic fine dining joint. This is just the beginning of a chain of Delmonico’s as they plan to open locations all across the world. I chatted with Turcinovic to find out just what he has in mind.

What does it mean for Delmonico’s to open a more casual eatery?
We are so excited to bring the history of the original Delmonico’s to Midtown. Even though Delmonico’s is my home and where I was raised, I wanted to create a certain ambiance at Delmonico’s Kitchen, a place that is louder, hipper, and has a spin on the modern techniques of cooking. When I’m not working, I tend to go to places where I can wear a jacket, jeans and cool sneakers. That’s what we want to offer our customers.  I wanted to use the Delmonico’s brand and the long-standing history we have so people know they’re going to get a good meal and a good experience.

How does it relate to the original, iconic location?
Delmonico’s is not your father’s steak house. Our goal was to recreate the downtown classics in a chic, modern way uptown. You’ll notice our light fixtures are transcendent of a historic steakhouse however paired with modern placard wood, gold painted accents, and deep red upholstery, We’ve collided both the old and new world. As far as food, you’ll find many of our signature dishes invented at Delmonico’s on our menu at Delmonico’s Kitchen, but with an updated twist. For example, our classic Eggs Benedict is transformed with the addition of a crab cake, quail egg and d’espelette hollandaise. We also took some dishes that were invented at Delmonico’s but never made the menu downtown and put a modern twist on them. One of my personal favorites is the Pan Roasted Gianone Chicken Marengo. We’ve added shrimp and hen egg to the recipe for a unique collision of flavors.

I hear you want to expand worldwide, what brought this on?
Working in the Financial District for 15 years, I have met many notable, influential and inspiring people. The Delmonico’s brand is so well known that no matter where you go out to eat, there is always a connection to the restaurant’s iconic history. I remember walking into a butcher shop about 10 years ago and seeing a Delmonico’s rib chop. I asked the butcher where it came from and he said an iconic restaurant. The sense of pride I had at that moment gave me the inspiration and desire to build and expand upon such an already powerful brand. New York has nearly 47 million foreign and American tourists visit each year. Everyone wants to experience all the wonders of the city from music to arts to cuisine. Expanding Delmonico’s worldwide would allow patrons to experience a piece of culinary history as well as New York and American history. 

What areas do you want to open Delmonico’s in first? Why?
We want to start opening Delmonico’s Kitchen locations in larger domestic cities such as Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, and Washington DC. We want to keep the integrity and history of the restaurant, so we plan to keep control of the brand and hope to partner with larger brands and hotels for support.

Will you keep the signature items on the menu?
We will absolutely continue to preserve Delmonico’s history by keeping some of our signature items on the menu.  Delmonico’s wouldn’t be Delmonico’s without the Delmonico Steak, Lobster Newburg or Baked Alaska.

What makes Delmonico’s so special?
Delmonico’s is a family owned and operated business. Some of our waiters have been with us since before I was born. Everyone who is part of the original Delmonico’s has a sense of pride and passion for the restaurant and that’s something we don’t see too often these days. Every day that I go to work, I’m keeping a piece of history alive. 

How did the downtown Delmonico’s weather the storm?
Delmonico’s felt the wrath of Hurricane Sandy. The lower level of the restaurant suffered from flooding. A couple of our private dining rooms were flooded and caused equipment to move around. We immediately hired a crew and even though we didn’t have power for days after Sandy hit, the crew and myself were working with a generator to ensure we would be able to get the restaurant open as soon as possible. We opened our main dining room and bar on November 9 and we are almost complete with the re-build of our lower level.

Los Angeles Openings: Smoke, The Famous

Where’s there’s smoke, there’s a restaurant’s sign on fire. Or something like that. Smoke, the new steakhouse in West Hollywood, gives the people what they truly want (in a nightclub): a sign bathed in open flames, a wall of water, DJ booths, granite table tops, and Wagyu beef grilled in a wood-burning oven. Sure, there’s a lot of eye candy going on here, but the menu is full of interesting small plates, charcuterie, and steak, steak, steak.

The next time you’re in Glendale and thirsty for whiskey, might we suggest stopping in the old Huntley-Evans building? The Famous, a new tucked-away bar with a wall-length leather booth, streaming black and white movies on the walls, and a piano on the stage, is the perfect spot for rattling ice in your tumbler.

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