EMM Group Opens The General, A Sure-Fire Hit

I’ve was invited to the friends and family opening of The Generalthe new restaurant from EMM Group at Bowery and Spring. EMM is Eugene Remm, Mark Birnbaum, and Michael Hirtenstein. They are the force behind Abe & Arthur’s, CATCH, CATCH Roof, CATCH Miami, Lexington Brass, SL, SL East, Tenjune, Chandelier Room, Revel Nightlife, FINALE, and Bow, and lots of other stuff. Bow and Finale are the other parts of the Spring and Bowery space that once housed Boulevard and Crash Mansion. Executive chef Hung Huynh of Top Chef fame offers up modern Asian cuisine in a red-chaired gilded wallpapered paradise. All the inside-info is here.

Opening up this time of year is interesting. Most operators look to open in the early or late stages of spring or fall, and with 300 seats, there will be a lot of kinks to be worked out. Groups like EMM have fewer kinks than most.  Opening now allows the place to hit its stride as the nice weather and affluent snowbirds return. They can do no wrong in my book. The General stretches the Bowery strip from its previous above-Houston Street border where joints like Daniel Boulud’s DBGB, Gemma, Peels and many others serve neighborhood residents and well-heeled visitors. This is not the Bowery of my youth. Little Steve Lewis trivia: my great uncle was one of the famed Bowery Boys.

Most clubs reported near-normal attendees for the week after New Year’s but much lower revenues. People went out but seemed to be tapped or burnt out.  For all except for the very top operators, New Year’s Eve is a loss when you account for the naturally slower nights preceding it and the after-effects. I’m still beat up from all the rushing around, and Christmas bills are still being paid. Getting me out requires special coaxing.

Many people obviously get terribly drunk on New Year’s Eve and try hard to slow it down for a couple of weeks. Then there are those resolutions which often include a step back from the boozing. My resolutions always end in a vow to break all my resolutions ASAP. We are still enjoying tourist dollars, but those will fade away as vacation bucks tend to fly to warmer climates this time of year. The cold keeps people in and, well, you get the idea.

EMM group is way ahead of this game. They have a built-in clientele that’s enamored with all their other joints. CATCH is still more than killing it, and the word "NEW" is always a sure draw. The General, a NEW offering from an established hospitality group enters as a sure thing. I’ll keep you posted.

Next Week’s L.A. Happenings: Connie And Ted’s, Robert Zemeckis, & Spago’s New Bar Menu

Opening a trendy restaurant in West Hollywood during Gay Pride Week is genius, but even more brilliant is the restaurant itself. Connie and Ted’s, a new seafood spot by celeb Top Chef Michael Cimarusti, is a trendy little joint that, well, may serve the best seafood this side of Santa Monica. Connie & Ted’s is Michael’s dressed-down seafood joint to his formal Providence, just a short drive away. It’s named in honor of his grandparents, who taught Michael everything there is to know about preparing fish.

The modern-day seafood shack is bright and cheerful and totally fun. There’s an outdoor patio, nautical-themed cocktails, a fire-engine-red booth, and chairs with blonde wood tabletops. Expect raw bar options, three types of chowder (red, white, and cream-based) and even burgers, in addition to the usual suspects (lobster, clams, and—wait for it—fish).

If you haven’t already, nab a front-row seat at Rockwell: Table & Stage for its insanely wild and theatrical live performance called For The Record that pays tribute to a notable director. Playing until July 20th is For The Record: Zemeckis, where the talented (and, let’s face it, easy on the eyes) cast sings, dances and performs creative takes from Robert Zemeckis’ films like Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Flight, and Death Becomes Her.

The shows have been garnering a cult following and even the directors and actors from the movies themselves show up in the audience, in addition to A-list fans like Demi Moore, who attended opening night with her daughter Rumer.

Can’t get a table at Spago in Beverly Hills? The bar is just as impressive, especially now, since it’s just launched its new bar menu, offering sweet and intensely savory dishes like Bincho Grilled Chicken Wings and Spaghettini with little neck and razor clams. Wash it all down during the Tuesday to Saturday, 9pm to 11pm happy hour, which features specialty martinis for only $10 and premium wine pours starting at $8.

Know every inch of this city by visiting BlackBook’s L.A. City Guides.

Fried Chicken & Cereal-Topped Donuts: New Brunches Launch Tomorrow

It’s a pretty good day when 1. it’s Friday and 2. the following day marks the beginning of a new wave in the competitive NY sport that is brunching.  Two very new and very delicious spots – The General & Sweet Chick – are launching their brunches, meaning that the following items will transform our weekend afternoons/hangovers/indigestion for the unforeseeable future.

The General: Top Chef winner Hung Huynh & pastry chef Thiago Silva cooks up…

  • Peking duck hash and eggs
  • Blueberry buttermilk pancakes
  • King crab in a kabayaki hollandaise
  • Signature pretzel bombs: pretzels filled with egg and cheese, and bacon or pastrami
  • Signature cereal-topped donuts

Sweet Chick: Southern-American dishes include…

  • Cheddar-laced shrimp and grits
  • Signature golden chicken & waffles
  • Bacon Bloody Marys
  • Sticky buns lathered in cream cheese frosting
  • Smoked pork hash and poached egg

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Photo: delish.com

Nitehawk Cinema’s Film Feast Series: A Night Of Celebrity Chefs & Multitasking

After consuming five Absinthe cocktails, a five-course French meal by a Top Chef finalist, and a screening of Amelie, myself and the rest of the overstuffed audience at Nitehawk Cinema were as jolly as Christmas morning. And why not? In our classroom desk-style Nitehawk seats, we were waited on like Business Class patrons jetting off to Rome. The event: Film Feast, the theatre’s latest signature series, where celebrity chefs create tasting menus inspired by their favorite film, and serve it to epicurean folk during the movie.

Nitehawk’s Film Feast requires multitasking, since it’s hard to prioritize whether you want to look up at the actors’ expressions, tear apart your pillowy mussels like a caveman, or glare at the very loud munchers behind you. So, inevitably, a bit is lost cinema-wise, especially in the case of Amelie, which features subtitles, thus requiring extensive reading mid-cocktail swigging and duck crepe-cutting. It’s a lot to ask.

But nonetheless, this is Nitehawk’s novel concept: on any regular night, the theatre transforms the rote dinner-and-a-movie experience into a simultaneous, trendy experience. And with Nitehawk’s Film Feast series, the theatre pushes the concept even farther,  giving you a glimpse at the surprising interests – both food and film-wise – of NYC’s award-winning chefs. Plus, you eat and drink way more. 

Stay tuned for news on the next Film Feast series…

 Get the inside-info on Nitehawk Cinema, and follow Bonnie on Twitter here.

Kitchit: Bringing All The Restaurants Back Home

Catering just got a lot more customized. Available in four cities, Kitchit sells a service it calls “bespoke dining,” an attempt to bring the experience of eating at a restaurant to a private home. That means not only the food, but the person who cooks it: The company has about 250 chefs on its roster from restaurants including ABC Kitchen in New York, Saison in San Francisco, and Eva in Los Angeles, as well as others who are professional caterers, cookbook authors, and even former Top Chef contestants like season one finalist Dave Martin.

To choose a chef, you just troll through profiles on Kitchit.com. It’s similar to using a dating website, only with a much better chance you’ll feel satisfied at the end of the night. Narrow down the choices by price range, date, number of guests, and cuisine. Once you’ve locked in a selection, you can correspond with the chef to request specific ingredients and dishes. Kitchit chefs also do preplanned signature events such as parties with only hors d’oeuvres, and some even give private cooking lessons.

For most events, the chef handles renting equipment, hiring wait staff, and as many of the other details as you want. “Most of the people don’t want to do any work,” says Kevin Lasko (pictured at top), the executive chef at Park Avenue Winter, who has been doing Kitchit events about once a month for the last year.

Kitchit was founded by three young entrepreneurs who met at Stanford, where two were in business school and one was studying computer science. They developed the idea through the university’s business accelerator program, and did test runs of dinner parties to prove its value. “We knew we had something special because we saw people’s fascination with the chef,” says CEO and co-founder Brendan Marshall. “They were having fun with the food since they were having a four-hour dinner party without having to worry about anything the whole time.” The company officially launched in San Francisco last year.

Kitchit Outside

Although the founders were confident that the concept was solid, they initially had difficulty persuading chefs to join. Eventually they drafted enough to sustain the business, and now chefs often initiate contact with the company. Kitchit also has a team focused on finding new chefs and training them on how the website and planning process work.

Kitchit chefs have catered events for as many as 500 people, with prices starting at about $60 per person. The chefs manage their own pricing and Kitchit charges a 12.5% commission. Lasko says he’s done corporate events and parties in the Hamptons that attract a wealthy clientele, but they’re not a huge moneymaker. The real draw for chefs is to promote their restaurants and their personal brands. Lasko prefers more intimate dinners with 20 or fewer diners, all the better to interact with guests and showcase the culinary process. 

Kitchit events aim to nearly recreate restaurant dining, but unlike at a restaurant, guests get lots of face time with the person preparing their food.“ You’re cooking five feet away,” Lasko says. “I’ll actually serve the food with one server. It’s super hands on. You get to meet everyone and talk to everyone.” He even keeps track of who has attended and gives them special treatment when they come in to eat at his restaurant.

As with many of Kitchit’s chefs, Lasko’s events usually cost between $100 and $200 per person. But Marshall contends that you’re getting something for your money that no other catering service can provide. “The personality of that chef comes through, but also the personality of the customer comes through,” he says. “Instead of it just being a generic menu of ‘choose these three things,’ it lets you say, ‘Here are my likes and dislikes, and here’s my grandmother’s recipe I’d love to remake.’ So it goes from just food to a very personal, intimate experience when people are around the table.”

In December Kitchit launched in Chicago, and Marshall says it plans to expand to other markets later this year. And it’s continuing to recruit new chefs, so eventually you’ll never have to leave the house, no matter what you want for dinner.

[Related: BlackBook New York Guide; Subscribe to the weekly BlackBook Happenings email newsletter]

EMM Group’s The General Launches New Bakery Today

The General, EMM Group’s latest Asian restaurant on Bowery, gets even newer with today’s opening of its bakery. And while this is a charming update on the sweets front, the announcement becomes positively electrifying with the introduction of two menu items: World, meet The Cereal-Inspired Donut & The Breakfast Pretzel Bomb.

Crafted by pastry chef Thiago Silva – the chef behind every EMM restaurants’ desserts – the cereal-inspired donuts ($3) come in six combos, three of which include: Fruity Pebbles with Cereal Milk, Coffee with Espresso Cream, and Coco Puffs with Coco Cream. The breakfast pretzel bomb ($4-$5) – a good dose of protein, dairy, and salt – is filled with egg & cheese, with a choice of ham or bacon.

Stumptown Hair Bender coffee is also being served, as is fresh orange & grapefruit juice.

It’s also open seven days a week, from 6am-2pm.

Free Wi-Fi is available.

I know; it just keeps getting better. Life is sweet.

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[Photo: NYT]

Talde Tale: Hello, Halo-Halo

A couple of years back my Filipino buddy got married. There was an elaborate buffet and everybody stuffed themselves. After dinner we were settling back with some San Miguels when I noticed a stampede toward the kitchen. The Filipino guests, alerted by a secret signal, were making a run on dessert. Bowl after bowl of halo-halo came floating out in the hands of beaming guests. By the time I got there it was too late. When Josh Valentine remixed the dessert on Top Chef Seattle, I renewed my effort to figure out what the halo-halo fuss was about. Thursday night, at Talde in Park Slope, I finally completed my quest.

Halo-halo is Tagalog for “mix-mix,” a reference to the odds and ends that come together to make this classic Filipino dessert. The foundation of the dish is shaved ice, like a snow cone crossed with a treasure hunt. Chef Dale Talde’s version leans on squares of coconut jelly, flakes of young coconut, and tapioca pearls. If the other sweet nugget in there looks and tastes a lot like Cap’n Crunch, it’s because it is Cap’n Crunch. Beyond the stoner brilliance of putting breakfast cereal in the mix, there’s a subtle sophistication to the flavors. A simple syrup permeates the ice, flavored with coconut water and infusions of lemongrass and chile.

The result is uplifting, hitting just the right notes to cap off a feast (kung pao chicken wings, charred rib-eye in black pepper caramel, and oyster and pork belly pad Thai were my favorites off the revamped menu). Even one year on, Talde is still buzzy, but halo-halo is plenty reward for whatever table-waiting dues you’ve had to pay.

The next time I’m at a Filipino wedding, I’m camping out by the kitchen the instant the dinner plates get cleared away.

[Photo: Anne Massoni]

[Related: BlackBook City Guides listing for Talde; BlackBook New York Guide; Interview with Talde’s Dale Talde, John Bush, and David Massoni]

In Their Own Words: Four Entrepreneurs’ Favorite Apps

What do a dominatrix, two celebrity chefs, and a fitness founder have in common? Not much. So we brought them all together under one umbrella question: “What is your favorite app?”And like most things that can fit inside your phone and purse, these apps give great insight into who these stop-at-nothing entrepreneurs are. It’s like hacking into someone’s cellphone, but with descriptive consent. Here are these four visionaries’ favorite apps, in their own words.

Aarón Sanchez
Aarón Sanchez is the co-star of two Food Network series (Chopped and Heat Seekers), and the culinary visionary behind NYC’s taqueria Tacombi, Kansas City’s Mestizo, and Crossroads restaurant at House of Blues nationwide. Sanchez was recently a guest chef at the White House and received the “National Award” at the Flavors of Passion Awards, honoring the nation’s best Latin chefs.

"Since my wife, a pro musician, and I are constantly on the road, we like to use SongKick to find which of our favorite bands are playing in the cities we travel to. It’s also a great way to track lesser-known artists who may not have the reach of bigger acts. It’s brilliant.”

Brynn Jinnett
Brynn Jinnett is a former dancer with the New York City Ballet and the founder of Refine Method, a chain of boutique circuit training studios in NYC, whose clients have included Ivanka Trump and Kelly Ripa. Rooted in the latest research in exercise science, Refine exercises your body by using its own weight – pairing squats, kicks, and pushes with its own unique pulley system and high-intensity cardio. Since opening in 2010, Jinnett’s Method has exploded, expanding to three locations across NYC.

“My favorite app is MindBody Biz Mode [FREE], which allows me to schedule clients on my iPhone. With our third location opening this month on the Upper West Side, it’s great to be able to manage multiple locations while on the go!”

Hung Huynh
As the executive chef of NYC’s Catch seafood restaurant in Meatpacking and third season-winner of Top Chef, Hung Huynh is joining with EMM Group again to open the second outpost of Catch in South Beach, inside the James Royal Palm on Collins Avenue.

“My favorite app, Seafood Watch [FREE], keeps me up-to-date with current and fresh fish from the area’s nearby restaurants and stores, inspires new ideas, and educates me on the importance of sustainable seafood.”

Nina Payne
Nina Payne is the founder and president of Domi Dollz, a company of professional dominatrixes who bring kink out of the dungeon and into the mainstream with their New York-based workshops and educational performances. This month, the Dollz are launching their first eBook titled Kinky Amour; with personal stories and kinky tips from Payne and company, as well as video tutorials and photographs, the Dollz’ teachings will be downloadable and available worldwide.

“The Domi Dollz love the Dirty Game – Truth or Dare app [FREE]: it’s a huge collection of very naughty and wild truth or dares. It’s such fun to revisit the game we played as teenagers, bring the app to parties, and spice things up.” 

Easy, If Breezy, Chicago: A Brief Guide For New Yorkers

Say the words "Windy City" and by free association, we all think: Oprah, Obama, deep-dish pizza, Da’ Bears, and "brrrrr."  But there’s so much more!Dazzling architecture, outstanding city views, cordial Chicagoans, quirky neighborhoods and sunny, 60-degree mid-November weather––those are just some of the highlights of my recent 48-hour family trip into town. By "family," I mean me, a thirtysomething free spirit, and my parents (just imagine the crazy side of The Fockers). Could Chi-town handle us?

Upon arrival into O’Hare, we jumped on the easy-to-navigate, not to mention uber-clean CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) and transformed quickly from savvy New Yorkers to dopey tourists, as we tried to understand the no-change metro machine policy. Luckily a CTA employee was helpful and midwesternly, and got us through the turnstyle gracefully.

We landed at our hotel, the JW Marriott––the baller of all Marriott’s––in the bustling, business-oriented Financial District. Located in a renovated historic national bank building, the shiny, marble hotel lobby and lounge was a nice, warm welcome.At nearly 500 square feet, our airy room offered everything we needed: two beds draped with fluffy duvets, a spa bathroom clad in Italian marble with a stand-alone tub, and supersized terry cloth robes.

Service was top-notch. For example, after some slight confusion over our room temperature (I’ll take full credit for that one), the front desk immediately had an engineer at our door. We called down a few other times for more bathroom products and additional pillows; everything was "no problem." The concierge helped us with maps and routes constantly––we wouldn’t have made it far without him.

At night, we’d sit with our laptops or novels in front of a cozy gas fireplace in a quiet corner of the lobby. How charming for a hotel we assumed was strictly a corporate hang. Good people watching too––wedding parties, football fans, first dates. Refreshing (and free!) orange cleansing water in the lobby kept us hydrated and happy.

But let’s discuss beyond the hotel. 

The first place we went was Magnificent Mile; about a 15-minute walk away, which initially, alarmingly, sort of felt like Times Square. Streets were crowded, tourists were crammed together. I worried we’d entered a bit of a migraine. That is, until we stumbled upon the iconic Wrigley Building. Powerful, stop-in-your-tracks, absolutely stunning!

Lunch was at the famous Giordano’s Pizza. While we wanted to try Chicago’s famous deep-dish pizza, they only offered deep-dish crusts stuffed to the nines. This concept, us pizza purists found unappetizing, so we chose a basic thin crust pie. It was decent, but we’ve had better, like Grimaldi’s in Dumbo. Just a small strike, Chicago. (By the way, what’s a New Yorker doing in Chicago if not to say our pizza is better?!)

We were then off to Wicker Park, an edgy neighborhood dotted with vintage stores, cute coffee houses and loads of shopping options. The locals were a mix of real-deal artists, grungy hipsters and Lululemonized stroller moms. One trendy term that could be applied? Très Brooklyn. We felt right at home.

We hopped the subway after a few hours, and then took a bus to Hyde Park to see the Obama’s house. This was really exciting, especially to be there right after the election! We tried to bribe the secret service at the edge of his street for more personal scoop, but no luck. Alas, we were perfectly content just checking out the nice-but-modest digs.

Meanwhile, Chicago and the Chicagoans were really growing on us! Locals kept helping with directions and advice, and everyone was just so nice and patient. Every so often, we’d catch a glimmer of glamour on the regal streets. My mother alluded to Champs-Elysées more than once.  

We stopped at the Willis Tower SkyDeck—in the former Sears building—and rode up to the 103rd floor. I pushed my fear of heights aside as much as I could, and I’m glad I did. The view was breath-taking as we could see about 40 miles of city landscape, plus Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Don’t think my dad didn’t try to also re-enact the scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off that was filmed here.

For dinner, we shared plates at the celebrated Sable Kitchen & Bar, a gastro-lounge in the center of the River North neighborhood adjacent to Kimpton’s Hotel Palomar. Spearheaded by Top Chef alum Heather Terhune, her seasonal dishes were out of this world. The menu was well balanced, as there was something for all of us, which, with a vegetarian mother and a meat-n-potatoes father, doesn’t happen often.

We started with the Butter Lettuce & Apple Salad with radicchio, grapes, smoked cashews & almonds and sherry-apple cider vinaigrette. Easily, the best salad of our lives. Our other favorite dishes were the brick oven flatbread with rosemary, brie, and house-made ricotta, butternut-squash apple soup, mini wild mushroom veggie burgers with red onion jam, and short rib sliders. This would definitely, no question, be our new family go-to spot if it were in New York. The food was fresh, flavorful and mouth-watering. Service was exceptional as the food came out perfectly timed to give our stomachs a brief rest. The dining room felt both calming and luminous. The staff was professional, warm and had serious culinary swagger. If you go to Chicago, you’d be crazy not to run here!  

We also had a lovely breakfast at Hoyt’s Chicago, inside Hotel 71, near Millennium Park. A sweet spot, with a nice street view. I very much appreciated that Hoyt’s is also part of my illy coffee cult.

At the end of our stay, we didn’t want to leave. Chicago embraced us New Yorkers in a way we never expected. I’m happy to say, it’s a city I’m now totally in-sync with and can’t wait to touch down here again.