Two Articles On Bottle Service That Are Completely Clueless

There have been two recent articles professing the end of bottle service that I am being asked to weigh in on. The first: an article by Hardeep Phull on NYPost, and a story by Megan Willett from Business Insider. Both profess a "Chicken Little" approach to bottle service when all that’s really happening is an expansion of existing formats, not a quantum change. I contributed to my pal Hardeep’s article with a quote taken out of context from a much larger dialogue. He has it wrong, but compared to Megan’s take he is spot-on. Megan is clueless.

Marquee’s approach to dance was a calculated take on the market and their place in it. Their approach signals an internal decision to re-brand the NYC Marquee to be relevant to the Vegas Marquee, the highest-grossing nightclub in the country. They also have a Marquee in Australia. The NYC Marquee, after six years of wonderful and a few more of OK, needed a redux to bring it up to speed. I helped with the plan and the layout, but not the design. It was made clear from the start that it was all about the music, with some areas to accommodate big spenders who also cared about the music. It was also designed to be fairly non-competitive with their other NYC properties Avenue and Lavo, where bottle service thrives. Marquee made a smart move using their international DJ booking connections to create cachet. It doesn’t signal a trend of the end of bottle service in any way. Avenue and Lavo are bottle-selling machines. In that regard, the stories are just straight inaccurate.

Output in Brooklyn is as irrelevant to a larger social club concept as Cielo, the joint that spawned it. I love Cielo – did from day one. Its design, sound system, and bookings have made it one of the premier dance clubs in NYC. It has never been part of the larger club culture and has seen no need to be a part of it. Its new Brooklyn outpost should be a winner but it does not signify a trend. It’s merely serving dance aficionados in an ever-expanding Brooklyn scene. The trendy hipsters sipping $15 cocktails and eating $30 entrees at nearby hot spots in the new Williamsburg may never go to Output, and Output’s patrons may never go there but both will coexist in BBurg’s new world. Both are enjoying the transforming neighborhood which recently got a movie theatre and a Duane Reade and The Meatball Shop, and all sorts of other entertainment/distraction choices previously only found elsewhere. Output doesn’t signal the end of bottle service, but merely the expansion, or perhaps the gentrification of BBurg. On a side note ,I find it fascinating that a "no dress code approach to door policy" was mentioned or sited as portending a trend. I live in Williamsburg and basically everyone dresses the same here anyway.

Nightclub Space Ibiza is on its way to New York. It will be big, it will be grand, and it will compete with the other Ibiza-based mega club that thrives in NYC: Pacha. Webster Hall, a little as well. I go to Pacha on occasion, although not as often as I would like. I love Pacha. Eddie Dean and Rob Fernandez are magnificent at what they do. They find new talent, book established stars, and have created a mega club where you can dance and chat and buy bottles of booze or just plain water. They know their patrons and have a social scene that’s unique. They thrive and survive and have vast experience in the market. Space will be coming in and have to learn a lot quick. Big clubs attract big enforcement and scrutiny. They are off-the-beaten-path, but so was Crobar/Mansion before it was pummeled to death. 

Will there be competition? Of course. Will Space mean the end of Pacha? OMG, no. Space is a natural development. As EDM spreads to the masses, clubs will embrace the trend. More dance floor is needed to accommodate more dancers. These dancers are not being drawn away from bottle service. These clubs are not in competition with those clubs. EDM DJs command salaries in the high five and even six-digit ranges, and mega clubs are the only places that can afford them consistently  Space, Pacha, and Marquee have relationships with these superstar, rock star DJs as they are all international brands. The big club experience is enjoyed by many and shunned by many as well. I loathe EDM but I am confident that EDM heads would loathe my Ministry and Stones and Zeppelin DJ set.  

One of the things I particularly disapproved of in these articles and the comments that followed in social media was the comparison of these clubs to the mega clubs of yore. Palladium and Limelight and Tunnel all had door policies that culled crowds of 5,000 down to 3,000. Without getting into a discussion of the merits of door policy, those clubs had highly-developed social scenes at their core. We strived to book the best DJs available and had multiple, sometime six or more dance floors working in the same joint. We mixed crowds from all social strata, races, and creeds. Does EDM appeal to a mixed racial profile? Hmmm, I have not observed that. To me it seems to be white boy shee-it and that’s that, for now.

The articles also failed to recognize that EDM is a genre of music. There are many other genres of music. All have a place in our city which does include people of many ethnic backgrounds and classes and ages. EDM is expanding, but from my point of view it appeals mostly to a certain demographic and has not completely taken over the mindset of NYC clubs. Hip hop, mixed format, rock, pop, salsa and all sorts of other genres still pack them in. Sitting or standing or dancing with friends around a bottle is part of our club way of life. Marquee played a huge role in that development. Bottle service isn’t dying, going away, or being replaced. The writers just didn’t understand what the….  what they were talking about. No offense. 

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DJ Manero on His Art Project at the New Museum and How He Got His Name

We are always defending the ‘city that never sleeps.” The people who keep it awake, and the bedroom-community types who want it to turn in early and watch Leno, are always at odds. Nightlife supports hundreds of thousands of people, many of which are using their night careers to chase other dreams. There are the classic waitron types trying to be actors and the bartenders who paint up a storm when not swinging liquor. Roman Grandinetti, also known as DJ Manero, has deep club history and is now using all his skills to curate an art project described as Sound Graffiti.

"…the creator of CNNCTD+, Roman Grandinetti. In one month’s time he put together 100 influencers to create playbuttons for the New Museum store on May 1st, created a scavenger hunt series of SOUND GRAFFITI outlets around the city including the heart of the Fashion District and a wall on Kemare with Jason Woodside. This team has created a lot of content over the last month with connections to over 100 influencers including Pharrell Williams, Maria Cornejo, Cindy Sherman, Santigold and other icons like George Lois and other cool fun NY hits like Katz’s Deli and The Meatball Shop.”

On Tuesday, a private party at the New Museum will preview the public opening on the following day. They say the "goal of CNNCTD+100 is to showcase a cross-section of New York City culture that highlights the multidisciplinary connections of contemporary culture. Music inspires fashion, street art inspires fine art, youth inspires establishment."

It will be "Roman Grandinetti (a.k.a DJ Manero) and his team selected 100 heroes and creative leaders from various disciplines to participate in the project.

Participants: Mario Sorrenti, Maria Cornejo, Nanette Lepore, Rebecca Minkoff, Michael Pitt, Cindy Sherman, Pharrell Williams, Scott Campbell, Santigold and iconic NYC personalities and companies including Katz’s Deli, FourSquare, and Ricky Powell…. The complete list of participants won’t be revealed until the night of the event but includes dozens of big names and surprises…The public can buy tickets @ the new museum store online to come see  the show as well. There’s only 100 spots open to the public as well."

I caught up with Roman and asked him all about it:

What will people be seeing/hearing?
I think what people will see in the show is a wide range of talent and the vastness of our creative vision – we have chefs, models, DJs, producers, curators, photographers, fashion designers, creative geniuses, and we hand- selected a few people who we think are next.

Tell me about yourself. Include your journey through clubland.
I’m 25 years old and I’m a Brooklyn-born Italian. I started out promoting and selling tickets at around 13 for every teen night. Later, when I turned 18, I worked for Rob T and later Uriel – who I believe introduced us for the first time years ago. He let me pretty much run my own nights and put me at the door. My family decided it was not a good idea for me to go to school in Brooklyn anymore -and I got into High School of Art & Design. Going there changed my life. It opened my eyes to not only a whole new world, but it introduced me to a whole another world. I stopped promoting, got into the whole downtown thing – graffiti and sneakers.

I was one of the first employees at A Bathing Ape. I met every rapper you could imagine in the place. While I was there I started a sneaker event called Soledout NYC. I put three of them together from what I learned from promoting. The events did around 2,500 guests per event. The money gave me leverage to fully stop  promoting and kinda enjoy nightlife for myself. I started going to PM, Butter, Cain, Lotus all of them while being underage – haha. At that time I started to look into the DJ stuff but didn’t take the leap yet. At A Bathing Ape, Steve Rifkind walked in and changed everything. I started interning at Universal music, servicing records to DJs – which really got my gears turning to become a DJ. I was hired a month later. I worked in the marketing department with Akon, Wu-Tang, Asher Roth and had an opportunity to work with Marc Ecko and Swizz Beatz.

While I was there, Steve was a huge supporter of mine and helped me out a lot. I published my first magazine’ it was this 6×8 FREE pocket-sized magazine, dubbed connected – it had Swizz Beatz, 50 Cent, Pharoahe Monch, and Mark Ronson on the cover. I soon left Universal and worked on connected, which is now "cnnctd+”. I became very close to DJ Vitale and Sal Morale, who opened the door to the DJ world to me. They introduced me to the model promoting world. Vitale and Tommy Virtue taught me pretty much everything I know and made sure I knew what I was doing before I even played in a club. I worked with childhood friend Gezim for booking help and Uriel gave me the name "Manero” because everyone used to call me “Young Travolta” since I looked like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. Also, I grew up in Bensonhurst/Bay Ridge and walked the same blocks he did in the movie.

So your DJ career took off…
DJing became my main source of income. Vitale continued to push me to get better at DJing. I truly feel he’s one of the most talented DJs in this city, and I would spend hours watching him and Sal. I’d listen to all of DJ Riz’s mixtapes, trying to develop my own style, which Vitale and another big help in my career (Mel Debarge) told me would come in time. I had the opportunity to play every venue in the city, was handed money to play a record, and played for countless celebs. Some of the celebs I was allowed to talk about and some I was never allowed to.

I tried the traveling thing and, for a short period of time, really was a career DJ. I was traveling weekly and ending up in rooms I would NEVER step foot in and it kinda made me see a clear vision of what I want to do and what the life of a traveling DJ is. So I started to save a bit, get a bit more into music production, and really focused on creating a career. I fine-tuned the gigs, did what is a right fit for me as a DJ / trying to mold myself. I bought an office/studio space in Chinatown. I started out just doing remixes and slowly looked for some interesting work to work on during the day to stay creative. Got cnnctd+ rolling again and my girl’s father introduced me to the owners of playbutton to maybe help out with some marketing stuff.

Since the day we met, I have done a collaboration with HBO and How to Make it in America, created one of the first interactive street murals on Kenmare between Bowery and Elizabeth (across from the recently-opened Ken & Cook), and now I’m producing a show of 100 influencers at the New Museum on May 1st. Thus far, I have Cindy Sherman, owners of The Meatball Shop, Mark Borthwick, The Fader, Mario Sorenti, Illesteva, Andre Sariva, Katz Deli, and Scott Campbell – all showcasing works alongside myself. My girlfriend Bibi Cornejo who is a major help and supporter of cnnctd and Sal Morale.

What’s the New Museum event going to be like?
The point of the show is built off of what NYC nightlife used to be – a collective group of influential people all in the same room at the same time, all looking for an interesting time/conversation. Hopefully everyone leaves inspired, creates an idea for something new, and everyone gets to meet some interesting people

Chef’s Night Out: Pregaming for the James Beard Awards

Saturday may have rocked Cinco de Mayo and Derby Day, but for true culinary connoisseurs, Sunday was the night to party. The start of the evening featured a killer set by DJ ?uestlove, who is teaming up with Chicago-based chef Graham Elliot to pair food and music together. The two met at Lollapalooza in 2010 when Elliot acted as the culinary ambassador for the festival and something clicked, creating a match made in pop culture heaven. Last night they showed their partnership under a large yellow moon at the penthouse suite of the Mondrian Hotel in Soho. While ?uestlove served the beats, black-clad waiters passed out delicate truffle deviled eggs, fried mac ‘n’cheese on a stick, and hefty fried “Love’s Drumsticks”—all a sneak peek into what the team plans on doing in the future.

To drink they offered cocktails including the NY State of Mind, a mixture of gin, sparkling wine, and Ty Ku sake, and the Brazilian ‘”Roots,” which had Lebion Cachaca, cane sugar, and lime. Sipping drinks and taking in the killer view were Park and Recreations actor Aziz Ansari, Onion writer Bartunde Thurston, and Top Chef contestant Carla Hall. Like Hall, Elliot was also on Top Chef as well as Iron Chef America, and he has been nominated for three James Beard Awards.

Speaking of the James Beard Awards, last night also kicked off the 2012 JBA with Chef’s Night Out, an annual event celebrating the nominees. Campari helped sponsor the event at the Chelsea Market, and there were top bartenders like Dushan Zaric from Employees Only mixing up the Bouleuardier, a stiff drink akin to a bourbon negroni, and Damon Dyer from Rum House doing a fresh Campari with Fever Tree soda water. Jane Danger who runs the darling Jane’s Sweet Buns created devious shortbread with the sprit, which was also topped with rhubarb bitters cream. In the main hall, revelers indulged in melt-in-your-mouth Iberico ham served by Forever Cheese, whipped lardo from Dickson’s Farmstead Meats, tangy mac ‘n’ cheese by The Green Table, and dense chocolate brownies made by Fat Witch Bakery.

Some of the chefs, restaurateurs, and TV personalities enjoying the night included: Curtis Stone of the new Bravo show Around the World in 80 Plates, Ted Allen from Chopped, world renowned chef and restaurateur Thomas Keller, Tony and Marisa May of SD26, pastry chef Pichet Ong, John Besh, chef Madison Cowan from BBC’s No Kitchen Required, Daniel Holzman from The Meatball Shop, Salumeria Rosi’s Cesare Casella, and southern chef Hugh Acheson—plus a whole lot more. Tonight many of these people will be waiting for hours at the James Beard Awards and this was the calm before the storm of tonight’s parties and prestigious honors.

4 Out of 5: Jared Koch on New York

Jared Koch is a nutritional consultant and the founder of Clean Plates, a approved guide to healthy restaurants for vegans and carnivores and everyone in between.This is his take on four places he likes, and one place he doesn’t.

RECOMMENDED

Greensquare Tavern – "Their rosemary and garlic braised lamb shank with sauteed kale is delicious. The meat is tender and flavorful, and the kale is loaded with nutrients."

The Meatball Shop – "I love their Everything but the Kitchen Sink Salad — a plate full of vegetables fresh from the greenmarket, topped with amazing, antibiotic- and hormone-free meatballs."

Hudson Clearwater – "I’m a big fan of the crispy duck breast with rainbow chard — just a great mix of flavors."

Souen Soho – "The Yuba dumpling soup is loaded with vegetables, full of flavor and really fills you up — perfect on a cold winter’s day."

NOT SO MUCH

Red Bamboo – "Just because a place is vegetarian doesn’t mean it’s healthy. The menu here is filled with processed fake meats and tons of fried food."

The Meatball Shop’s Michael Chernow on Expanding to Bburg & the West Village

Fashion’s Night Out downtown was a lot like Halloween, with a zillion people on the street, but with everyone wearing the same costume: fashion (victim). And it’s not nearly as much fun as Octoberfest. We tried to visit the Chanel store but one of the Kardashians was apparently nearby and there was a huge mob. We stopped by Opening Ceremony where another, better dressed mob mobbed Sarah Jessica Parker and Dwyane Wade and a cornucopia of other celebs.

We headed east, as we always do when things get confusing, and kissed Codie at the door of Patricia Field, which was mobbed with young shoppers. With her advice we headed to the soon-to-be Veselka Bowery on East 1st Street for “the party.” There we saw Pat and Susanne Bartsch and Sushi and Maripol. Maripol was showing a video of the opening night of the Palladium the second time I was brought in to fill it. I didn’t know the video existed. That night, we blocked 14th Street entirely and put a little more than 14,000 people through the building. We supposedly turned away another 20,000…and we had a tough door. That was a different era.

Anyway, Veselka, which I was told is opening in the Spring, looked pretty drab except for the art of various friends of Field. I was stunned to exhilaration by the work of Richard Alvarez and wondered where he was. He didn’t return my texts and unfortunately I remembered too late that last night was the seasonal reopening of my favorite place that isn’t Lit. Submercer opened with a bang last night and I missed it. Gabby scolded me as she checked her messages at 9am just before she crashed. Nightlife has long hours. If you’re looking for me just stake out the place as I try to pass by every night to visit Gabby, Richard Alvarez, and the superb staff at the hidden gem of the Balazs empire. It’s still that good.

This Sunday, Lit honcho and excellent artist Erik Foss will present his solo show, Avarice. I saw many of these new works at his Broadway studio when the weather was wet and cold, and I was left speechless—not an easy thing to do to me. The opening reception will be held this Sunday, September 11th at Malick Williams & Co. I won’t tell you too much as I am a little speechless just thinking about the enormity and power of this work, but it is 9/11 related and a must see.

Moving off of the fashion week tip, I chatted with The Meatball Shop proprietor, friend and former employee Michael Chernow, at his newish Bedford Avenue restaurant.

It’s Michael now, you’ve grown up Yes, I moved on to Michael. As you know, I started out as Mickey or Little Mickey when you met me.

What jobs did you do for me back then? I started handing out flyers and doing all the mailings, then you made me a barback.

Barbacks made a lot of money back then? Yes, sir. 3fucking 50 a night.

That was good money for Little Mickey, but now you own The Meatball Shop. There’s one on Stanton Street and now we’re sitting in the newish one on Bedford Avenue, and you’re opening another on Greenwich and Perry Street. When did meatballs become something important in your life? It wasn’t necessarily a meatball thing; it was a food and hospitality thing. I started as a kid. As you know, I started in restaurants and clubs when I was thirteen years old. I’ve always had this passion for hospitality and the service industry; it kind of just spoke to me. I’m not a sit behind the computer kind of guy. In the eight years before opening The Meatball Shop in 2009, I worked at this Italian place, where I loved the food and believed in the product. They served awesome meatballs. Late night, every night, I would order a bowl of meatballs with broccoli and spinach on the side. Everybody use to break my chops about it like “Oh, you don’t eat the pasta”, and I was said, “I like the meatballs!” I guess at that point it became a big part of my diet. And I had this dream of opening a restaurant with my partner Daniel Holzman. He and I grew up together and I had been trying to coerce him back to the city to open up this restaurant with me. How did it progress from there? We found this cool space on Bowery with a little side window and I had a late night concept for it. It was right next to a really busy bar and there would always be people smoking cigarettes and talking outside, and I’m thinking: “How am I going to feed these people?” I wanted to do something cheap, easy, and delicious and I thought about meatballs. No one was doing meatballs. No one was actually executing meatballs. That’s what spawned this concept. Daniel and I began cooking meatball after meatball coming up with cool recipes and once that restaurant fell through, I thought—well, fuck it, let’s dive into this meatball thing and see if it can come into fruition. So we started cooking more meatballs and invited people over for meatball dinners.

How did ice cream end up on the menu? We wrote up a business plan and people thought we were crazy. I love ice cream, so I thought it would be good to keep the dessert aspect and make it simple and familiar with meatballs and ice cream sandwiches. I grew up eating Klondike bars, so I wanted to make our own ice cream sandwiches and cookies, then we could do a mix-and-match ice cream bar for dessert. When we wrote up the business plan and presented it to people, the thought we were nuts. When you hear it, it doesn’t sound like something that would actually work, but if it would work, New York City would be the place to do it. Enough people believed in me, threw some capital my way, and I was off. I went out looking for spaces on Stanton Street. The minute I walked in there, the restaurant we were in was dead. You’ve been in the industry a long time—there are just some spaces that are continually turned over every year, eight months, or less, six months, but I just got this really good feeling. Though it was beyond our means, as far as rent was concerned, we took the leap and opened up. And the day we opened up, we had 150 people in line waiting to get in.

What are the differences between the Stanton Street and Bedford Avenue locations? In Brooklyn we’ve been able to lock down a full liquor license, so we’ve incorporated this really cool cocktail program. We have five mix-ins and five spirits, and all the mix-ins work perfectly with the spirits, very similar to the Slider Grid that we have, in which you choose your sauce. You choose your spirit and the mix-ins; we make the cocktail for you. We’ve gotten amazing feedback from the cocktail program. They’re not super fancy cocktails, no guys with mustaches and suspenders behind the bar, just simple cocktails that are really delicious. It’s our newest concept and we’re really excited about it. We’ve definitely taken on a bigger space. While Stanton Street is 1,700 square feet, here we also have a basement so we’re able to minimize the back of house on the main floor. We’ve got a ton of seats here, but they still stay full. We opened up in the summer time, which is typically the slowest time of the year, but we’re neck-and-neck with Stanton Street right now.

Over on Greenwich and Perry might be different with lots of families over there. Yes, we’re going to hang strollers all the way down the staircase; we’ve already got that planned out—we’ve got hooks on the walls. I’m really interested to see what happens over there. Meatballs are fun and familiar for everyone. At a meatball place, you see a 3-year-old and a 75-year-old with the same plate of food in front of them. It’s just familiar food that everyone gets and understands. It shouldn’t work any differently with affluent people; in the West Village people have a little bit more money and they go to bed a little earlier.

Tell me about The Meatball Shop Skateboard series. I grew up in NYC and I grew up skateboarding. Ever since I was 5-years old, I had this dream of owning my own skateboard. The Meatball Shop caught a little bit of cred and I approached Shut Skateboards, which is right around the corner from The Meatball Shop on the LES. I’ve known a lot of those guys for a number of years, so I said, “What do you think of doing a little collaboration?” Skaters come to the shop all the time and they’re always in the restaurant. I had this idea that we would call it the “Superhero.” This big picture of a meatball hero at the bottom of the deck and they loved it, so we brought in a photographer. It actually took a year to come into fruition because it’s hard to get a good picture. We’ve also got a cookbook that’s coming out in December and we had this amazing photographer shoot for the book and so we used one of the shoots for the skateboard and it looks awesome.

Do celebrities eat meatballs? We’ve had a bunch of celebrities. It’s actually somewhat of a haunt for some celebs.

OMG! Who? Ryan Seacrest, Tyra Banks—I remember barbacking for Tyra at Life, she’s a super cool chick, super professional and really nice to work with. Adrien Brody, it’s his regular spot and we get a bunch of hip-hop groups and different bands.

Will this concept work in Chicago, Philly, and LA? Are you going to open a thousand of these? I think realistically you can drop this anywhere. It’s inexpensive and the product is awesome. We just use diligence to make sure we’ve got the best ingredients. We get our food from purveyors that all of the 4-star restaurants use. And I think that if you drop a meatball in front of anybody in any country in the world they know what it is.

What’s your personal favorite? I love the spicy pork meatballs but since I eat at The Meatball shop 365 days a year, I do veggie balls every day. They’re awesome, delicious and healthy. But if I’m going for the fences, I do spicy balls! Meatballs make people smile. When we first opened I would walk up to tables and just say “meatball” and the whole table would smile.

Photo Credit: Hereswilliamsburg.com

New York’s Orbed Food Trend Comes Full Circle

Could it be that we, as sophisticated New York foodies, are really just a just a bunch of babies stuck in Freud’s infamous oral phase? Mr. Psychology himself proposed that if a nursing child’s appetite was thwarted during any psychosexual stage, that anxiety could manifest in adulthood as a neurosis. Thus, an infantile oral fixation would spiral into an adult obsession with oral stimulation. While I often apply this theory to smokers and nail biters, perhaps everyone really just wants balls in their mouth. Why? It seems that spherical sustenance has been popping up all over town.

Lately, I’ve noticed an odd food phenomenon in the Big Apple. What started as a meatball craze, with folks flocking to the Lower East Side’s The Meatball Shop, has turned into a full-on gastronomical drift towards all things orbicular. My hypothesis began to take its circular shape whilst dining at bi-level West Village haunt, bobo recently, where my meal consisted of devilled eggs, crab cakes and gnocchi. Circinate coincidence? Last season’s Top Chef finalist and executive chef at Plein Sud located in the Smyth hotel, Ed Cotton said, “I can tell you that a sphere has a very pleasant and very nice visual look to it in general. So when you apply that shape and incorporate some food with it, it gives you a very clean sleek look to it.” Cotton clearly thinks it’s a visual phenomenon, but a trend nonetheless. He continues, “Other shapes are cool but squares can be boring. If someone walks over offering you a risotto square its just not the same as a risotto ball where people are more excited about it.”

Being that summer is abounding, it was only apt that I take my theory out East (okay fine, I used my latest journalistic assignment to go to the beach!) to investigate the orbed food trend with executive chef Joseph Rago of popular Fire Island restaurant, Island Mermaid. “I think circular foods are best when they are very natural looking (for example, look at the shape of eggs).”

“Diners are looking to have a fun experience, something that can surprise and excite them,” Rago continues. “While it is a trend, I think that it is best not deconstructed but rather used in its natural state like cheesecake pops or crab balls. Also, the convenience of making something into small balls and be able to market the way you can eat it as a quick and easy hors d’oeuvres at parties is vital.”

Rago recently added meatballs to his summer menu and claims, “people love them. It’s the familiarity of the meatballs that you can’t often find in a casual dining restaurant that make them special.” Though Rago admits, “I’m not a big fan of orbing food just for the sake of it. It doesn’t look natural. If you’re going to make a ball out of anything, the original structure should be there. Watermelon balls: good, meatloaf balls: blah.”

The creators of Dippin’ Dots may beg to differ. Tiny balls of ice cream have made their way to mass markets according to a recent article in the New York Times, which states, “While high-end chefs have lately been using liquid nitrogen to turn all kinds of food into dots, Dippin’ Dots was a pioneer, introducing its first product 23 years ago and creating a category that is now known as cryogenic ice cream… ice cream dots have traditionally been a novelty item, available primarily at entertainment venues and franchise stores… but these days, dot-style products are more widely available, thanks in part to new technology that can keep the products stable in supermarket and home freezers.”

Managing Chef and Partner Ralph Scamardella from Midtown’s Lavo is fully aboard the balled bites trend. For him, it’s all about the oral (nod to Freud). He says, “there’s a tremendous amount of mouth feel, when you eat little balls like round ravioli or coquettes. It’s also spoon-friendly—lot’s of sauce with small balls of food is a pure delight.

“Most chefs like to play around,” Scarmedella continues. “There are two schools of thought when it comes to this. One school is the chef who deconstructs everything and uses chemical food additives like Lecithin (a generic term to designate any group of yellow-brownish fatty substances occurring in animal and plant tissues, and in egg yolk, composed of phosphoric acid, choline, fatty acids, glycerol, glycolipids, triglycerides, and phospholipids). The other school (myself included) goes for the all natural—a lot of flavor derived from nature. Round food is fun, but I like to do it organically.”

Ben Sargent, star of the hit Food Network television show Hook, Line, and Dinner put it best for me. He’s says, “I’ve always had a round food fetish. I like it. From the dumpling to the wonton—anything with a pouch is good. I think it’s a pop in the mouth experience. Whenever you have something round, like a pork bun, a dumpling, a meatball or even a Cadbury Egg, you get an explosion. That’s half the experience.”

These days, when it comes to cuisine, the circle of life will wind up on your plate. So, if you are stuck in Freud’s oral phase, skip the smoking and go right for the latest trend in culinary geometrics.

Industry Insiders: Rob Shamlian, Downtown Turnaround

Rob Shamlian has been in New York for 15 years. Pretty good for a guy who’s opened five restaurants and bars in a two-block radius on the Lower East Side. The L.A.-native comes from a background of the hospitality savvy, and his brother Will is huge on the West Coast (Library Bar, Spring St., Laurel Tavern). More on his newest addition, the “cantina with a club feel” and some input on the age-old New York v.s. L.A. war.

On his background: I did photography for ten years. I had agents in every city, and then it ran its course. I was traveling a lot and living off editorial. So, I did a lot of magazines and I figured, “You know what? It’s time to make some money.” My brother was in L.A. doing several places. So basically, I just said, “I want to do something here [in New York],” and asked him how to open a place. He wouldn’t tell me a thing, he just kept telling me not to do it. I opened Darkroom and he eventually gave me advice the whole way. From there, I opened Fat Baby, Spitzer’s Corner, Mason Dixon, and Los Feliz.

On the simplicity of opening bars: After photography, this was a piece of cake, actually. In editorial photography, there are so many elements to master. Half of its production and half of it is putting together teams. Stylists, hair, make-up, models, you deal with so many elements. Opening a space is similar, but it seemed like a cakewalk to me. When I was doing fashion, I was focusing 24/7. There’s no break at all. Here, you open up a place, you move on. Basically, you work your own hours.

On the lead-up to working your own hours: I want to open as fast as possible! I open, I put management in place, and I oversee them. If I do multiple places at once, I’m in touch with the other places and I move on to work with the other places and do tweaks. The manager is the one who will spend most of the time on the premise, and I check in daily. I don’t really micromanage unless there are issues.

New York v.s. Los Angeles: In L.A., bars close at 2 a.m. In New York, people live in very tiny places, so they want to get out. There’s a lot more energy on the streets here, and if people get hammered, they take a cab. I L.A., you can park yourself in front of a big TV. You have a pool and a 12-bedroom house.

On the new joint, Los Feliz: Los Feliz was meant to be a café on the top floor and a very casual place–a cantina with a club feel. We happened to get a really good chef, Julieta Ballestero from Crema, so our food ended up more upscale then I originally wanted. We still price it very fairly, but it’s not just plain tacos. There are very different ingredients. It’s all fresh.

Favorite menu item: All of it! There’s a really good ceviche on the menu that I eat a lot. There’s a foie gras taco that’s really good.

On future expansion: Basically, I’ve opened five places on the Lower East Side within two blocks. It’s great because I go back and forth. That’s where I’m looking right now. I’m trying to put together investors for basically five other places that I’m going to do around the city. I’m doing stuff in Brooklyn and I’m trying to diversify around the LES.

On his block: I liked the location of Spitzer’s. I was talking to the owner for six to eight months at least trying to get that space. They were going to give it to Starbucks. I talked to the other owner of that space. First, his thing was, “I’d give it to you, but my dad works here.” I said, “That’s okay. I’ll give him a job.” Eventually, I wore him down and he rented it to me.

Go-to’s: I’m not a big fan of the club scene, because I’m a little bit old for that. We take the kids to Brooklyn Teahouse. I hear The Meatball Shop is pretty good. My brother’s place, Laurel Tavern in L.A.

Worst habit: Poker. I’m a gambling freak. I don’t know if I feel guilty about it. I’m not scared of losing.

Meatballs & Missing SXSW for Michael Alig

Lit’s head honcho Erik Foss had a bash at The Meatball Shop on Stanton street, a joint that I and everyone else lives for. I left because the crew was moving the party to the Stanton Social as the meatball joint was getting crazy crowded. It’s like that all the time now, lines of people feeding on the phenomena. My man Mike owns the place, and he must be pretty happy with his amazing success but also must heed the words of that great philosopher Yogi Berra, who said this to describe a joint: “That place is so crowded, nobody goes there anymore.” I can’t imagine a VIP section at the meatball joint, but it might be called for.

I told Mark Baker I would join him for his birthday bash at Juliet last night, but alas I’m off to visit prison pal Michael Alig today, and I needed some sleep. I haven’t seen Michael in a bit, not since he last violated and got sent too far away for me to go. I’ll tell you tomorrow what happened.

I’d rather be in Austin for SXSW than visiting my old pal in prison, but so it goes. If I had gone to the SXSW festival, I know of two events that I surely wouldn’t have missed. First, the third-annual Perez Hilton party known as “One Night in Austin.” Sam Ong from the Strategic Group invited me, but alas I can’t. According to Mr. Hilton’s website, Macy Gray will be performing. ”Macy will be taking the stage alongside Snoop, a surprise act, Alphabeat, Marina & The Diamonds, V.V. Brown and more. Perez’s wildly successful ‘“One Night In …’ series will take place in Austin on Saturday, March 20 at The Whitley, beginning at 7pm. It has been the place to be for the last 2 years, and this year will be no exception.”

Another event of note has my old friend Matt E. Silver at the helm. Matt just did the LNA fashion week party with Patti Smith and Metric at Milk Studios. He has a big event in SXSW “debuting Mick Jagger’s son’s band, Jimmy Jagger Turbogiest.” He also has Zoe Kravitz’s band Elevator Fright and is showcasing the Chapman Family, a band that has created a lot of buzz on NME, for their first American show. Matt’s party also features Queens’ freshest MC, Cody Prophit Verdecias, the Click Clack Boom — a band managed by Andy Hilfiger — and the Money Penny girls playing DJ. We Are Scientist are the headliners. The event is this Thursday, March 18 at The Phoenix. The show, Matt promises, is “for the New York and London crew.”