Friday, April 13, 2007

"What better to seduce than food and wine?"--Chef Thomas Keller

I am in envy of the handful of big, brawny super restaurants that have combined great service, great food, and a striking physical plant [or location] to create huge money fine dining successes. When I say huge money, I don't mean that they are in the same neighborhood as our $10 million in annual sales, either. No, I am talking about the icons--world-famous restaurants that occupy the rarified air that starts at $15 million in annual sales and just goes up from there. Tavern on the Green, Chicago Chop House, Bern's Steak House, Peter Luger's, Le Cirque, Valentino, Commander's Palace [with their poor, devastated wine cellar], and just lately the upstart Prime 112 in Miami to name some of the most well-known. These places are glorious machines, not churning out plates of food to faceless masses but rather regularly setting and surpassing high goals for culinary quality and service excellence while banking tens of millions of dollars in the process.

These big, independent fine dining restaurants have my respect and my admiration, but not my heart. My heart has been stolen by another, as I have been seduced by the mysterious and intoxicating [in more ways than one] American Michelin Three-Star.

Over the last year I have dined in three of the finest restaurants in America, and they have left me both profoundly amazed and sorely humbled. Profoundly amazed at the depth of talent and the nearly flawless execution that permeated every aspect of all three visits. Sorely humbled by the realization that I do not have the knowledge or skill to ever approach that level of near perfection. I simply do not know how to get people to perform so well: to dedicate themselves so completely and truly embrace the selfless heart of real hospitality.

I dream of restaurants like these. Chef Keller's properties each have fifteen tables in their main dining rooms, while Restaurant Michael Mina might have twenty-five. By 6:30pm each night my collar is soaked through with sweat as I careen through my sixty tables and 6,500 square feet of guest area at top speed trying to avert catastrophe. Constantly over-reserved, under-staffed, and pressed for time I am the drover of a runaway mule train heading for a jagged cliff with a steep fall--every single night. My counterparts at these temples of indulgence glide about like eagles on the high thermals--not splattered with food, not soaked with perspiration, not muttering a steady stream of curses under [hopefully] their breath. They are sober, steady, serious, and supremely concentrated--they treat everything with the utmost importance, but they actually have the time to do so--the time to not cut corners, to not jury-rig, to not have to hope "no one notices". In short, the time to do things right. And, as an added injury, at the end of the day they harvest roughly the same revenue we do on one fifth the number of guests.

When I left Restaurant Michael Mina I wanted to ask if they needed a busboy. When I left The French Laundry I wanted to ask if they needed a gardener. When I left Per Se I was so drunk that I foolishly staggered over to the bar at The Porter House and had more wine--but, the next morning in the midst of my hangover I wished that I had asked them if they needed a dishwasher.

Oh yeah, I am seduced.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great blog man.

12:06 AM  

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