Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Bits & Morsels

Fresh Goat Cheese House-Made Ravioli with Golden Beet and Yogurt Sauce from Michael's.

If I could make my own list of influential restaurants in New York, Michael’s – where DPC, coincidentally, is a frequent luncheon customer – would be at the top. For almost 20 years Michael’s has been the go-to spot for publishing and media movers and shakers in New York. It also attracts a great mix of the entertainment industry, Wall Street, and the social leaders. Its signature is a seamless blend of a great scene and even better food. The menu is varied and there is something for everyone, whether they are craving a Cobb Salad or goat cheese ravioli. It’s airy and spacious and the unique layout of the tables makes it very conducive to having a private conversation.

General Manager, Steve Millington, is the high octane fuel that keeps Michael's engine running in high gear. And he makes it look very easy. He is a kind and caring 'regular' kinda guy with a knack for making everyone feel important and better yet, comfortable.

What do you eat everyday?

Family meal, whatever is cooked for me generally. I try not to eat beef more than twice a week if I can help it. I try to include fish, and fruit at night.

That’s healthy.

Not too much bread.

Julian Niccolini (left) of The Four Seasons stops by to say hi to Steve Millington
The bread here is so good.

It’s evil. The butter is wonderful. It has ribbons of butterfat in it.

I eat everything. I grew up in Thailand.

What was that like?

It was incredible. It was very strange as a young person. I would come back to the states not really relating to my life here. Thailand was almost pre-historic. You would see snakes on the ground and if there was a flood ... the sea level would rise two feet and you would end up with catfish on your lawn.

Do you find that the regulars here come more like 3 times a week than twice a month?

I got yelled at by Alice Mayhew because I said she was here four times a week. She said, “I am not here four times a week. I am here 3 times a week.”

Do you have a motto?

Well, every year we try to give the restaurant and our peoples sort of a general idea of what we are trying to achieve. This year it’s spirit. "Spirit 2008" is what I have written on the hallway as you come up the stairs to go to the kitchen and the restaurant. Without spirit we are soulless and we don’t really have enough drive. Last year I think it was "Teamwork". Each year I try to think about something to motivate a staff that is distracted by either wanting to become an actor, producer, or filmmaker. I look at it like let’s try to come up with a common goal to make what we do here better.

Overstuffed Pork Ravioli with Burrata and a slice of Pork Shoulder.
Grilled Colorado Rack of Lamb, Portobello Confit, Golden Cauliflower, Swiss Chard, Lamb Shank, and Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Cannelloni.
When a customer passes ... do you mourn them?

That’s an interesting question. A great customer of ours just had a heart attack last week. Not here, but I just found out about it today and I was really saddened. We have a seat cushion from a lady who came here for 10 years. We still keep the cushion around. She died and we were genuinely saddened by her passing so we kept the cushion in her honor.

How is this different from Michael’s in California?

This is more of a daytime operation. It tends to be more of a breakfast and lunch place.

What is your favorite dish on the menu?

The hamachi with the baby bok choy and the mushroom beurre blanc. It really captures what Robert Ribant (the chef) has in mind for the food. He is a great fish visionary. It’s hard to work in a place where you are under the umbrella of Michael McCarty, the great chef from California. We have a following because we are known as the media hangout, but we have a following that continues because the food is good. The food is good because Robert is in the kitchen, not because Michael’s name is on the door.

What restaurants do you like to go to?

I don’t eat out much. I cook a lot at home.

What do you like to cook?

I make a great sauce. I worked at an Italian restaurant on the Upper West Side before I did anything and I learned how to make some great Italian dishes ... like veal chop with a rosemary butter sauce. I learned how to make meatballs, but from a girlfriend and her mom. So I make great meatballs.
Charred Yellowtail Hamachi, Baby Bok Choy, Seasonal Mushrooms, Pumpkin Seed Oil, Mushroom Beurre Blanc.
Is Michael’s a good meeting spot?

Business people make interesting connections here that can become long-term connections. I feel like there is an interesting mix of people that come here.

How did Michael’s become such a media hangout?

I think that when the Russian Tearoom died out, there was a genuine need for a replacement for this clientele. Michael’s is also connected to the West Coast. So there’s synergy there. Also, look at the tables here. We don’t have a square table here so we are not at an angle. You can have a conversation that’s pretty private. I think it makes a big difference to people.

(At this point in the interview Julian Niccolini, co-owner of The Four Seasons restaurant, stopped by our table to say hi, declaring the following re Michael’s: “Whatever these people do ... it is the best thing in the world.”)

How long have you been at Michael’s?

It will be 10 years in November.

How has it changed in the past 10 years?

It’s more fun than it has ever been to run .. to be part of the organization. I can work from 6:30 in the morning till 3:30 in the afternoon and feel like I am leaving the restaurant in very capable hands.

When you get a bad review does it upset you?

It’s terrible. It breaks my heart. Everybody here tries hard. Everyone here is really doing a good job of trying their hardest to produce a customer service experience that is above average.

What’s the most popular dish?

The Cobb Salad at lunch.
This past week was a busy one. On Wednesday night after a delicious dinner at Michael’s, Steve Millington and I went to the opening party for Alain Ducasse’s new bistro, Benoit. Daniel Boulud, Joey Campanaro, Gordon Ramsay, Sirio Maccioni, Andre Soltner, and Alain Sailhac were all in attendance.
Gordon Ramsay, Alain Ducasse, and Daniel Boulud.
Macaroons, Financiers, and Chocolate tarts at the opening party for Benoit.
On Thursday night I went to Chelsea Market for The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Second Annual “Taste of the World” event, which honored restaurateur Sirio Maccioni. Cystic Fibrosis is a genetic disease that affects one in every 31 Americans. A bevy of restaurants were present offering up plates of food. A Voce, Le Cirque, Osteria de Circo, Lever House, Chop Suey, Landmarc, Payard Bistro, Mai House and Sushi Samba all participated in the event. My favorite plate was the simple yet satisfying pappa al pomodoro soup from Circo. [The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation]
Clockwise from top left: Antonio Hernandez and Marco Maccioni; Circo's pappa al pomodoro soup; Spring pea soup from Landmarc; Spike Mendelsohn of Top Chef cooks for Mai House.
Clay pot chicken from Mai House. Carrot cake from Lever House.
We will all miss Irvine Robbins who died on Monday at the age of 90. Irvine Robbins was one of the founders of the Baskin-Robbins ice cream chain. He created many of the company's flavors and catchy names like Lunar Cheesecake, which debuted the day after man landed on the moon. He started his first chain of ice cream stores in 1945 with a $6,000 investment. Today Baskin-Robbins is owned by Dunkin Donuts. [LA Times]

This week's New Yorker magazine
profiles chef Grant Achatz of Alinea restaurant in Chicago. Alinea is considered one of the top restaurants in America. Last year Chef Achatz was diagnosed with tongue cancer. Through the use of a new and rigorous Chemotherapy and Radiation protocol, they were able achieve a full remission, but he still has not regained his sense of taste which was lost during the treatment. [The New Yorker]

Until we eat again,
Jordana Z.

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