Pubs, Cocktails & Restaurants – Adventures in NYC

Pubs, Cocktails & Restaurants – Adventures in NYC

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I keep thinking about what Tony Abou-Ganim shared about bartending being a legitimate, sought after profession today, from the transitional job it once was (see my post from January 13). It also made me think about how various hospitality businesses are run and if the ownership/management gets it. As I traveled over the past week, I had the opportunity to experience a wide range of incredible places. Here are some of my observations and thoughts on who “gets it” in New York City:

First an aside re New York itself… I’ve spent a lot of time in the City over the years. As a kid, I lived in Hoboken, NJ and would take the PATH into the City often. Yes that Hoboken, but it was WAY before it was cool or expensive! I remember the City being pretty tough and dirty.

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Wallin family in NYC circa 1980

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NYC circa 1980 taken by JSW

Visiting during my years at Cornell with my Long Island friends and then later in the early 1990s for business and meetings (mostly with Seagram), NYC was rough and dirty but still a blast. These were the Mayor David Dinkins years when NY was not functioning very well. Then came Mayor Giuliani and everything changed. The guys who would spit on your window as you came out of the tunnel were gone, the broken windows where boarded up, the trash was cleaned up. NYC fundamentally became a world-class city and was treating itself with respect. This continued throughout the 2000s under Mayor Bloomberg but toward the end, I thought I noticed some deterioration in the streets, more trash lying around etc. I was staying in the city during the 99% marches on Wall Street “Occupy Wall Street”. They all seemed pretty unfocused and I expected it to last weeks, which it did. I put all of this off to the downturn and not much else.

Fast forward to this past week in NYC… it is interesting and somewhat disturbing. The city is amazing and the hospitality industry, in which I inhabit, incredible as it has been for a long time. The new Freedom tower stands out to me as a symbol of strength and resilience.

Freedom Tower - NYC

Freedom Tower – NYC

However, I couldn’t help but notice how much trash was all over the streets. It also seemed like there 2015-01-20 09.38.03were more “street” people hanging about. I did not feel unsafe, but was wary nonetheless. NYC friends, is this just me or is it much worse than it has been? I can’t help but think the era of Mayor de Blasio is not starting out good for the city for lots of reasons. I do hope it is not a move back to the Dinkins years. That would be bad for everyone there and all of us who like to visit.

I had a series of meetings and a strategy planning session/workshop with a major international drinks client of mine. As part of this, I surveyed a number of accounts (doing my “work”). Here are a few that stood out:

  • The lobby lounge at the Mandarin Oriental in the Time Warner Building is one of my favorites for experiencing NYC at the top. Literally, it looks down at Columbus Circle and out to Central Park. There are few better high-rise locations for a cocktail (or tea) and a majestic view. What struck me here was the new towers looking down over the Park., several, since the Iast time I can remember, that look incredible. Clearly the ultra 2015-01-21 12.38.18high-end condo market is thriving. One went recently for $100.5 million, I wonder how much this 2015-01-21 11.46.26is Russian, Chinese and other international buyers? The lounge itself has an air of sophistication and elegance. Even though I spend a lot of time in places like this and I worked at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, it still makes me a little cautious and aware of my dress and my party’s behavior. Service was efficient if not warm. Cocktails and beverages all prepared to perfection. Nothing really to complain about here (prices aside, but if you complain about those, you don’t belong). Along the lines of one of my favorites, the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram building, a must stop for anyone wanting elegant, high end NY.
  • Cambell Apartment – Grand Central Station – cool lounge tucked away behind Cipriani’s in Grand Central. I have actually been next to it no less than 50 times and yet never knew it was there. It seems all my friends did, so I’m not sure how they kept it a secret from me. As long as you don’t mind a jam packed bar at 6pm on a Tuesday, a 2015-01-20 18.04.54short wait for a table and a loud atmosphere this is a cool spot with a rich history and an incredible architectural setting.   Service was right on time, even as busy as it was. For more intimate discussions or meetings, better off elsewhere.   As the NYT puts it “Tucked away in Grand Central Station, this classy lounge is the restored private office of early twentieth-century tycoon John W. Campbell…”
  • Whole Foods, Columbus Circle – Ok we have Whole Foods in Indiana and I’ve been to many dozens around the country, but there is something about the NYC version that is just simply awesome. If you are not a foodie, you might become one by visiting this store. It has a incredible presentation of food that makes it feel like a gourmet market, which I guess, it really has become. But just when I thought I’d seen it all, I got to the back of the store and discovered the in-store Pub… yep, a full on British style pub with draft beer and wine and tables. As a colleague said next to me “I’d come to this Pub anytime”. What a great execution of the blending between retail and hospitality. I would say to my friends running bars and restaurants, be aware. This is no joke.   And of course the increasingly ubiquitous ability to fill up a growler of fresh craft beer was prominently being promoted.
Whole Foods Columbus Circle Pub

Whole Foods Columbus Circle Pub

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Whole Foods Columbus Circle

  • I surveyed numerous stand-alone pubs including St. Andrews (Scottish) and The Beer Authority (vast craft selection). These were both well done. St. Andrews is definitely ground zero for NYC Scottish Pubs. They carry and fantastic Scotch selection as well as my favorite Scottish beers from Belhaven Brewery (at least 6 on tap). Some of the other ones I visited were pretty standard pub feel with nothing really to write about or bring me back other than convenience, if I was on that particular block in need of a pint. One cool place was the
    St. Andrews Pub

    St. Andrews Pub

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    St. Andrews Pub

    William (as in William Shakespeare). This is a boutique hotel, lounge and downstairs is a British Pub. We held some meetings on site and enjoyed uniquely crafted cocktails in the upstairs lounge. This lounge has an exclusive yet strangely warm feel. If you are looking for a great place to meet up with a small group of friends for well crafted drinks in seclusion, this is your place!

  • I had a terrific lunch in Raffles restaurant at the Lexington Hotel. An upscale diner, it hit the spot with high quality food. Also the rooms are perfectly fine at this 4-star hotel that had a great sale going on during my visit. I would stay again (at the <$200 price point).
  • Keen’s Steakhouse for dinner was as expected, a solid steak and sides. Service was normal and the place was packed on a Tuesday night. Apparently in 2013, Zagats gave it a food rating of 26, and rated it the # 2 restaurant in the Garment District, and the 7th-best steakhouse in New York City. I don’t know about that but it’s a solid choice for traditional USDA prime steak in midtown.
  • Biggest surprise in NYC was in Brooklyn. Now I’m admittedly one of those visitors who rarely venture outside of Manhattan. So it was a completely new experience for me to take an UBER over to the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg and experience such a delightful spot as Radegast Hall & Biergarten. A German beer hall, R&B had two large rooms, great beer selection and incredible cocktails served by delightful wait staff, bar tenders and management.   I tried the cheese beer soup. What’s not to like? It was great, but definitely a share dish. There are two options for food, one in the back room – a grill where you build your own brat or burger and the other from the main kitchen. I ordered the Grilled Smoked Pork Chop with Sautéed Tuscan Kale, Parmesan served with a Spiced Apple & Pear Chutney from the main kitchen along with several sides for the table including brussel sprouts, cabbage and mashed potatoes. All were fantastic. The Pork chop was a 10/10. Kudos to Executive Chef Eric Francou “who draws upon his culinary training in France, London, Belgium and his Italian ancestry to bring new ideas and flavors to his patrons at Radegast Hall & Biergarten”.  The place has live music 7 nights a week and does not take reservations. A special shout out to new manager (and a sommelier) James Herman, who has such positive disposition to life that it’s infectious! I really liked your take on moving from the sommelier world to beer and cocktails. James is a great example of the next generation of professional in the hospitality industry. James, thanks for the creative cocktail using the Belhaven and Scotch. Did we settle on a name?

    Radegast Hall & Biergarten

    Radegast Hall & Biergarten

Next up my review of Vegas – Casinos, Restaurants, Nightlife and Fun

 

 

J. Smoke Wallin interview with Michael Schwartz – James Beard Award winning chef/owner of Michael’s Genuine of Miami

J. Smoke Wallin interview with Michael Schwartz – James Beard Award winning chef/owner of Michael’s Genuine of Miami

Re-Posted From Wine 2.0 in 2011

I recently had the opportunity to sit down at with Michael Schwartz, chef/owner of Michael’s Geniune in Miami.  http://www.michaelsgenuine.com/   Michael’s Genuine is located at 130 Northeast 40th Street
Miami, FL 33137 (305) 573-5550

Michael is an amazing chef and a great person to hang with.  Michael just published his first book – “Michael’s Genuine Food”  

Aside from the incredible food and dining experience, I had the chance to ask Michael some questions about his background, his cooking philosophy and importantly to all of us, his views on wine.

 

“Schwartz’s culinary innovation  puts him at the forefront of the farm-to-table movement. He’s now on a national stage, based primarily on his straightforward, ingredient-driven cuisine, as well as his commitment to supporting local farmers and responsible, seasonal food sourcing.

He was recently honored with the prestigious 2010 James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef and has appeared on national TV shows including Top Chef”, Rachael Ray’s Rachael’s Vacation, Throwdown with Bobby Flay, After Hours With Daniel Boulud, Simply Ming with Ming Tsai, and Fresh Food Fast with Emeril Lagasse.”

J. Smoke Wallin (JSW):  What got you into cooking?
Michael Schwartz (MS): Well I grew up in Philadelphia in the ’60s and ’70s.  The closest I came to cooking as a kid was cutting up the Stroehmannwhite bread for stuffing at Thanksgiving dinner!!  My mom didn’t make much from scratch…  Things changed when I was 15 and I got a job bussing tables at Dilullo’s, a Northern Italian restaurant in Philadelphia.  The place was ahead of its time and really swanky, importing expensive, high quality ingredients from Italy. After about a year, I had worked my way into the back of the house.

JSW: What has been the greatest thing about starting Michael’s Genuine?
MS: Meeting great people and doing great things with them.

JSW: When you decided to open another restaurant, why Grand Cayman?

MS: Well it was less of me deciding it was time to open another MGFD than realizing we could when DART approached me.  I have to admit I was a little skeptical at first.  I didn’t think it was possible to replicate the experience of the restaurant, which has so much to do with the process – the responsible sourcing that is so important to who we are.  But I went down there and met with them, and liked who I met and what I saw. There was an emerging farming community poised to embrace a restaurant like ours and we’ve just been learning and growing with each other.  It’s really great.  We’re getting great variety of local product down there, even this past summer – thai eggplant, callaloo, herbs, peppers, amazing mangos, and local pumpkins… Of course there are things we need to bring in, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised.

JSW:  What made you want to write your book?
MS: I’ve always wanted to do a book. Again it was all about timing and relationships. Some executives from Clarkson Potter were in town and ate with us and said they wanted to publish my first book.  I pulled together a proposal and two years later, we have MICHAEL’S GENUINE FOOD: Down-to-Earth Cooking for People Who Love to Eat.  I’m really proud of the work we did to pull it together – I got to work with some pretty talented people, like my photographer Ben Fink.  The photos are beautiful and really capture what the dishes are all about – simple preparations using really fresh product. 
 

JSW: What is your wine philosophy at Michael’s?
MS: Our philosophy is just like food. It starts with the best producers and great product. I’m very lucky to have a sommelier like Eric Larkee. He’s always one step ahead of the game. We’re able to keep prices very reasonable and offer a creative, yet edited list. I’m lucky to have talented friends like Dennis Scholl and Richard Betts with the Betts & Scholl label… Jim Clendendon of Au Bon Climat..The list goes on… We’re of course trying to always to be responsible in every aspect of the business… So I know Eric gravitates towards producers that are using natural methods… and we recycle our corks and bottles (for water service) whenever possible. I’m looking into glass cutters right now so we can recycle the bottles for drinks glasses too.
 JSW:  Describe the perfect meal.
MS: One with my family, cooking food from our friends.

JSW: What’s best about being Michael?
MS: What kind of question is that?! I would say I’m lucky for the people I’m surrounded by, so that’s what’s best.

JSW: what has been your biggest challenge?
MS: Spending as much time with my family as I do with my other family at work.
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JSW: What can we expect when we buy your book?
MS: Well it’s definitely a Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink greatest hits to a certain degree, which is what I wanted out of a first book.  It’s divided similar to how our menu is set up, with a bunch of the dishes that we know and love, and some new things too.  I think what I’m most happy about is that the book really works.  So many times, especially with recipes you find on the internet, nothing works.  My compulsive organization really worked to my advantage on this one!

JSW: When can we get you out to the Bay area and up to Napa to enjoy some wine and share your book and story with our friends?
MS: Um, soon!!
Dinner with The White House Chef – Walter Scheib

Dinner with The White House Chef – Walter Scheib

I had the great pleasure of having a grand dinner with with former White House executive chef, Walter Scheib.  In October a bunch of YPO/WPO members of the Food & Beverage Network and the Beer, Wine & Spirits Network (I chair) got together in Chicago for 3 days of learning and networking.  It was a fantastic event, with best of the best resources, speakers, and activities.  One highlight was our evening with Walter Scheib.

Here is a little background on Walter from his website The American Chef.

Walter Scheib
(White House Executive Chef, 1994 – 2005)

“For the last eleven years, I have had the honor of doing daily what most chefs would be lucky to do once in their life time. That honor was serving the First Family of the United States.”

– Walter Scheib, March 2005
Walter Scheib has quite a story to tell. In fact, he has two stories to tell. The first involves the rise of an American chef to the most storied position in the land. The second offers an intimate, human view of two First Families, the corridors of political power, international personalities, and the most famous building in the United States, from a unique vantage point: The kitchen.

In April 1994, after a lengthy application and screening process, Walter Scheib became the chef to America’s chief executive and the First Family. First Lady Hillary Clinton, impressed by the comprehensive spa menu Scheib had developed for the Greenbrier resort, as well as his highlighting of American cuisine, personally hired Scheib. For 11 years, he prepared everything from simple family meals to elaborate and formal State Dinners. His culinary creations dazzled and delighted White House guests including Nelson Mandela, Emperor Aikihito, Jacques Chirac, Boris Yeltsin, Vaclav Havel, Lady Diana Spencer, Tony Blair, Vicente Fox, and others, not to mention the thousands of congressional members, journalists, and other House visitors who got to know his food.

A highlight of Scheib’s White House achievement was his creation of a distinctly American repertoire for the nation’s First House. He continues to speak with eloquence and pride about America’s bounty today, praising the artisan cheese makers, green grocers, mushroom foragers, master bread makers, fishermen, ranchers, and farmers who have helped our national market basket evolve, and make quality cooking more accessible than ever. “America is rich in amazing produce, meats, and fish,” Scheib say

The White House Chef - YPO/WPO Menu

s. “Using just a few excellent ingredients, anyone can make a perfect meal with very little formal training.”

Chef Scheib was very personable and probably the coolest part of the our evening together was all the interesting stories from his days in the White House for both President Clinton and Bush. There were many funny ones.

The meal was excellent and creative.  Menu at right.  Jay Wright the EVP and COO of Constellation Wines hosted our reception with a fun tasting of some of their wines from around the world.  Constellation Wine worked with Chef on the pairings. I was not a fan of everything, but it was a great experience.  My favorite dish was the first course – Seasame crusted Halibut with Red Curried Sweet Potato Soup.  This was paired with the 2010 Nobilo “Icon” Sauvignon Blanc.  Nice.

The best part was hanging out with Chef afterwards.  He joined us at our “afterparty” that I hosted with 3 Amigos Tequila and Napa Smith Brewery.  We enjoyed a Napa Smith Organic IPA together and chatted about his current business, travels and great food.  He is a big fan of great beer and agreed with my contention that a beer dinner is easier to create than a wine dinner as beer actually can accompany more foods in a more complimentary way.  Don’t get me wrong, I love wine, but we are seeing more and more of this kind of thinking.  Its great to get confirmation from a talented chef like Watler Scheib.

Chef Scheib’s book is called “White House Chef”.  It is far more than a cook book.  It is an interesting look into life inside the White House.

White House Chef

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