THIS WEEKEND: Your NYC Holiday Event Itinerary

It’s the beginning of December, which means now marks the time we transform into mushy, gushy, "oh my gosh! twinkling lights! I like Christmas cookies!" New Yorkers. And as we metamorphosize, it’s best we stick with like-minded events and like-minded people. So we’ve gathered this weekend’s top holiday events in NYC. Eat, drink, watch santa slasher movies, watch competitive jump-ropers – but please, make sure you’re your cynical, picky, self-deprecating self next year. No one likes an overtly emotional and sensitive New Yorker. 

FRIDAY THE 30TH:

  •  With the 55’ Bryant Park Christmas tree just lit this week, now is the perfect time to grab a decadent hot chocolate from one of the holiday shops, and marvel at the wonder that is spruce trees and colored lights. When you’re done, have some spicy salmon and eel rolls at what is considered one of the best sushi spots in Manhattan: Sushi Yasuda.
  • Santa slasher movies – they do exist. And Nitehawk Cinema honors the best of ‘em at its midnight screening of Silent Night, Deadly Night, the 1984 film where a toy-store Santa Clause goes on a rampage and axes people to death. Temper the crushing of your jolly Santa visions with a spiked hot bourbon cider and pretzel-crusted Nitehawk chocolate bar. 12:15am, $11. Also playing Saturday the 1st. All the details here.

SATURDAY THE 1ST:

  • Can’t decide which version of A Christmas Carol is your favorite? See them all at The Paley Center’s Christmas Carols: A Scrooge Mash-Up, where the classic story will be told using clips from a variety of versions starring Patrick Stewart, Mr. Magoo, and the animated casts of The Flinstones and Bugs Bunny. After, sit down to a cheese plate and rich mac ‘n’ cheese at our favorite Midtown West nook: cheese and wine cafe Casellula2pm show, $5-$10. Running till Dec. 31st. All the details here.

SUNDAY THE 2ND:

  • Jump-roping game Double Dutch gets festive and competitive at its 21st Annual Double Dutch Holiday Classic performance at the legendary Apollo Theater, where international students compete in one of the world’s largest jump roping contests. Expect lots of jumping, sweat, and tears, all to the tune of holiday music. 1pm-4pm, $22. All the details here.
  • Get toasty as Brooklyn’s famous pizza spot Roberta’s gets crafty with its Third Annual Beer Masters Winter Classic at Greenpoint bar Warsaw, which is just a fancy title for “massive beer competition.” Twelve teams of pros from Eataly, Bushwick bar Tutu’s, and more face-off in beer games like beer pong and ten-legged races, all inspired by the ’06 boozy comedy film Beerfest. The best part: three-dollar Roberta’s slices and beers from Warsaw are making an appearance allll day. 1pm-10pm, FREE. All the details here.

4 Out of 5: Sophie Pachella on New York

Sophie Pachella is a nutrition and fitness consultant based in New York City. She has written for numerous publications and appeared on several TV programs regarding nutrition, exercise, weight loss, and health. She is the co-CEO and founder of EatStrong and the creator Sophie Yogurt (thick Greek-style yogurt without the heavy sugaring). This is her take on four places she likes, and one place she doesn’t.

RECOMMENDED

Little Brown Chocolate Bakery & Coffee – "A chocolate-themed coffee shop launched by the same wizard (Max Brenner) who brought us Max Brenner’s in Union Square. Nutella hot cocoa, pretzels dipped in melted chocolate, and a killer egg and bacon sandwich, with excellent coffee too. This relative newcomer to the Upper East Side is a welcome burst of fresh air into the world of stale, same-old coffee shops. Free wifi, great music, giant windows, and open late for those who wish to dine on decadent treats (salads are available too, but why?!). Free samples are handed out regularly. This is my favorite go-to spot for snacks and meals, and my daughter loves it too. If you’ve been searching for a new spot to fuel up before heading into work…or decompress after a long day, make a point to stop by Little Brown.

Christian Louboutin Boutique – "Four-inch heels so comfortable you can jog in them, they’re addictive and ought to be illegal. Sexy, pricey, but worth the splurge, their attention to detail is so perfect as to make it impossible to find a reason not to go back for more. I’ve walked 20 blocks in my Louboutins, with ease. The heels even doubled as life-saving brakes when those on my Vespa failed me — remaining intact. Oh, Louboutin, must you make a shoe so perfect that no other will do? I was perfectly happy in my Asics until I fell in love with you."

Make – "Grab your little one, borrow someone else’s, or bring a bottle of wine and a date to this fun ‘make your own anything’ on the Upper East Side. From candles to dishes to cakes, you can decorate whatever your mood desires. At night, there’s a BYOB policy which futher enhances the creative process. You can waste hours in here. As luck would have it, each item takes a while to complete, keeping little ones engaged and happy. It’s a playdate locale for both kids and adults. You might end up with a few too many bars of soap with superheroes and/or mermaids trapped within, or scented candles topped with ducks/Spongebob/mistletow, but you’ll have a great deal of fun in the process."

Mediterraneo – "I visit this delicious, cosy, Midtown Italian restaurant on a regular basis … it’s just one of those places you keep wanting to go back to, with the added bonus of outdoor dining when the weather permits. The waitstaff is friendly and attentive, and the food is fresh and consistently exceeds expectations. Each time I go with a friend, they seem to gravitate back on their own. Their carpaccio dishes are all excellent, but the very best dish is the linguine nere all’arrabiata: black linguine with shrimp in a spicy tomato sauce. Simple, but perfect. I tend not to favor pizza when I’m out but am told those are equally divine. Most importantly, you can go with a date …or with your little one(s) in tow … and receive equally respectful attention. As a single mother of one, this alone awards them the golden star."

NOT SO MUCH

Sushi Yasuda – "Often hyped as ‘the best sushi in Manhattan’ — I remain perplexed and underwhelmed as to why. Not that’s it’s terrible … it’s just tantamount to naming Switzerland the most exciting country to visit in Europe. On the two occasions I’ve eaten there, I left hungry having spent a small fortune. Perhaps the elegance of miniature portions is lost on me … and without a doubt my Phelps-like appetite is hard to satiate, but I’ll be eating a pizza beforehand if I ever go there again.

Industry Insiders: Donatella Arpaia, Sleek in Greek

Once upon a time, restaurateur Donatella Arpaia was a corporate lawyer. Nine restaurants, several TV show appearances (including guest judging on The Food Network’s Iron Chef America, and Bravo’s Top Chef), and one Michelin Star-honored eatery later, New York foodies are grateful for the legal system not being her cup of tea. Donatella recently made time out of her insanely busy schedule to talk with us about what it’s like being a powerful presence in the restaurant business, how she felt about her partner (and executive chef of Anthos, Kefi, Mia Dona, and the newly opened Eos in Miami as well as Gus and Gabriel in New York) Michael Psilakis cooking for President Obama, and why she’s excited about Cooking in Heels.

So, I hear you’re currently filming in California. Can you tell me what for? A show for The Food Network. I can’t really say the name of the show right now, but that’s what I’m doing.

You just began guest blogging with the women’s company, iVillage. What sort of advice will you be giving? I’m writing the blog as we speak. I had a couple conversations with the iVillage people, and at first they said, ‘We just want the life of a restaurateur,’ and I think that’s great, and that’s really a part of who I am, but it should also relate to women across America. Sometimes my life can seem so glamorous, and it’s so not. I’m going to talk about my restaurants and what it’s like, but also aspects of being a woman in business, because I always try to lay it out, and I think everything is relatable: how to deal with difficult people, how to manage recipes that I’m making in the cookbook, how I entertain when I don’t have time. I really want it to be my life, and all the aspects of it, and the restaurateur is part of it, but I don’t want it to be all that. Anything and everything about my life—that’s what I’m doing.

You are now the face of a significant lifestyle brand. Back when you were a lawyer, did you ever consider—or hope—that would happen? I remember when I left law for the restaurant business, and it was like I was in a candy store; I was so happy. If you’d asked me ten years ago if I knew I’d end up where I was, I don’t think so, but I’ve always known that I was, extremely driven from a young age. I would say in the past few years of doing this, people were constantly interested in how I lived my life—from how I dress, to my home, to how I cook, to how I manage people. I had so many women coming up to me every day, looking to me for advice, and I really like giving advice and I like mentoring, and apparently they were interested in what I had to say. I have a restaurant background, and I just happened to know a lot about food, and hosting, and how to throw a party—because I do it for my life—and how to do it when you’re very busy. And also, at the same time, remember that I am a woman, and I’m on display all the time, and I have to manage my weight, my look, my everything. My life became an example of how to deal, of how to live and how to advise people, so I kind of became a natural.

How did your relationship with Michael Psilakis come to be? Michael and I met about seven, eight years ago. A mutual friend told me about this guy who was cooking Italian food on Long Island. I grew up on Long Island, so I was like, it can’t be good, because I know what Long Island food is all about. But this foodie friend of mine was like, ‘No, this guy is amazing!’ So, I went out there, and he cooked this ten-course tasting for me, and it was just unbelievable. So we became friends. And he really was a self-taught—and when I say self-taught, I mean no culinary school, no other chefs. And so we were talking for a while, and I had just opened up David Burke & Donatella, to tremendous success, and I knew David and I were very successful there, but that’s where it was going to end. So, I said, ‘Michael, you’re Greek. There’s a gazillion Italian restaurants out there, but no one has taken Greek cuisine to another level. That’s what you should do.’ He went all Greek, finally, when we opened up Anthos, which is the only Greek Michelin Star restaurant in the country. Then we just started expanding—Kefi, Eos, we’re about to open Gus & Gabriel—and I think it’s the strength of the partnership, and partnerships are not always easy: restaurants fail you; people don’t always know what they’re doing; they just got into it because they think they have a perception of what it is; they’re either under-funded; they’re successful in the partnerships but the ego gets in the way. That’s something that we have to work on by communicating constantly, and we really are supportive of each other. The more press he gets, I’m happy; the more press I get, he’s happy, because it just comes back to that common goal. For most people, it’s a simple thing, in theory, but in reality, it’s very hard to facilitate.

How did you feel when Michael was asked to cook for Obama? I was upset that I wasn’t going with him! It was just this spectacular moment. I remember that we were sitting down, and he’d just read the review for Kefi, and he wasn’t happy with it—even though the restaurant is a tremendous success—and then he gets a call from the secret service. We thought it was a joke, almost. They were like, ‘We want you to cook for Obama in two days.’ It was just the biggest whirlwind. I said, ‘Mike, this will never be the day where you got a bad review in the New York Times, it will be the day you got a call to cook for Obama! It’s awesome!’ And he said it was the most thrilling experience. He met Obama and he said, ‘He’s very tall, much taller than I’d thought, and he was just so nice. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.’

Do you get to veto menu items, or do you leave that entirely up to Michael? We both have our defining roles in our restaurants, where I’m more front, and he’s more back. But that being said, if he sees a problem with service, he’s going to say something; if I see a problem with food, I’m going to say something. And when we do taste things in the beginning, we’re so much a part of everything. Especially, for example, the Italian cuisine at Mia Dona, because that really is my background and it’s reflecting my heritage and my food—I had a lot more to say in that area. But I’ve never vetoed anything; it’s not like that. I would never say, ‘Take that off the menu,’ because we don’t have that kind of relationship. Everything is talked about, and he asks my opinion, and we have a very open relationship in that way, which is great. But, he’s so talented that we don’t really run into that at all.

At this point, is opening a new restaurant always a new experience, or does it start to feel ordinary? No, it never feels ordinary. I think it’s because we’re not opening a chain restaurant, we’re always expanding into new cuisines and new concepts. When we first opened Dona and Anthos, I was known for the glamour, the high-end, and he was known for the cerebral foodie-chef. Next, we opened Mia Dona, which was casual, rustic Italian, and people had problems with that, because people like to define you in the press. But in the end, it’s worked to our advantage, because it gives us a lot more breadth. And then we opened up Kefi, and now we’ve opened Eos, which for the first time is a small plate concept, and it has Spanish influence, and Latin influence, and that’s really a result of being in Miami and understanding that market, so that’s exciting to Michael, too. And then we come back here, and we’ve got Gus & Gabriel’s, which is an American gastro-pub. Every opening is always exciting, and always hard. I don’t know if it gets easier. I mean, I think we know more. It was a little less intense this time, but it’s still exciting to me.

Do you think that the recession will prove to be the end of fine dining, or do you think restaurants will just have to reinvent this concept? No, I don’t think that fine dining is going to die. I think it’s going to go through a very difficult time right now, and I think it’s because there was a lot of excess going on, and there was a lot of mediocrity out there that was doomed, no matter what. People want comfort; they don’t want to pay $10 for a glass of water. But, ultimately, and eventually, I think that it will come back. It’s kind of like when you look at fashion: the need for couture, as opposed to the need for ready-wear—that’s the comfort. I’m not afraid to say it—we’re in a bad economy, and ours is the one that got hit the most. I like to be realistic about things and then deal with it, and we struggle because we don’t want to compromise our brand, change it, or dumb it down. You can’t.

Have you altered your restaurants in any way to make them a bit more recession-proof? At Anthos, we decided to take the banquet room, which we used for corporate parties, and we turned it into Anthos Upstairs, which is tapas-style, small plates, where people can eat Anthos food, but a different version of it. It’s a little more accessible. So, that’s helping us right now, because that’s become very busy. And I think Anthos is still doing relatively well, compared to other restaurants that are completely dead. Even though it’s a high-end restaurant, it was never exaggerated—the price for what we offer—and I think we will survive these times. Like anything else, the strong will survive.

What advice can you give to those restaurants that are struggling? I’ve always stressed hospitality, service, and personal attention. Instead of going out to a fancy restaurant three times a week, or once every two weeks, somebody is going to go back to the place where you cared about them—whether times are good or bad. And I think that’s something that I’ve always stressed, and that’s a big part of what I bring to the front of the house. I’m obsessed with service, in terms of technique and hospitality. You can’t fake it—it’s like a relationship.

Of all your restaurants, which has your favorite menu, or your favorite selections? I always get that question, and it’s like asking which child I like the best. I think that Anthos is truly something special, because I don’t think that you can get that food anywhere—in the country, or the world. I’m so impressed, constantly, with the quality of the food we put out on such a consistent basis. It’s so inventive, and so different, and yet it still takes you home. When I go to Mia Dona, I love the Zeppole; they’re not oily or doughy. And I would say the Gnudi—it’s the signature dish, and I love it to death.

In terms of the décor, do you aim to conceive restaurants that reflect your personality, or do you think your restaurants take on individual personas of their own? That’s a good question. This is something that Michael and I focus on more and more with each restaurant. We make our mistakes and we learn, [but] everything has to come back to the same message. Like Kefi is a rustic Greek restaurant, so everything should be in your face that says rustic Greek. Maybe that’s not my style, but I appreciate it, and I think that it’s the right type of décor for that restaurant. I think there are other restaurants that have reflected my style, like davidburke & donatella, and Dona, which I really had a lot of say in. I love the idea of getting dressed up to go out—I think that it’s a lost art in New York—and I like to create restaurants where you feel good in, and you feel pretty. So, it depends. I mean, Mia Dona was really casual. We had to do a casual restaurant, and it was a difficult space: it’s a long, railroad space, so I came up with the idea of doing different rooms—a lounge, a living room and a library. And I have a say in everything, and if I don’t like something it’s not going to be in there, no matter what. But you have to cater it to what the identity of the restaurant is, and then, ultimately, the restaurant decides what it wants to be.

When you’re not eating at one of your restaurants, where do you like grab a bite? For pizza there’s a new café that I’m just adoring—it’s called Keste—on Bleecker Street. For sushi, I love [Sushi] Yasuda. For traditional Italian food I go to Fiorini—they have the best eggplant parmesan, and the fact that it’s my Dad’s restaurant has nothing to do with it, I swear! For Indian, I love Dawat; the tandoori chicken with rice is just incredible. Jean-Georges is still an icon to me, and I love going to his restaurant for a special occasion.

You’ve got an entertainment guide and cookbook coming out, no? Cooking in Heels. I think it really talks to the girl that I want to talk to—the 25-to-40, urban girl; [she’s] very bright, very stylish, very busy, and very used to doing things well, but when it comes to cooking, she was never taught and doesn’t have a clue. I think there’s really not a voice out there talking to that girl. The menu items are largely Mediterranean, and there’s cooking, but there’s also the presentation that’s involved. That comes out in Spring 2010.

New York: Top 10 Sushi Spots

Bond St. (Noho) – Though it’s lost some mojo on the hotspot meter, the melt-in-your-mouth sushi and swank décor continue to attract sushi snobs and modelizers alike. ● Sushi Yasuda (Midtown East) – Friendly staff and minimalist looks keep focus on expertly crafted sushi. Dinner will set you back a geisha’s ransom. ● East Japanese (Kips Bay) – Though quality at this mini-chain may not be much better than Food Emporium, for kitschy fun, affordable conveyor-belt sushi spot takes the cake. Sushi discounts on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Yuka (Upper East Side) – Got you covered with their $19 all-you-can-eat deal that won’t have you feeling sick for the rest of the week (just enjoy spicy mayo in moderation).Don’t try and sneak some to your friends, as watchful staff keeps an eye on patrons. ● Blue Ribbon Sushi (Soho) – Loses points for not taking reservations, and the price to indulge in their raw eats will set you back dearly, but there’s no denying that this sushi-snob-approved spot delivers with everything from classic California rolls to more exotic options like the kaki fri made with fried oysters and lettuce. ● Sushi Seki (Upper East Side) – Despite sleepy location, serves stunningly transcendental sushi — in both quality and price – until 3 a.m. ● Morimoto (Chelsea) – In the battle of NYC’s mega-sushi temples — EN Japanese Brasserie, Megu, etc. — Iron Chef Morimoto’s spot comes out on top not only because of the eats, but also because of glossy white interior and not-to-be-missed high-tech bathrooms. ● Jewel Bako (East Village) – Sleek digs and unforgettable omakase dinner make this fittingly named spot a true find; be prepared for stratospherically high prices. ● Sushi of Gari (Upper East Side) – With creations that include salmon sushi with onion cream and roasted tomato, marinated tuna sushi with tofu mayo, and red snapper sushi with arugula salad and fried lotus root, Chef Gari-san is the Wylie Dufresne of sushi. ● Sushi Zen (Midtown West) – Masa and its $400 sushi gets most of the attention, and Nobu gets all the stars, but Sushi Zen trumps them both with fresher than fresh sushi artfully prepared and presented by Chef Suzuki, who is not only licensed to serve potentially deadly fugu, but is the chef often credited with first introducing Americans to sushi.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Favorite NYC Spots, Done Right

As if winning an Oscar and having an Apple wasn’t enough, Gwyneth Paltrow is trying to steal our thunder by listing her favorite New York restaurants in her latest GOOP newsletter. That’s what we do, Gwyneth! How would you like it if we started doing yoga? When she did it for L.A., we let it slide as a mid-life crisis/nervous breakdown, but now she strikes again. Problem is, she’s not very good at it. After the jump, a list of Gwyneth’s favorite NYC restaurants, followed by her vague reasons why. Luckily, you can click on each restaurant to find out what it’s really about.

Babbo – “One of the city’s best.” ● Cookshop – “It is abuzz with foodies who come to taste the ever-changing menu.” ● Balthazar – “I love this place.” ● Gramercy Tavern – “One of New York’s most popular restaurants for a reason.” ● HanGawi – “HanGawi is a vegetarian Korean place that I have been going to for years.” ● Kelley and Ping SoHo – “Another SoHo spot that has been there for ages.” ● Lupa – “I love to go for spaghetti aglio e olio.” ● Omen – “Omen has been there since long before SoHo was trendy.” ● Sushi Yasuda – “Best sushi in NYC, hands down.” ● Tartine – “A very quaint, tiny French café on a perfect West Village corner.” ● Market Table – “I just recently discovered Market Table and I adore it.” ● BLT Fish Shack – “This is one of my most frequented spots.” ● 15 East – “One of my faves.” ● Pearl Oyster Bar – “Oh, how I love Pearl Oyster Bar.” ● Angelica Kitchen – “East Village granola heaven.” ● Momofuku Ssam and Noodle Bar – “These places became two of NYC’s hottest spots in a very short time. ” ● Aquagrill – “One of my regular spots.” ● Otto – ” A great place to bring kids.”

Industry Insiders: Jeffrey Chodorow, Fusion Fan

Jeffrey Chodorow, owner of China Grill, Asia de Cuba, Kobe Club, Ono, and other esteemed global eateries, dishes on Schrager, disses on DiSpirito, then row-row-rows his colorful boat ashore. Point of Origin: I was born in the Bronx, but my father died the year I was born, so my mother and I moved to Miami. I grew up in Miami Beach, where we lived with her sister. They were both manicurists in a Cuban barbershop, and they used to go to Havana for the weekend — which, incidentally, is how Asia de Cuba eventually came to be. I opened China Grill because I knew the Asian and Cuban pantry, so it seemed like a natural. I grew up very poor in a very wealthy Miami area where we went through school drills, hiding under our desks during the Cuban missile crisis. Some friends built a bomb shelter in their property which was nicer than our apartment! This was before Castro came in.

Occupations: With my very logical legal background, I got seduced by the restaurant business in Los Angeles. I was supposed to buy a football team, and I met this guy at Spago. The next day, I was having a meeting with the bank that had the stadium in Foxboro, and we stopped at Chinois on Main in Santa Monica. Next thing I knew, I was back in New York, opening China Grill. The guy who had the lease where I wanted the restaurant at 20th and 6th reneged, and another friend who was a broker had a space available immediately under the CBS building at 6th and 52nd. I hated it. It was shaped like a dumbbell, a big barn with a narrow corridor, but the architect said we could make it work. I made two decisions that, in hindsight, were the major factors in the success of China Grill: I moved the entrance from 52nd to 53rd, across from MoMA and the Hilton. At that time, all the customers came from the Upper East Side for the nighttime business. All my friends in the restaurant business said “Four restaurant have failed there,” and I was obligated to be open for lunch. I figured the way to get people in there for dinner was to exempt the first six months from lunch, so when it opened, it only opened for dinner. All the people at CBS complained! I needed to force people to come for dinner, and eventually opened for lunch.

Everybody in the industry speculates that you and Ian Schraeger met in jail. Yes? No? This whole episode is a weird story-in-a-story. By 1987, Ian Schraeger and Steve Rubell were already out of the Morgans Hotel and into the Royalton; their financiers were doing a building up on 6th Avenue. They were supposed to do the restaurant with Brian McNally, but they couldn’t get a liquor license (Brian didn’t have any money at the time), so they wanted to meet me. They came and asked if I’d like to do 44 in the Royalton for them. I met Steve first. We share a passion for Twizzlers licorice, and there was a jar in his office. Then I met Ian. They both told me the story of how the Royalton was going to be the next generation of a social gathering. The whole thing sort of seduced me into the mix. It was like oil and water, but they put up all of the money for everything but the liquor license. I don’t know why this was, but Ian said, “We’ll put up all the money for the hotel, and you put up all of the money to open the restaurant (payroll, graphics, etc).” There was a hitch. They wanted me to buy a Phillipe Starck hostess stand, a kind of Winged Victory of burled walnut that was tapered from the top down. It cost $30,000. Ian said, “Look, Jeff, if you want to do the deal, you’ve got to buy the stand.” It was impractical, there was no top, there was no drawer space, there was no place for the phone — I had to put Velcro on it — but it was a gorgeous piece of furniture. I put the stand next to the hotel column, so when you enter the hotel, you look down the blue carpet and see this beautiful piece of furniture.

China Grill in Manhattan was on fire, too and before long, Ian called me, “Nobody said the idea wouldn’t travel; how about you do the space in Morgans Hotel? I know it’s a bad location, but I’ll give you a fabulous deal.” I only made one condition after the Royalton: I wasn’t enjoying it because I felt pigeonholed to do a hotel restaurant. I called Ian and told him that I wanted to do a restaurant in a hotel, not a hotel restaurant. The deal was done. Jefferson Carey was my first chef of Asia de Cuba, and I felt the menu had to be a certain type. At the time there was no fusion, so it was revolutionary in those days. But I thought if I could create demand from outside the hotel, it would work. I was set on Chino Latino restaurants. He was amazed. He had just gotten engaged, and his fiancé was Cuban. Later, the New York Times said the newest thing was a Nuevo Latino restaurant — mine. Meanwhile, Brian had opened in Ian’s Delano in Miami, and it was doing good business, but doing no money. So Ian asked me to take it over in 1996. It became Asia de Cuba.

Any non-industry projects in the works? I would say, I’m interested mostly in food related things, my other big interest is IICA contemporary art at [alma mater] Penn, and I have donated a reasonable amount of money to the school. My son was also at Penn and is interested in contemporary art, plus I thought it was an opportunity to do something. Also, there are a lot of creative people out there … great cooks who aren’t chefs. Ask Rocco [DiSpirito], one of the contestants on Dancing with the Stars!

Favorite Hangs: My favorite hangouts are not all in New York. I love some of the Cuban places in Miami like Yakosan, a place in North Miami Beach, a Japanese tapas bar with all small plates. I like quirky things. They also have spaghetti bolognese; all of the sushi chefs hang out there. I like Versailles; Ciochi, the place on Sixth and Collins, a Cuban hole-in-the-wall for the Cuban sandwiches and black bean soup, and the Latin American Cafe. In New York, the Cuban hangouts like Park Blue with its list of half-bottles of wine and phenomenal drinks; Sakagura on 43rd between 2nd and 3rd, on the north side of the street, in a white office building … on the floor there’s a little sign for Sakagura. You walk past the front desk to the fire exit and down the stairs to the wooden door that leads to the sake bar. No sushi, just small plates of Japanese food, across from Sushi Yasuda. In the basement, it’s all surprise. I like the old style places. I love Dan Tana’s in LA. I love Nanni’s on 46th. Old time places … they’re not trying to do anything modern. There are certain dishes on the menu where the food is great. They’re hangouts I gravitate to — the old stuff. I try all the new stuff.

Industry Icons: I think the reason my relationship with Ian works so well is that we had so much mutual respect for each other. He gave me the ability to think beyond what I knew. I realized when I got back together with him that if you looked at it objectively, it would make no sense, but he was so successful that you couldn’t pick it apart as to what made it so successful. When I opened Asia de Cuba in Morgans Hotel, he wanted to send out a postcard. So I get the mock-up, and the front is like a beautiful photo of Morgans with three doors, a great postcard. The estimated price was $80,000 — and it was 1997! I almost fell off my chair. That was why our relationship worked: It may not have made sense to me, but if he felt passionate, I respected his vision and he respected my business acumen. Ian Schrager and Drew Nieporent, we’re all battling the same battles. I have tremendous respect for them, and I don’t view it as competition. I feel that we’re just up against the same thing.

Who are some people you’re likely to be seen with? I think I’m kind of a private person. I’d rather spend time with my family than anybody. Of course, we socialize, but there’s nobody in particular that I spend an inordinate amount of time with.

Projections: Right now, I’m very focused on international, and I want to do India and China. I just got back from Monte Carlo. It’s such an international place, and you wouldn’t know there was a global community there.

What are you doing tonight? Last night, I took my wife to Georgica Pond for three hours with lobster. I was on the phone the entire day and I was actually impressed that I could row that far! But I was an Eagle Scout and had a canoeing badge. Tonight, I’m having dinner with my eldest son who graduated from Wharton last year, and is going to law school. I’ve offered him a job! We opened the Kobe Beach Club in the Hamptons next to the Lily Pond, and he decided to open Kobe Hot Dogs! When I was doing Ono, he was closely watching! He went out and got the equipment, brought the chef and the relishes and these special iced teas and a papaya drinks … he’s a bright kid. I have a 19-year-old who wants to be a sushi chef. He’s at his first year at Boston University. A few years ago he wanted an apprenticeship in Tokyo in a sushi restaurant in the Chanel building. So being a foodie has really paid off for the whole family.