The Pleasure of the Company

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Hangin' on. Photo: JH.

Thursday, January 12, 2023.  Yesterday in New York was  overcast and colder (high 40s and then mid-30s pm), still a mild temperature for this time of the year. 

Eating out. In my line of work, I often eat out. At dinner parties, yes; but not frequently, and depending on the season. At restaurants, yes! Almost everyday. Lunch and/or dinner; or sometimes both, like yesterday.

DPC and Susan Gutfreund out on the town a few years back.

I went down to Michael’s to lunch with Susan Gutfreund who’d just returned from three days in Paris and three days in Italy where she attended the wedding of a daughter of a friend. For years Susan and her husband John had a residence in Paris and maintained a truly international social life at a time when there was a truly international social life. There still is, to some degree, for the rich can’t resist knowing each other. There are many exceptions of those who don’t feel that way, BUT …  you see it more clearly in New York; all dogs feel at home with their own packs. Generally speaking. Lots of exceptions because we are still an enterprising people.

I was introduced to Michael’s back in 1997, when I took on the job as Editor-in-Chief of a widely cirsculated New York magazine called Avenue. It had been created in the mid-’70s by a very enterprising (very is not an exaggeration) 30-something young woman named Judy Price. Besides her formal and college education, Mrs. Price was a naturally curious individual who after college went to work at Time-Life – which mid-20th century was the most important magazine business in America. An anthology of their various publications defined 20th century USA America.

When I first started at Avenue, Mrs. Price (which is how I find myself naturally referring to her although I did address her by her first name and still do) took me to lunch at Michael’s, informing me that it was a very popular restaurant with media people — film, TV, publishing — and that its most favorite day to lunch was Wednesday. Any Wednesday.

So, I naturally made a point of booking a table for Wednesdays.  This was back then, 25 years ago. I was “new” to the whole business and I knew I needed to familiarize myself with the terrain.

Yesterday’s lunch included Mushroom Bisque Chive …
… Crispy Brussels with Sprouts, Saba, Pomegranates, & Pistachio …
Maple Glazed Butternut Squash, Pepitas, Pomegranates, Micro Greens, & Creamy Lemon Dressing …
Kale Caesar Salad with Korean Fried Chicken, Fennel, Pistachio, & Parmesan Breadcrumbs …
… And Grilled Branzino, with Caper Berries Salsa Verde, & Charred Lemon. Yes, we were hungry.

I liked the restaurant immediately because it was very Southern California in light and décor and I had only a few years before I’d left for a job here in New York, and its menu still had strong references to California Cuisine — much of which came out of Michael’s in Santa Monica. Its walls were decorated with art — prints — by Frank Stella among others. And every Wednesday there would be the presence of a variety of publishing executives and persona as well as television and film personalities and executives.

What they talked about, aside from table, I don’t know; but I do know the underlying intent is making a deal of one kind or another. The clientele, male and female, dressed for the occasion. Casual but business-like (tycoon time). The women, often very powerful and prominent, also had a dress code.

Because I made a habit of Wednesdays (and other days at times too), the staff got to know me. And while I was never given the Number One table (all restaurants have one), I was given a table just outside the prime reserve part of the dining room What it gave me was a View of the place, a bird’s-eye view; the coming, the going, the sitting there and observing. From there one could see the business facade in the very competitive industry called media.

Michael’s on a typical Wednesday.

Every industry is a version of Community. The general population of Michael’s has always been communicative and cultural, to be general about it. Much of what we read and see comes out of those dens of communication, such as a restaurant like Michael’s. It’s never not without fascination if you’re watching and listening and with a view from the tree. And, you can often meet, even if just in passing, some of the nicest people as well as many of the nicest wait-staff as well as the others such as Steve the GM. And Joana and Loreal, who manage the breakfast and luncheon reservations (and everything else). Going there for me these days is like going home to be with the family.  That’s what habit can do.

Always on the job and always fresh-faced: Loreal and Joana.
GM and CFO of Michael’s Restaurant Steve Millington, Executive Chef Kyng Up-Lim, and the Le Grand Fromage.

Yesterday the place was jammed. Just like the old days. At Table One in the window, there was a birthday luncheon for Donna Hanover (she’s now over 40). My table is just around the corner so I never have a full view of the table that often accommodates ten or twelve. All women, I had no idea who was there although I heard Paula Zahn, Susan Lucci and Gayle King.

Naturally I could only think how I’d love to get a photo of everyone together with the Birthday Girl. And tada! A friend of mine named Steve came up with one! This is what lunch at Michael’s is like (or at least looks like). A celebration!

L-R, top row: Paula Zahn, Donna Hanover, Martha Nelson, Susan Lucci, Joannie Dandelides and Gayle King. L-R, bottom row: Blair Breard, Sara Moss, and more friends of the birthday girl.

And while we’re on the subject, also lunching (and breakfasting) there were: Drew Figdor, Fitzhugh Middleton, Robert Licalzi, Bridget Maguire, David Muir, Ryan Hinkle, Zack Shah, Ross Mandel, Thomas Wong, Todd Snyder, Edward Talbot, Mike Cochran, Steve Langelotti, Ken Baranoff, Jay Nydick, John Schwolsky, Lisa Bebchick, Alex Lonergan, Mitti Liebersohn, Sean McGonigle, Stanley Shuman, Robert Friedman, Robert Pittinger, Obi Eke, Dimpesh Darjee, Bjorn de Carro, Richard Farley, Demetrius Rota, Kathy Robbins, Joannie Danielides, Sam Shikiar, Sam Goldworm, Ernie Thrasher, Christine Taylor, Thomas Wong, Andy Plesser, James Hundley, Andrew Doherty, Barbara Tober, John Arnhold, Laurent Morali, Eileen Mancera, David Patrick Columbia, Susan Gutfreund, Nicole Lamarine, Nigel Dawn, David Reese, Matt Einbinder, Cathleen McGuigan, Glenn Horowitz, Joshua Prentice, Dan Johnson, Philippe Salomon, Jonathan Watters, Adam J. Hanover, William Doyle, Virginia Schroth, Kelly Gittemeier, Matthew Nairn, Ana Lopez, Michael Schwartz, Saleha Mohsin, Erika Detjen, Dan Nguyen, and Kara Evans.

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