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.
All of us rat-race-worker-bees have only a few weeks out of the year (plus sick days, personal days, and the ubiquitous “roll over” days) to completely detach from reality and responsibility. On those precious days off, we recommend going completely extreme. We’re not talking off-the-rails-and-end-up-in-rehab extreme, but rather, up into the skies and over the rainbow.
Or better yet, out to sea…
Despite the slight chill in the air, Monaco in May is a magical time of year. If you can get past the mobs of ‘City Boy’ posers and tourists pretending to care about Formula One racing, there’s actually a lot of class and beauty hidden away to enjoy during the festivities.
The best way to do Monaco Grand Prix is to pirate yourself aboard a sailing yacht, and let the impeccable crew wave their magic wands and treat you to one of the best experiences of your life. For 2015 Monaco Grand Prix, Dine Girl managed a ‘part deux’ invite aboard a 180+ foot classic schooner. Not only a step back into time, she’s a step into an alternate universe. She floats along ever so elegantly, sailing past the gaudy motor yachts blasting out bad techno. Heads turn as she stops traffic, commanding that regal nod of respect. And, like flies hitching a ride on top of a water buffalo, we soaked it all in as she cruised along the sparkly riviera.
Our dreamy weekend kicked off with a black-tie dinner on deck. We started the evening around sunset, sipping DQ rosé, Krug champagne, and noshed on Pointy Snout caviar canapés. We couldn’t help but notice the Christofle cutlery, fine crystal and elegant flower arrangements. Immediately we knew we were in for a treat.
Classically trained at Joël Robuchon, Chef Benedicte Cochard’s five-course Mediterranean dinner highlighted local specialties such as petit farci, and the unique ‘patoto’. Not a potato or a typo, the ‘patoto’ is a cross between gnocchi and a grain. Sublime… To round out the everything-local theme, the wines for the evening were selections from Château de Bellet, a small winery located in the hills of Nice. Dining alfresco amongst our own group of ‘princes’ and ‘pirates’, with the Monaco coastline sparkling behind us made for a magical and glorious night.
The dinner descended into puffs of Macanudo vintage cigars, vintage armagnac and a hazy hangover the next morning.
Miraculously we all managed to resurface for the main attraction: the Monaco Grand Prix. Race day antics to be continued…
Somehow through the miracles of praying to the travel gods and every other deity we could think of (including the mini Ganesh by the entry), DineGirl has been lucky enough to partake in some fabulous Grand Prix action in Monte Carlo!! Shamelessly and unapologetically we are going to attempt to blend in with the air-kissing posers and escape the hustle and bustle of New York. The key to any jet-set weekend is eliminating anything practical. While a normal beach weekend would consist of a ‘Montauk’ sweatshirt and a ponytail, in Monte Carlo it’s high heels, bright colors and piled on jewelry for breakfast, and make up on the yacht at all times. Who’s racing? Is anyone really paying attention? Not sure, but this is the ultimate in ultimate people watching…
Here’s our ab-fab, racing inspired MCGP weekend packing essentials:
The evening for this particular privé soirée had been planned for an earlier date, but the universe was trying to tell us that the original date was never meant to be. A few of our guests cancelled, the chef got sick, and the sous chef got hit by a cab etc… (daily occurrence in NYC—evidently he is ok, his bike? not so much….) Perhaps something was in the stars? Switching the dinner to the following week did mean some more scrambling around, but as it is on the great white way, the show must go on!! After all, we were convening our guests to celebrate some special wines from the cauldrons of Sean Thackrey.
DineGirl’s task was to set the stage and elevate this seemingly impossible fête to fabulousness. In setting the mood, we dressed the table with muted end of summer/fall floral arrangements from our new favorite florist, Starbright Floral Designs. Even our flowers were from the stars! Dusty mauve thistle peppered in with burnt orange florals, succulents and earthy greenery set the stage. West coast (Bolinas, California) chic. No peonies or East coast hydrangeas here!
Onto the wines…Unconventional, mysterious and edgy, Sean Thackrey wines have quite a cult following. Much to the chagrin of some classical wine makers, his wines consistently receive top ratings from Robert Parker and the like. Mr. Thackrey himself is also somewhat an elusive, renegade type figure which only adds to the mystique. Thinking back on it now, it’s no surprise that the whole process felt a little out of control and punk rock. Finally, things started to turn our way and around 7pm, guests began to arrive in their formal attire ala duncan quinn; bespoke with a punk rock heart and soul.
The Thackrey verticals of the evening consisted of magnum Orion 1990, 1994, 1998, 2000 and Andromeda 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009. Incomparable to anything you’ve ever tasted, one slurp and your eyes look up (to the stars) in wonderment of the unique composition.
Chef Ben Freemole–a tall and rugged character, seemingly plucked right out of Sedona via the Hudson Valley and WD-50–created a bold, creative and edgy 6-course tasting menu to compliment the grapes. Highlights included the spicy Calabrese “nadjua” (spicy sausage) starter with peaches and shallots, a scallop crudo with romesco, and the smoked cauliflower with uni, quinoa, beef jerky and caviar. Uni + beef jerky + caviar??? Wild! Crazy!! Mad scientist food! Incredible! Sublime…
As the night rolled into a magical armagnac haze (1970 DQ Armangnac), chef Ben came out for his final curtain call and applause. A collective nod of appreciation, sparkly smiles around the table and copious empty wine glasses told us that the stars were aligned once again.
In anticipation for this weekend’s Burns Night celebrations, here’s our take on last year’s debauchery…
Even by today’s standards, the famed Scottish poet Robert Burns lived a very fast life. Also known as the Ploughman Poet, he fathered numerous illegitimate children (think double digits!) and had too many love affairs to count. Puts our modern day ploughman Mick Jagger to shame. Every year on Rabbie’s birthday, the world over celebrates the great poet with a night of debauchery, poetry, and scotch. Ploughing optional.
January 25th, 2015 would have marked his 256th birthday. For anyone who’s ever attended (and survived) a Burns Night, you know that the evening does not consist of yawns, boredom and polite conversation. Instead, it usually consists of dapper men in kilts and tuxedos, a heavy mix of scotch-fueled ruckus, poetry, bagpipes, haggis, and more scotch and even more ruckus…
Amidst the table hopping and scotch intake, there were some great highlights to the Scottish themed menu. Cock-a-leekie (chicken and leek soup) was fresh and clean with a soul satisfying broth. The winter vegetable salad accented with dill was a huge hit. Following the requisite haggis (faux-haggis in this case, as it was minced lamb with spices), the braised short ribs arrived just in time for the men to switch from slurping to chomping. Do the guests realize that haggis isn’t actually a 3 legged hairy animal that runs around the hills of Scotland counter clockwise, as described by Mr. Quinn? Or maybe they believed this myth and tucked into the little beast thinking this was indeed the stuff of legend magically making an appearance on W13th street on a Saturday night.
Thanks to the generous sponsors, there was a beautiful selection of whisky such as Bowmore, Auchentoshan, Glengarioch, Hibiki and Yamazaki scattered around on each table. Since my manicured paws weren’t long enough or quick enough to reach anything other than what was right in front of me, I only managed to try the Japanese whisky, Yamazaki. No complaints here! Beautifully smooth with caramel tones, it was a true treat and no surprise that it is among the best in the world.
The night concludes with a inaudible rendition of Auld Lang Syne and more toasting to our host, each other, life, and the air. Judging by the way everyone stumbled onto the next location, I think this crowd did Robert Burns proud – his legacy will most certainly continue to live on.