London Opening: Sushi Samba

As sushi, the cuisine, settles into this post-Zeigeist phase, it only makes sense that its cleverest proponents would be getting into some high-conceptualizing. Sushi Samba, for instance, has become as much a design brand as a restaurant, with rather spectacular interiors in their Chicago and Vegas outposts. Now, just in time to get some of that mad Olympic cash, they’ve opened on the top two floors of London’s epic edifice Heron Tower with perhaps their most awe-inspiring space, by architects CetraRuddy.

Patrons can dine in a massive glass space with a dazzling bamboo-sculpture canopy. But best of all, two sprawling terraces offer distinctly dramatic views of the capital, including a close-up 30 St Mary Axe (otherwise known as the Gherkin building). The brand’s unique cross of Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian cuisine makes it all a very international experience. 

Industry Insiders: Franklin Ferguson, Montauk’s ‘Navy’ Seal

Freshly shorn of the mountain man beard that kept him warm throughout the desolate Montauk winter, as he worked to painstakingly remake a former bayside dive into a beachfront restaurant retreat, Franklin Ferguson now sports only a couple of day’s worth of stubble. After months of hands-on hard labor he’s looking much like his soon-to-open project, comfortably weathered but ready for the sunshine. “I wouldn’t mind if I never touched another paintbrush,” says Ferguson, who himself moved from Manhattan to Mountauk to oversee reconstruction of the Sunset Saloon, transforming it into his new venture, Navy Beach.

When the property, sitting on a pristine and remote stretch of Montauk beach alongside what had been a Naval base with a rich history dating to World War II, presented itself Ferguson and co. couldn’t pass it up. But, after signing the lease in late December, they had to move quickly to make a May opening (hence his winter regimen): “We came out, took a look at it, and six months later, we’ve got a restaurant.”

After serving in senior beverage posts for China Grill, Sushi Samba and others, Ferguson, a member of the International Sommelier Guild for six years and an instructor for four, takes the helm at Navy Beach, along with partner Frank Davis and a team that includes his fiance Leyla Marchetto of Scuderia (which sits across the street in the West Village from her father’s Da Silvano). Ferguson says he has been doing openings for about ten years, and that Navy Beach is his seventh. He sums up his role in past as openings simply: “I’m the guy who gets stuff done.”

While in the past his challenges were more on the order of the logistics behind trying to get an elephant into Times Square for an opening, he found the problems posed by the outer limits of Long Island in the doldrums of the dead season more mundane if no less daunting. “UPS and Fed-Ex, for freight, deliver here once a week. That’s it. Regardless if you pay for two-day shipping,” he says. “You can’t go to the store and just buy a butane lighter.” The experience was his first taste of the area, but as a brand-new year-rounder, he seems to have eased into its rhythms, and used it as an excuse to grow that beard.

“Basically what we tried to do was build something like a 1950s yacht club, and super-impose it into today,” he explains, cautioning he doesn’t mean the yacht clubs of ascots, white loafers and toy poodles, but more of a casual easygoing feel. Vintage bathing suits pinned to the walls, and framed photos of era celebs like Marylin Monroe coupled with nautical touches capture the mood. Then there are the beams, made of salvaged wood from the former Naval base just a few seagull swoops from the restaurant’s deck.

When looking for a meal in the dead air that is January to March in Montauk, Ferguson, with his months’ growth of facial hair and paint-spattered clothes, found comfort in local go-to spots O’Murphy’s and Shagwong. “If you’re feeling like you want a really nice dark room and a massive calamari salad then you to Shagwong. If you want to talk to [O’Murphy’s owners] Chet and Jan [Kordasz], then you go to O’Murphy’s and hang out there.” He also calls out the Chowder House, which he says “has great oysters–and they’re cheap–and the bartenders are great.” Besides these, and the occasional barbecue run to Townline, Ferguson’s main local nightlife and dining option has been the IGA supermarket, from where he’d procure the fresh Florida corn he roasted up on the grill in his backyard in the snow. Quite a change from New York, where besides Da Silvano he frequented the Gramercy Tavern (“The bartenders are second to none; Jeremy and Ashley take care of you”), and La Pizza Fresco (“The best Neapolitan pizza I’ve had in my life, smokin’ wine list, and the gnocci is like the tears of Zeus”).

In Montauk friends and family means something entirely different than it generally does in Manhattan. The friends and family previews for Navy Beach were full of the local tradesman and craftsman who helped with construction, Ferguson says, “and the guy at the hardware store, and the guy at the drugstore and the guy at the liquor store.”

New to the area, Ferguson was not well-versed in Long Island vineyards, but as soon as the weather perked up, they certainly found him. “People started showing up like crazy, like at the front door, and I’m sitting here in carpenter’s clothes looking like a woolly mammoth. So, we are doing a bunch of local wines,” he says. But the focus of the wine list, which is concentrated on $100-$70 and under bottles, is to provide an esoteric selection from around the world (to complement the coastal cuisine) alongside local selections from Bedell, Macari, Lieb and others. Ferguson says his goal was to find “little gems.” “You may not recognize nine of the grapes in the wine,” he explains of one such ideal, “but it tastes fantastic, goes well with the food, and is $28.”

Which is not to say the beer list has not come in for some careful consideration as well. And again, it is nothing if not eclectic. Brooklyn and Peroni on tap anchor a lineup that includes Chimay, Pacifico, Corona, Heineken, and the local’s favorite. “You have to do Bud Light,” says Ferguson. This became clear “after debates with the people at Liars’ Saloon about alienating the locals … If you go anyplace that’s packed on a Tuesday or Wednesday night, it’s all fishermen and locals and it’s Bud Light across the bar. Bottles, never tap. And they always put it in a glass.” Then he says, getting his Midwest up, “I’m a Miller guy.” So High Life will be represented as well.

Industry Insiders: Shimon Bokovza, Samba Savvy

As a 21-year-old Russian beach bum, he started Israel’s first and only ski resort, followed by an open-air Amazon village complete with volleyball court and golf driving range on the Hudson River. He went on to open the Kit Kat Club that featured Cabaret off-Broadway, and finally Sushi Samba. His Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill will also open in coming months in Miami, just in time for New Year’s. While celebrating Sushi Samba’s 10 Year Anniversary this month, Shimon Bokovza is just warming up.

What’s your job description? I’m trying to be like the Kennedys now! In charge of all of the operations of Sushi Samba, worldwide. I basically am into the operation of the places and reinventing how to keep Sushi Samba relevant, how to keep it going — from the menu to sprucing up the places. We’ve been in operation for ten years, and some locations need capital improvement to update them, so there’s a lot to do, plus bringing in a new management to the places. Above all, we’re looking into expansion, to see exactly where we’re going next. We’d like to do it where we get the most for our efforts. We just opened in Vegas, and it takes a lot of “push” to keep it going. Then, there are meetings with managers, tastings, meetings with the corporate chiefs, the managing partners. It’s a big schedule and requires a lot of traveling on a weekly basis. When I don’t travel, I’m really happy.

How’d you get your start? As a kid I was walking with my father in the market, shopping with him, so I learned from him how to pick up the right foods. In the Mediterranean, shopping is done on a daily basis. Knowing how to buy foods is really important, so when you eat it, you’re really happy with it. Then I went to Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration, and then to the hospitality industry.

But you did that after you’d already opened a ski resort when you were only 21. Yes, but that was in 1979. I had a lot to learn before I opened Harvest, Apropos, then the first Amazon Club in Philadelphia before we came to Manhattan and Sag Harbor.

What are your go-to places? Because of my travel, I really don’t eat much outside of Sushi Samba, except when I’m home. I have two little ones, so I cook a lot at home to spend time with them. If I go out, one of my favorite places is the Bar Room in The Modern at the MoMA. My son is the chef de cuisine there, so obviously I go there more often than most places. When I go to Miami, I like Michy’s by Michelle Bernstein. I also like Senora Martinez, a fresh tapas place. Other than that, in Vegas, if I don’t eat at my restaurant, I like Robuchon.

Who are your mentors? I really like somebody who came to speak at Cornell, Joe Baum, who has unfortunately passed away. He really influence me quite a bit, besides being my wife’s ex-boss. I really respected him. I admire my wife and my mother for whatever they do, and after all, my wife is in the business!

What’s going on in hospitality? I think a lot of good things are happening: the industry is becoming more sophisticated, more computerized. What we do today with OpenTable is amazing, you’d never have thought that something we did for ten years would now be industry wide. Most of our reservations are coming through the web. There’s another company that’s dealing with intelligent programs: Avero. I don’t now what we’d do without them, and ten years ago they didn’t exist. I think we were their second or third contract. In addition to that, the industry is more green friendly than before. Food is going to become more and more local; you need to be in a certain radius of the food range to get really good, locally grown, organic food. Slowly, slowly it’s moving through the industry. Thirty years ago, this was the most primitive part of the industry.

Things that annoy you about owning a restaurant? I’m not sure if it’s negative or not: it’s the regulations by different cities, by different codes. We’re a business that consists of thousands of little things that need to be put together to become a restaurant. If you stop it with regulations, it becomes really difficult, probably one of the toughest things in this business. Like everything else, you overcome it make it happen, move on.

Something that people might not know about you? I like to eat fish heads! Probably, if I would say that I love Guns N’ Roses and that I play guitar, people wouldn’t believe me.

Favorite guitarist? I really like Paco de Lucía because he’s the best guitar player on this planet. I’m a guitar player, but I’m so bad. Once I heard him play, I stopped.

Who are your favorite artists? I like Piet Mondrian, and am very much influenced by him at Sushi Samba. That takes me into the most recent love: graffiti art. We’ve started working with it and it’s become fashionable in the past three years. We exhibit at Art Basel every year, graffiti artists from Brazil and Japan at the restaurant in Miami Beach, and we design the restaurants with artists in mind. Our Graffiti Gone Global initiative is the city’s largest international street art fair. We’ll also publish a corresponding book with GGG curators James and Karla Murray. A lot of our food is based on street food, so other street elements, like graffiti make Sushi Samba a complete experience in a great place to eat.

New York City Itinerary: Hard Times with Paul Iacono

“Who would have thought that a show about a guy with a big dick would become such a hot commodity?” says Paul Iacono, as he passes a giant billboard for HBO’s Hung, the word “Ho” plastered across Thomas Jane’s face. Never mind the overlap, this season, the 21- year-old writer-actor will play RJ in MTV’s Hard Times, a series about a young loner with, according to Iacono, “a massive, massive penis — but the show’s main organ is its heart.” He also stars in this month’s “reinvention” of Fame, a role for which he’s visibly grateful. But while strolling through his favorite East Village haunts (see our behind-the-scenes video), he’s just been informed that the film’s rating has gone from PG-13 to PG. “My character now says, ‘It was everything I hoped for and more, except for the part where I’m still a virgin — technically,’ instead of, ‘I was supposed to get laid.’ But,” he adds, grinning, “At least I get to drop my pants on TV.”

image Cafe Gitane 242 Mott Street This is one of my favorite places to get lost in my writing and grab some amazing French grub. I used to live around the corner on Elizabeth Street with my roommate at the time. He is kind of infamous in the area for being this very good-looking guy who paints on the corner of Elizabeth and Prince Street. It’s not even his art as much as his look that sells. Anyway, I found the apartment on Craigslist, and lived there for four months until our smack-user landlord, the guy I gave my rent check to, tried to evict us. I’ve written a play called Prince/Elizabeth, which was inspired by living down here.

Yaffa Cafe 97 Street. Mark’s Place I had insomnia for a full year, right after I dropped out of college to pursue acting. I’d come here at 3 in the morning for a cup of coffee and free wireless. It was a really hard decision to drop out of college—I spent a year in limbo, during which time I went out into the world and lived every fucking experience to a T.

image St. Mark’s Comics 11 St. Mark’s Place I’m a DC Comics fan all the way. One of the first films I recall seeing was Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. I watched Jack Nicholson play the Joker and fell absolutely in love—I became a 3-year-old child who watched Terms of Endearment and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I was a weird little kid.

Angel’s Share 8 Stuyvesant Street, 2nd Floor You stumble through a door at this sushi-and-sake restaurant thinking it leads to the restroom, but little do people know, it opens into this old, 1950s-inspired speakeasy with mahogany wood and leather. I get off on that. Apparently, there used to be swarms of these places during Prohibition, but they still exist, and Angel’s Share was the first one that I found. There’s PDT (113 St. Mark’s Place) below Crif Dogs. There’s also The Back Room (102 Norfolk Street), the entrance to which looks like a gate that leads into an alleyway that says “East Village Toy Company.” They serve drinks in coffee cups and beer in brown paper bags. I’ve been going out in New York since I was 15 years old. As long as you’re not a hot mess, most places in New York respect the youth. Plus, I’ve had many fake IDs over the years. My favorite was one on which Pennsylvania was spelled like “Peen-sylvania.”

image Sushi Samba 245 Park Avenue South It’s a Brazilian-and-Japanese fusion restaurant, so don’t expect the stereotypical spicy tuna roll. It’s got the best sushi in the city, original and authentic at the same time. They have a gorgeous rooftop patio at the one on Seventh Avenue. There’s such a lack of really nice outdoor seating in the city. Speaking of, I had a weird experience at Above Allen (190 Allen Street) a week ago. I was standing in line at the bar when someone jacked my BlackBerry right out from my back pocket.

image Topshop 478 Broadway All of their stuff has that classic men’s look—very straightforward, clean lines. I grew up idolizing the Rat Pack, which heavily influenced my identity and the way that I like to present myself. I’m not at the point yet where I get sent free stuff so, typically, most of my shopping is very practical. One thing I definitely learned from Fame is the power of mixing and matching, and the glory of accessories and layers.

Photography by Pieter Henket

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?

Industry Insiders: Eddie Dean, Pacha Honcho

The owner of the flagship Pacha in New York on international clientele, the rough lifestyle required for nightlife connoisseurs, and flushing out the phonies.

When you’re not partying at Pacha, where are you? I always find myself at Sushi Samba on Seventh Avenue. I love the outdoor roof. It’s a great place to entertain. I’m forever hosting people from South America and Spain there. They treat us well, and the food and the vibe is great. Asia de Cuba has great service, great food, and a great energy. I like Henry’s End in Brooklyn at the end of Henry Street. The owners are real wine connoisseurs … they search the globe and feature five reds that are unique. Just had a great meal at Dovetail, another great spot.

How did you end up here? I knew I wanted to have my own business, but I didn’t know it would be a nightclub. The opportunity presented itself. We put together a business plan to open this little bar in Bay Ridge, and then we owned about 15 places. It’s a lot of late hours, a lot of grueling work, but it’s what I do. I have moments when I’m tired and want to do something different — and then I realize that I love the people, the experience of making people happy, of employees doing well. We’re the biggest nightclub in New York, and everybody’s trying to take us out, so you need a strong constitution to come in every day and keep on fighting. It’s an exhausting battle. I was 24 when I opened my first place, and 28 when I opened another couple of places. People sometimes ask me my secret: I think long term and don’t take short cuts.

Who do you admire in the hospitality industry? The first thing I think of is longevity, not the flashy guys who are in for six months. I think of Jeffrey Chodorow and Steve Hanson. They’re successful with different restaurants with different menus in different neighborhoods. Promoters who have been successful owners include Noah Tepperberg and Jason Strauss from Marquee and Mark Packer of Tao. And then there are people who get into this business for the wrong reasons and muck things up.

What’s a positive trend you’ve noticed in nightclubs? I think what’s going on now is economical. The economy is going to separate the men from the boys. Over the past couple of years, people have become so money-driven that they don’t care about quality, just about how much they’re going to make before they produce anything. So, as tough as the economy is, it will flush out the phonies. The strong will survive. It will bring the quality up because there will be more good people working in fewer places. We’re making adjustments here, but we’ve buckled up and made some tough decisions. We have a viable product — a world-class nightclub — and DJs around the world want to play in a successful place more than ever.

And negative things? We don’t have enough unity in nightlife. Some people feel that it would compromise relationships, and others feel it’s getting too close to the competition. There’s too much at stake not to unify. We would get a unified voice to get the positive things that we contribute to the city to overcome the negative image. People are quick to report negativity. If there’s an arrest, if there’s a problem somewhere, it gets reported — and it’s really not fair, it’s a one-sided story.

What do you love about your joint? There’s nothing better than to be here on a Friday or Saturday night to hear the accents from around the world. More than half of the people here on New Year’s Eve were from Europe and South America. They came to celebrate at Pacha . That’s the greatest compliment of all. My doorman speaks four different languages, just to accommodate the questions from people who don’t speak English.

What is something that people might not know about you? I’m obsessed with sports. I’m a big Mets fan, but if Derek Jeter was in the club, I’d love it — he doesn’t take short cuts either. I could watch sports day and night. I watch ESPN six nights in a row. I love college sports, but right now none of my teams have had the best year. But I’m a fan, so I’m eternally optimistic. Ballplayers will come in here, and I’ll be introduced to them. I’ll tell them about their careers because I’m a statistics nut, and sometimes it spooks them.

What’s on the horizon? I’ve had several places over the years, but Pacha is a full-time project, and anything going forward will be more and more Pacha stuff to expand the brand throughout North America. The economy means we’re proceeding with caution. I take it very seriously. It’s a big responsibility, and we’re doing everything we can to keep from laying off people.