Contrary to the outside belief that New York is a cold, isolated city of 8 million people, the reality is it’s really nothing more than a small town. If you’ve been around (the block) long enough, everyone pretty much knows everyone. You’re bound to run into people or be seen by people you know (or know you) no matter where you go. Since most of us dine out at least 3~4 times a week, restaurants essentially become an extension of our living rooms. They are family, lovers, and maybe even a bit on-the-side. Or even on-the-side of on-the-side.
In order to maintain a happy, full stomached NYC life, the key is to know how and where your loves (restaurants, that is) rank in your heart, and how to properly manage each relationship. And being the global rats that we are, many of these relationships end up stretching across the bridges and tunnels to LA, London, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Europe and beyond. Here is…
DineGirl’s Guide to being Disloyally Loyal
Believe us when we say that years of field experience, hard boozing, dining, schmoozing, a few heartbreaks and many many air kisses have been a part of this research project in order to provide this valuable insight.
Understand also that if you’re new to a restaurant or a restaurant group, you’re probably not likely to get the choice tables right off the bat. It’s the real life equivalent to a ‘day of’ reservation at Dorsia. Cue the cackle on the phone. Just ain’t gonna happen. Over time, as you frequent the establishment consistently (this is key), make it a point to get to know the hosts / owners / managers. You will see the relationship blossom naturally. Tip well, mind your manners, treat the staff with respect and you will make a good impression. Also, make sure you are being valued in return. Why keep going back to a “hot spot” that only gives a shit about your Black Card, treats you like crap and serves up mediocre food? Good restaurants value their customers (they remember the names of regulars), and will make each visit an enjoyable one.
1). KNOW YOUR CORE !! Good relationships take time, effort, and a lot of patience.
A handful of good core relationships will be the foundation to a fruitful life spent feasting. Know where and who you want in your core, and treat these apples as if they were your babies. These spots should stand the test of time, feel like home, and keep you coming back year after year. Timeless, elegant, welcoming and special. True gems these are. Value the core.
2). MAINTENANCE : It’s hard yet enjoyable work.
You wouldn’t let your car go for 100,000 miles without an oil change or tune up. Similarly, don’t let your food foundation turn into a jalopy hodge-podge mess of random spots. Key to maintaining your core is consistency. Minimum once a month visits for your #1’s, and every so often for the other core guys. This will also evolve naturally.
Now that you’ve established a core, here’s how to Cheat Like a Pro!
3). MONOGAMY IS BAD : “When I’m good, I’m very good. But when I’m bad, I’m better.” Mae West. On the upper east side you’ll find old grannies frequenting equally tired old spots 5,6 nights a week. This isn’t because the food is that fabulous, it’s because the restaurant is on the block and part of the co-op. It’s important to venture out of your comfort zone and seek out some spice and thrill on a regular basis. After all, variety and curiosity are what broadens one’s horizons into new cultures and culinary experiences. Hopping on a plane with a passport is also part of this process.
4). KNOW YOUR FLOOZIES : One and done’s are ok.
So you ventured out and the new place sucked. No love lost here. The twisted logic is that knowing what was bad about a new place will make you appreciate what’s great about your core places. Was it a bad attitude, tired vibe, crappy service, predictable menu or uninspired wine list? Knowing what you didn’t like about the person, I mean restaurant – (just kidding!) will mean avoiding the same traps and pitfalls in the future. Set your own standards for next time, which means time and money saved. And if it was indeed a great experience but just not inspiring enough for round two – that’s A-ok as well.
Just because you’re buddy buddy with this guy, that guy, and everyone in between doesn’t mean that anyone gives a shit. We’ve all got notches on our belts, a Rolodex to match and are in the same rat race hustle. While dining at one spot, don’t openly talk smack or name drop other spots in that obvious way. Appreciate places for what they are, and never point out what they are not. And if it’s not meant to be part of the core, refer to (4). Restaurants keep tabs on everyone, and yes they are listening into people’s conversations, taking notes and will remember pretty much everyone who steps through their doors.
6). ON-THE-SIDE, and ON-THE-SIDE of ON-THE-SIDE : sounds complicated, but not.
These are spots that you frequent sporadically and have some connection to – for whatever reason it may be. They require a small level of maintenance but aren’t necessarily long term apples since chances are some won’t be around in a year. Best to enjoy them for what they are. The “on-the-side” types usually have just one or two appealing things on the menu that keep you coming back, and the rest is just eh. Hence the mild interest level. Maybe they do a good martini on a rainy day or have a nice oyster happy hour. And sometimes that’s all you’re in the mood for. “On-the-side” of original “On-the-side”s refer to diluted versions of the OTS. For example, your original OTS martini spot may reside all the way downtown, so the OTS-OTS would be the somewhat acceptable place in midtown which fills a void but isn’t a full “fix”. And so on and so forth.
7). DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS : shhhh…..
We know a vegetarian who enjoys the occasional Black Label burger at Minetta Tavern. His soul weeps inside but somehow he still manages to wake up the next morning. It didn’t kill him! A miracle! On route back from a boozy business trip to Minneapolis, one of the best experiences for Dine Girl was a perfect Big Mac, fries, and a ‘strawberry’ shake from a long lost friend with golden arches. Whether it’s politically incorrect foie gras, or the questionable dive bar chicken wings, we all have our vices. These dirty little secrets are ok on that rare occasion – just don’t tell anyone and continue to pretend it never happened. Again.
This guide could go on and on, but we’ve outlined what we believe serves as a roadmap for dining out with purpose. With the right attitude and approach – everyone is happy, no one gets hurt, we’re all well fed, and the revolving doors continue to twirl as they await the next batch of hungry hungry hippos.
DineGirl’s Disloyally Loyal Guide strictly pertains to the rules of dining out. DineGirl is not responsible for what happens to anyone who applies the above rule set to other aspects of life. Results of such behavior include – but not limited to: rotten core, no apples, and loss of respect from society (ie. Louis Winthorpe III : “No one wants your drugs here Louie!”). The worst case scenario – a potentially empty stomach, table wine and sharing Buster’s dog bowl and bed.
The Polo Bar
When I was 15 studying for my GCSE’s in England, I did a project on the designer Ralph Lauren for my Design course. Brazenly, I somehow managed to finagle a three month internship helping the window designer at their New Bond Street location. For one of their window displays, we created a mini East Hampton estate. As we meticulously worked on the gorgeous displays, one of the carpenters gave me some invaluable advice. “Retail is detail”, he proclaimed. At the time it seemed like quite a lot of fuss for such a small temporary space, but the effects were transportive. A passerby could envision themselves hosting a little soirée on Lily Pond Road, dressed to the nines in a Ralph Lauren.
Cut to the 21st century… We recently had a chance to finally check out Ralph Lauren’s much buzzed about NYC restaurant venture: The Polo Bar. While not officially a members club, the vibe is VIP all the way. They greet you by name outside, which is such a nice touch, if your name happens to be on the list. Reservations are a must, even for the bar. Inside, it’s that magical mix of polished, approachable sophistication. After a few nibbles and an old school cosmopolitan by the fireplace, we slinked downstairs to the gorgeous dining room. Timeless and instantly classic, it doesn’t feel ‘new’ or ‘fresh’, it just ‘is’. It’s quite the scene but in a subtle way, and everyone belongs.
After a round of shrimp cocktails, oysters and champagne, we saddled up to the sole purpose of our evening. The much anticipated burger. Wow, just wow. Juicy, flavorful and simplicity at its best. Pretty sure it’s already a signature item. The menu is an homage to classic American cuisine, with plenty of options for everyone. Even your vegan friends can rejoice here.
A great addition to the neighborhood, The Polo Bar already feels like an institution. Everything was just perfect, in an un-contrived way – thanks in part to the care and attention to detail, and just the right amount of magic and imagination. If we were to give it a grade? A+++. Oh, my Design GCSE? Also an A. Retail is detail indeed.
The Polo Bar
1 East 55th Street
New York, NY 10022
Tel. +1 212 207 8562
The closing of Pastis left many a fashion exec wandering the streets aimlessly. The city was worried. Luckily, the McNally Ark has saved them, and reinvented the old Pulino’s space into a bright, chic French spot on the East side. The facelift is subtle, in the “did you do something to your hair?” type change. The vibe is its namesake: Parisian chic, with pale pink table cloths and off-white tiled ceiling. We were lucky enough to go to a friends and family tasting last night, and basically ordered the whole menu in order to do some proper dining out recon.
The menu is subtly intimidating (frogs legs–which were tasty but had a lot of little bones… good if you like a strong crunch) yet welcoming (burger, prime rib, peppercorn filet mignon–phew! you’re still in America). Price points seem to be a little on the high side, but the clientele who will inhabit this space will be used to it. After all, they did just make the journey from West to East. Menu highlights: grilled sardines (amazing) beet salad (elegant), peppercorn filet mignon (incredible), and the burger, which is ironically one of the best things on the menu. Sacré bleu! Desserts were also amazing–our favorite was the lemon tart which was light and clean.
Interesting in that there were no raw bar options. I wonder if this is to differentiate Cherche from Balthazar, which is smart. There are many fish options on the menu which we will try on our next visit after feasting through the carnivore options.
Overall, we loved the new bright modern French décore. Whereas Pulino’s felt almost aggressively loud, Cherche’s color palette is more muted and subtle. The banquette style seating and oversized flower arrangements creates a relaxed atmosphere that will keep people lingering around for hours. By day, I envision high fashion and literary types seated in their favorite corner, munching on sardines and frogs legs while reading Le Monde through their Selima Optique chic glasses. By night, ditch the glasses, slap on some lip gloss and enjoy the hustle and bustle. This will be the new place to see and be seen. Corner banquette tables and the few round tables in the front will be prime real estate.
Cherche Midi has enough uniqueness for the picky New Yorker. The food is upscale but cozy, with simple presentation. We loved the little cast iron pans for the sides and the no-fuss style for the main dishes. Food wise, everything we sampled tasted fantastic and we suspect that the Cherche burger will generate its own cult following. Cherche is a great revamp for the Bowery, and we foresee loyal crowds parked here day and night once they open the gates.
Cherche Midi (pronounced ‘shar-sh-medd-ee’)
New York NY 10012
Tel. +1 212 226 3055