Restaurant Review: Ruth’s Chris Garden City

25 Oct

When my Dad called me a few days ago and asked if I wanted to have a steak dinner this weekend my mouth began to water and I could already smell the butter sizzling on top of my Ruth’s Chris filet mignon.  One great thing about Long Island is that there is definitely not a shortage of great steakhouses – the there is a strip on the north shore that is lined with one on literally every corner.  I wasn’t in the mood for a production, and I was really craving their signature sizzling butter, so we decided that it would be Ruth’s Chris in Garden City.

When we arrived we were quickly and warmly greeted by the maitre d’ who began to show us to our table.  When the phone at the host stand rang she turned around and asked us to hold on.  While on the phone she handed the menus to a server who seated us.  The situation wasn’t off-putting, but it certainly wasn’t a stellar welcome that I would expect of such a highly-rated steakhouse.

We were greeted pretty quickly by our server.  He would prove to be very kind and certainly knowledgeable, but something about him didn’t click well with me.  He didn’t try to connect on a personal level.  It seemed to be strictly business.  Not once did he smile!  Technically he did a very respectable job, and he certainly wasn’t mean or rude, but on a personal level I didn’t feel that he made the attempt to connect to us as his guests.

I enjoyed his selling of the specials; for our appetizer we started with a barbecued shrimp scampi.  I didn’t really know what to expect because the two styles are very different in my mind.  He assured us that the shrimp were barbecued but not slathered in traditional bbq sauce – instead they were then sauteed, scampi style.  I was impressed with how quickly the five meaty tiger shrimp came out to our table.  My Dad took one and left four to me – heavenly!  The garlic butter sauce was proportioned excellently to the shrimp.  The problem I often face with shrimp scampi is that the sauce is far too overpowering for the meat; tonight’s dish mastered the delicate balance of the savory sauce and the meaty shrimp.

Barbecued Shrimp Scampi

The entree course was just as good-tasting as the appetizer.  I ordered a filet mignon and my Dad ordered a T-Bone, both cooked medium.  I really enjoyed our servers suggestive selling skills when we were ordering entrees – he suggested my Dad get his steak cooked medium instead of medium-well because the steaks were served on 500 degree plates so he could literally sear it a bit on the hot plate if he wanted it cooked further.  The steaks arrived a perfect temperature and were accompanied by a 1-pound baked potato and a dish of garlic mashed potatoes.  With the entrees I also had a glass of wine – a Spanish Tempranillo Rioja.  The flavor of both steaks was excellent.  As noted, Ruth’s Chris’s signature is serving all steaks on a very hot plate with butter sizzling on top.  The aroma I had hoped for filled our enclosed booth and created our own wonderful world of steak.  Eating it, tasting it, smelling it; the aura was magical, even if only for a minute or two.  I was very upset with the presentation of both steak dishes – as seen in the pictures below, they were simply strewn on the plate.  There was grease all over the rim of the plate and no side dishes to mask the running steak juices.  It did make up for that in flavor, though.  Additionally, the sides were great – two types of potatoes cooked with an equally tasty technique.  My wine was a perfect pairing to the steak: dark berries, plum, and dark chocolate.  It was well-structured and very tannic and held up well to the juicy steak.

Filet Mignon


After dinner was cleared and I was already over-stuffed, I thought what better way to relax than to enjoy a nice rich dessert?  I was impressed with their selections of after dinner drinks – it was a much more in depth menu than even their wine or cocktail lists.  Though I passed on having another drink, I did indulge in a warm apple crumb tart with vanilla bean ice cream.  The flavor was extraordinary – a beautiful pairing of Granny Smith apples, crumby crust, and refreshing ice cream.  Apple pie is one of my favorites, and though this was excellent in flavor, it was lacking identity.  I actually sat for what had to have been three minutes inspecting my dish before I took my first bite.  It almost looked like a purchased dessert.  By that I mean that it looked too perfect – maybe bought in bulk at Costco or BJ’s and microwaved for 30 seconds before being sent out to my table.  I highly doubt that is the case from such an established, well-regarded restaurant, but for me to even question that is a bit of a problem.

Warm Apple Crumb Tart with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Eat and Drink This!

If you’re going to Ruth’s Chris, you’re going for the steak.  I’m always a big fan of filet mignon, but if you want a challenge, go for the Porterhouse for 2.  Like most steakhouses, they serve this behemoth expecting their guests not to finish, so don’t eat lunch and come prepared!  Also,  if you’re a shrimp lover, you’ll be thrilled – though maybe not with the presentation – with the taste of the barbecued shrimp scampi dish.

Skip It

I was very upset with the beverage menu.  For such a well-known, established steakhouse, I would imagine the wine list to be phenomenal, there to be a selection of beers that pair well with their dishes, and a cocktail menu worth even mentioning.  They had none of that.  I was shocked to see Relax Riesling offered by the glass – one of my favorite, cheap rieslings to buy at my local wine shop for a Friday night at home with friends, but certainly not what I would expect at Ruth’s Chris.

Where To Sit & When To Go

I have been to this location quite a few times and have always sat in the main dining room.  I was never a fan of the main dining room because it was carpeted and open and too living-room-esque.  Today we sat adjacent to the bar in a secluded booth for two.  Great place to bring a date, have a business meeting, or even have a great steak with a friend or family member.   The booths were very versatile and could be a good setting for many types of occasions, so if you’re a party of two, I would certainly recommend checking it out.  In terms of when to go, Sunday night at 6:30pm was fairly crowded, so unless you have a reservation, I would recommend going on a week night.  If you’re an OpenTable user, book a 1,000 Point table on Sunday-Wednesday.

Special Events

I didn’t dive too far into this, but on my way to the bathroom I did see that they have a fairly large private dining room which would be excellent for corporate events, holiday parties, or even upscale, large family gatherings.


Both my Dad and I enjoyed myself at Ruth’s Chris.  The food and wine were very tasty.  The main bone of contention that I have is that the restaurant felt ‘corporate’ to me.  It was present in our interaction with the server, with the maitre d’, and with the manager.  About 3/4 of the way through our entrees the manager came to ask if we had enjoyed our meal.  Her coming to our table felt very forced, very unnatural.  It was by no means smooth, and she too did not smile at us.  It was as if she was trained at corporate HQ that she had to touch tables – as well she should – but her execution and intent seemed to lack a genuine, personal touch.


An overall very good experience.  37 points.  2 Stars.


Why Wine?

23 Oct

The world of wine is beyond fascinating to me. It is daunting yet welcoming, infinite yet personal.  Wine is an experience all in itself.  While it is often pictured with a food pairing, the depth of the world of wine is far-reaching.  Imagine walking into a store like Walmart or Target and, at first, only understanding what is going on on the first shelf of Aisle 1.  But you keep going back.  You won’t let the big-bad store intimidate you.  Soon you’ve mastered the first aisle and you’re confidently moving on.  One day, maybe, you’ll have the entire mega mart at your disposal.  The only thing that matters is that you go back and continue your journey, because wine is certainly that: a trip through countries, regions, cities, varietals, vintages, colors, smells, and tastes.

My first step into the world of wine came during my junior year of college.  Before then I hadn’t drunk much wine in my life.  I remember at my first communion drinking the wine and hating it – little did I know that 45-times-sipped church wine wasn’t the best representation, nor was it a very good idea to base my judgments on my memories from 2nd grade.  Fast forward 13 years later and I’m standing in World Market in Raleigh, North Carolina staring at a monstrous collection of wine with no clue what to buy my girlfriend Taylor’s mother for Easter.  No way I can show up to the house with nothing in my hands!  Thankfully Taylor pointed out that her mom was a fan of riesling – not that I knew what that even meant.  She helped me pick a bottle and it ended up being great.  I left that market with a glimmer of hope – the door had been cracked opened into the world of wine, but I was still far too intimidated to push forward and jump in.

A few months later I’m in Beijing, China and my fellow interns and I walk into Med, one of Alan’s restaurants, and see a wine tasting going on.  Now, try to picture this: Med is located in a complex called Block8 which has 6 different venues within the one building.  The entrance to Med is right off the side of i-Ultra Lounge, and directly to the left of the entrance is a private dining room surrounded by a floor-to-ceiling, wrap-around, glass-enclosed, mahogany wine rack.  Alan isn’t classified as a Master Sommelier (because they actually have those), but he is a master sommelier, if you know what I’m saying.  The guy knows a ton about wine, loves to drink it, loves to pair it with food, and loves to teach about it.  It all kind of hit me that day, as I was standing there, surrounded by thousands of bottles of beautiful wine, looking in on a wine tasting in the restaurant of my mentor who was so immersed in that wonderful world: that was a place I wanted to be; I was ready to take the plunge.

One year after and I’m sitting at a beverage tasting at Blue Smoke.  As a manager, every month or so we’re required to give presentations to the entire service staff about a specific wine, liquor, beer, etc.  More than any restaurant that I have ever seen, Blue Smoke emphasizes the importance of teaching the staff, and in doing so fosters not only a great knowledge of what is being sold, but also a sense of community and shared purpose among the staff.  The masterminds behind the program at Blue Smoke are Beverage Director Tinika Green and GM Kari Matthews.  They do a tremendous job in both sharing their knowledge of beverages to the staff and also pushing the rest to delve into their world.  I remember it clear as day.  Even a few months into my tenure at Blue Smoke, I still was mostly partial to drinking sweet white wines.  It was during a tasting that we were learning about a Valpolicella (actually an Amarone from the Valpolicella wine-making area of Italy) when my eyes were opened to the full world of wine.  I turned to Tinika and she saw my face nodding, she said, “that’s good right?”  I didn’t even know what to say.  I had discovered the first aisle of my Walmart.  My appreciation for wine hit its first peak and it hasn’t stopped rising since that day.

Wine is a journey.  There is so much to know about it, and it is my firm belief that nobody will ever know everything about it.  Very few will ever even master it.  But to love wine is to love life, because wine is one of the most beautiful creations of this green earth.  It means something different to everybody who drinks it.  But all should respect it, and in doing so, should seek to understand as much of it as possible.

I’m happy to say I’ve got to be somewhere near aisle 4 or 5 in my Walmart of wine.  I’m comfortable drinking, tasting, describing, and teaching about wine.  I’m nowhere near where I want to one day be, but I’m getting there.  A few weeks ago I was in Shanghai, China at the grand opening party for Alan’s restaurant Haiku.  I was drinking a glass of wine and talking to my friend, one of the bartenders.  He asked me what it tasted like and I explained to him the fruits it tasted like in Chinese.  He read the bottle (which I could not read) and looked up in amazement.  I had described the wine exactly how it said on the bottle – in Chinese!  I acted confident and that I knew that would happen, but it actually surprised me a little.  I was proud.

I’m getting there.  The best part about it is that there’s nowhere to get.  It is just more knowledge and more understanding – and along the way, a lot more wine!

In a Vietnamese Restaurant in Shanghai, China

Enjoying Fresh Coconut Juice After Two Delicious

Glasses of Wine – Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon

Richard and I at Block8 in Front of Med’s Beautiful Wine Cellar

Beer Review: Kronenbourg 1664

22 Oct

If you’ve taken a look at my ‘biography page’ on the top of this site, you surely have seen that my favorite beer listed is Kronenbourg 1664.  That’s the beer that I’ll be reviewing tonight.  Actually, I only tasted it for the first time about ten days ago, but it is so good that it immediately became my favorite beer.  I was at Anthony Bourdain’s restaurant, Brasserie Les Halles, when I tried it for the first time based of a recommendation from my friend Doug.  That was a Wednesday.  Friday I went and bought a 6-pack to try at home.  My goodness is that a great beer!

The Kronenbourg Brewery is located in Cronenbourg, a town in Alsace, France, which is the fourth-smallest of the 26 regions of France.  It wasn’t started there, however.  From its inception in 1664 through to 1850, the brewery was located in Place de Corbeau, a town just miles away from Cronenbourg.  They moved because of the desire to be on higher terrain and are now owned by the conglomerate Carlsberg.

Kronenbourg 1664 is the most popular and best-selling beer in France.  It has a 40% market share!  I guess I’m not the only one who loves it.

Variety: Pale Lager (similar to Heineken, Budweiser, Coors, etc.)

Color: Rich amber; deep gold

Nose: Grapefruit!

Palette: A tinge of bitter; not very sweet; citrus; grapefruit

ABV: 5.5%

Hops: Strisselspalt, which are hops native to Alsace and known as a ‘Noble Hop’ – one of the four hop varieties that are low in bitterness and high in aromas

Finish: Slow and smooth

When I read about the Strisselspalt hops I knew immediately that that was the reason I loved the beer so much.  I’m not a fan of overly-bitter beers, and so the fact that Kronenbourg 1664 has a beautiful bouquet (aroma) and a citrus taste without having that bitterness is what sealed it for me.

Here is the other thing that has sold this beer for me and makes it my favorite: the finish is slow and smooth.  Actually, the Kronenbourg 1664 brand has been recently built around the concept of slow: “Slow Beer, Slow Taste,” and it couldn’t be closer to the truth.  While they market it by saying that it is brewed in the best town in France, etc. etc., they’re absolutely right that the malt is done slowly so as to not give the beer a crisp taste, but actually gives it a slow, drawn out flavor.  When I sip the beer, the flavor lasts on my lips for minutes after I am done.  I don’t want to call it creamy, because it is not, but imagine that feeling as opposed to a quick, crisp finish.  Delightful!

Fun Fact: Marie Tussaud was born and raised in the town where Kronenbourg was originally brewed.  She must have at least once sipped a Kronenbourg 1664 at the actual brewery, which is pretty cool because she now has 9 hugely popular museums named after her throughout the world.

Keys To Tasting: First, drink this beer in a wine glass.  Yes, a wine glass.  If you can, make it a Bordeaux wine glass.  This beer is so beautifully aromatic that a Bordeaux wine glass is one of the only ways to drink it to capture its full scent.

Food Pairings: Anything light with a touch of creaminess would be great; perfect would be a thin-crust pizza

Kronenbourg Brewery, Alsace, France

My Favorite Beer, Kronenbourg 1664

Bias for Action

22 Oct

I’m starting a series of posts that are in the group ‘What Does It Take To Succeed?’  This is the first post in that section.  If you’re interested in restaurants – or even business in general – you should definitely take a look and let us know what you think.  We’re always open to input and our guests and reader’s opinions, so let us know anything that is on your mind!

Today I want to talk about a concept that my Dad taught me when I was a little kid.  I’m a ‘big picture’ kind of guy, and when I was younger I would always talk to my Dad about the entrepreneurial ideas that I had.  Ideas after ideas, and some were really good – some small such as local services and some larger-scale like social networking sites.  It must have been the first idea that I brought to my Dad, looking for his input and approval, where he told me that in order to succeed in any venture I’ll have to have a bias for action.

What does this all mean?  I mean it is pretty clear to understand the words.  I think Nike sums it up pretty excellently with their ‘Just Do It’ slogan.  That’s what it is about.  Get to work.  Roll up your sleeves and get into the idea.  An idea is an idea.  Put the wheels in motion, get things churning and then an idea transforms from a vision into a reality.

When it comes to opening a restaurant, it is more important than ever to have this bias for action.  There are so many decisions that have to be made that, if you don’t want to take years to open, you have to get right down to work.  When you sit down to discuss or decide on something, you have to make the decision by the time you leave the table.  Otherwise things will draw on for days, weeks, months.  It is so important, then, to get the wheels churning and keep pushing, day after day.  You’ll reap the benefits when your restaurant is open and you know that you built it.

That’s where we’re at now.  It is more important than ever to push harder each and every day – keep trying to reach the day that our doors are open and we’re serving you the best food you’ve ever tasted.  Isn’t that what you’re waiting for?

The Vaulted Door Sushi Roll Competition

21 Oct

Do you have what it takes to get onto The Vaulted Door’s sushi menu?  We’re challenging you – all of our friends, colleagues, readers, and fans – to come up with the most creative and best tasting roll for a chance to make it onto our opening menu.  We’re going to do this with all of our menu categories, so we wanted to start off with the most fun and imaginative one of them all: sushi rolls.

Who? Anybody!  I promise you that there will be no partiality granted towards close friends – this is really to see who is the best!

What? A competition to see who can tell us how to make the best-tasting, most creative roll they can imagine

When? The competition has been extended.  The due date for all roll submissions will be December 1, 2010.  During the week following the deadline, Anthony and I will narrow the rolls down to 4 finalists: ‘The Final Four.’  We will then invite all four finalists to the tasting  and judging of the rolls.  We will have guests there to watch the competition.  Chef Anthony will then prepare all of the rolls and our panel of judges will choose the best roll.

Where? This competition is all about creativity.  It all comes from your brain, from your heart, from your palette.  Think of what you would love to see in a roll and make sure it is something that has never been done.  Create, imagine, innovate.  At home, at a restaurant, at school – anywhere!  Our competition will take place at a secret location that will be announced as the date draws nearer.

Why? We are all about our guests, and we want to be able to feature your creations on our menu.  That way, every time you come to the best restaurant on Long Island, you’ll be able to say that you have been part of it.

I want to stress one thing: CREATIVITY above all.  As of now, we have 10 rolls on our menu and they are all creative masterpieces from Anthony and Ryan’s minds.  We’re looking to make it 11 rolls; help us finish our sushi menu with the most imaginative, artistic, and inspired roll of all.  Remember – sushi is not only about ingredients, but also how it is plated (get crazy with this one) and what it is garnished with.


Email Submissions Directly to Ryan @

Best of luck!

What a Cool Presentation!

Seared Kobe Beef, Avocado, Red Onion, Chimichurri sauce

Wine Review: 2008 Terredora di Paolo Falanghina

21 Oct

Taking you into my world of wine with this one.  Similar to my experience with sushi, my enjoyment of wine has only thus far been a 3 or 4 year infatuation, but in that time I’ve not only likened my palette  to the taste, but also become fascinated with the sub-culture surrounding – as simple as it seems – squeezed grapes.  Working in restaurants definitely enhances your knowledge of wine because you’ve got to understand what you’re selling to your guests.  If you can’t explain how a wine tastes or what it tastes best with, then how are you supposed to sell it?

That brings me to the wine I tried tonight, a 2008 Falanghina from Terredora di Paolo.

Tonight’s Wine


Winery: Terredora di Paolo

Varietal: Falanghina

Vintage: 2008

Region: Irpinia, Campania, South Italy

Tasting Notes

Color: Medium Gold

Nose: Fleshy fruits like apples and pears, stone fruit, a hint of banana (when you saute or fry a banana and you get that crisp, sweet, banana smell)

Palette: Medium-bodied; very fruity, though not very sweet; apples, pears, pineapples; a hint of lemon zest; rich minerality

Finish: Cool, crisp, and short finish; Very refreshing

Food Pairing: Light seafood; sushi and sashimi; chicken dishes dressed in garlic and olive oil, light vinaigrettes, lemon dressings

I would give this wine a B-.  This is only the third falanghina that I have ever drank and it was quite delightful; I liked it more than the first two that I had experienced.  I think the best part of this wine was its accessibility.  For those of you who don’t know about the falanghina varietal, it is very similar to pinot grigio, but a little more fuller-bodied and richer in terms of both acidity and fruitiness.  I’m not a huge pinot grigio fan, so I don’t drink it very often, but if I do, I usually drink it with food.  I don’t like to sip pinot grigio on its own.  This falanghina was different from most pinot grigios and the other falanghinas that I have tried before in that it was more accessible, or easy to sip.  I had a glass with my dinner and am still sipping the wine after the dinner is finished.  It is very rare that I enjoy sipping white wine.  Riesling is the exception, usually, for me – I could drink bottles of that; it is, without a doubt, my favorite white wine.

I think the best part of the Terredora di Paolo is its balance.  The fruity nose is accentuated with the first taste of the wine – more layers of rich fruit hit you right off the bat.  The middle has just a tinge of zing, which is from the acidity of the wine.  That only lasts a second, though, before a cool, crisp finish sets in and you just want to say ‘ahhh.’  It is well balanced – the acidity and fruit play off each other in a deliciously complimentary manner.

I gave this wine a B- grade because I’m not a huge fan of the falanghina varietal.  I like it, that is for sure.  But I don’t love it.  I don’t know if the best falanghina in the world could be an A or A- for me – I don’t think it would even be possible.  When I drink white wine I prefer sweeter wines, and that is why riesling is my favorite.  The acidity of this wine was certainly refreshing, but did not make for my ideal tasting wine.

A Quick Note About The Varietal

The falanghina varietal is grown, as noted, in southern Italy in the region of Campania.  Campania is home to the famous Italian city of Naples.  While falanghina is native to Campania, there are variations in taste and structure depending on where the grapes were grown and harvested within the region.  This grapes harvested for this particular wine were grown in a town called Irpinia, which is located in the Apennine Mountains roughly 25 miles from Naples.  The soil in Irpinia is mostly limestone-based, which is a key contributor to the acidity of grapes and the ensuing wines.  The most interesting tidbit about both the falanghina varietal and the region of Campania is that is has been made for thousands of years.  It is noted that during the Roman Empire falanghina wines were often enjoyed.

Price: $17


This was, as stated, the best falanghina that I have tried.  I’m not a huge pinot grigio drinker, but if you like that varietal, you should certainly try the falanghina, and this is a perfect one to try.  The price point is reasonable and doesn’t provide a barrier to entry in terms of trying.  The worst that happens is that you spend $17 on a fairly good, fruity, acidic wine that will go well with your next homemade seafood dish.

The Winery at Terredora di Paolo

The Rolling Hills and Vineyards in Irpinia

Ryan’s Sushi Journey; Hatsune’s Moto-Roll-Ah Roll; Sneak Peak at Sushi Competition

21 Oct

It was sometime around 3 o’clock in the afternoon and I was eating a chicken roll from The Gallery Four.  As the sauce dripped from the side of my mouth onto the paper plate, I got to thinking about how it has been exactly one month since I got back from China.  The past month has really flown, and I haven’t had much time to reminisce on my time there, and so on my drive over to Anthony’s house (10 minutes after I finished the chicken roll), I attempted to somewhat relive my two-week journey that saw nothing but the best that China had to offer in terms of food, champagne, wine, traveling, hospitality, and most of all: friends.  That’s a lot to relive and replay in a twenty-four minute drive, and there was one piece of the journey that stood out to me along the way: the Moto-Roll-Ah Roll at Hatsune.

I consider myself pretty well-versed in the world of sushi despite the fact that I only allowed myself to start eating it about five years ago.  Like many non-sushi-eaters, I was stuck on the fact that I didn’t want to eat ‘raw fish.’  Needless to say, I got over that as soon as I tried my first piece.  In those past five years of my sushi indulgence, I have eaten the freshest sashimi and sushi in Tokyo, worked in the top-rated Japanese restaurants in Beijing and Shanghai, eaten my fair-though-not-Jeremy-Piven-level share of sushi in New York and North Carolina, hosted sushi parties featuring my homemade, handcrafted rolls, and been GM of a Japanese restaurant.  I would definitely say that I have been immersed in the world of sushi more than most for the past 5 years.

That being said, one would think it would be tough to pick a most memorable sushi experience or a favorite dish.  It is not.  At all.  There is one roll that stands far above anything I have ever tasted.  But before we get to that, I want to discuss the three types of sushi eaters.

Sushi eaters can be divided up into three categories.  We’ll call them: the Japanese, the Californians, and the Hybrids.

  • The Japanese diet is known for being very healthy.  Most of their cuisine is consumed fresh or steamed.  So you can imagine, even if you’ve never been there, what a typical meal would be like.  If you were to go to a sushi restaurant in Tokyo – or anywhere in the country, for that matter – the emphasis would be on the freshness of the fish, the flavor profile of the fish and rice, and the texture of the rice.  That being said, a lot of Japanese don’t even eat rice with their fish.  Side note for everyone to get straight: the definition of the word ‘sushi’ is cooked vinegared rice. They often prefer to eat sashimi, which is delicate slices of raw fish.  But when they do eat sushi, it is in the form of nigiri, which is a hand-pressed ball of sushi rice with a dab of wasabi and a piece of raw fish.  Nobody eats what we as Americans have come to know as sushi, which are those delicious rolls.
  • The Californians are really all of us westerners who love sushi rolls.  A sushi roll consists, typically, of a few main ingredients: sushi rice, nori (dried seaweed), and some type of raw fish/vegetables.  There are a lot of variables, sauces, garnishes, and ways to play around here to really dress a roll up, but those three ingredients are usually the main substance of the roll.  California style sushi gave birth to the – yes, you guessed it – California Roll,’ which is simply imitation crab stick, avocado, and cucumber wrapped inside-out (rice on the outside) with nori and sushi rice.  That is usually the non-sushi-eater’s first step into trying their first bite of heaven here in America.  The Californians cover their rolls in artistically-drizzled sauces, sesame seeds, and layers upon layers of mouthwatering fish and vegetables.  They won’t mess with sashimi or nigiri – usually people are strictly California style sushi eaters when they believe that what they don’t know can’t hurt them, seeing as most of the raw fish is inside the sauce-laden roll.
  • The Hybrids are the people who like both.  They’ll go fresh with sashimi and nigiri, but they’ll also stray away from traditionalism with a deliciously-drizzled roll of pure ecstasy.

What am I?  You probably guessed it, but I am a Hybrid sushi eater. I could sit on a fishing boat, watch a blue fin tuna or red snapper get caught and filleted and eat a piece of sashimi right off the cutting board.  I could also sit down at a restaurant and indulge in the most fantastically-presented, beautifully-arranged, wildly unique-tasting sushi roll and love every second of it.

Now to the main event: my favorite sushi ever.  I certainly have eaten meritorious sushi that I remember clear as day – the homemade, freshly cut sashimi and nigiri on New Year’s morning at Aya’s house in Tokyo is the experience that comes close to dethroning my favorite, but nothing I have ever tasted has been as good as the Moto-Roll-Ah Roll.

The setting is Hatsune, Alan’s Japanese restaurant in Beijing that, for the past 9 years, has been rated as the top Japanese restaurant in the city.  It is the first California-style sushi restaurant of its kind in all of Beijing, and as upheld the highest standards of excellence and delicious food since its opening in 2001.  The setting certainly helps the cause for me, because Hatsune is my favorite restaurant that I have ever been to.  It is not necessarily the best, but it is my favorite because I feel the best when I am there compared to any restaurant I have ever been to.  Simple as that.

A brief history: the Moto-Roll-Ah was created a short time after Alan opened Hatsune.  It wasn’t on the original menu, but when Alan saw how many guests he had coming daily from Motorola’s corporate office down the road, he decided to dedicate a roll to them.  Little did he know that nine years later it would be the best-selling menu item in Hatsune’s storied history.  It literally melts in your mouth as you begin to chew, and the combination of flavors is unlike anything I’ve ever tasted before in sushi.

Now, if you’ve read this far, you definitely want to know what this roll is all about.  Without further ado, here it goes:

The Moto-Roll-Ah Roll

Deep-Fried Spicy Tuna and Snow Crab Covered in Blue Fin Maguro Tuna,

Layers of Rich Avocado, Scallions, Tobiko, and a

Special Sauce with a Hint of Wasabi and Tinges of Sweetness


The Meritorious 2nd Place

New Year’s Morning at Ayako’s House in Tokyo, Japan


I know Nemo told us that ‘Fish are friends, not food,’ but it is truly inexplicable what non-sushi eaters are missing out on.  Sushi is a world of exploration.  There are so many flavors, so many categories, so many creations to be made.  Imagine a world of sushi where roll-holding chopsticks dangled from trees and you had your choice any time and every time you wanted some?

At The Vaulted Door we’re going to bring a modern flare to our sushi – we’re planning on introducing a menu of 11 rolls that are unparalleled not only in freshness and flavor, but also in creativity.  However, we only have 10 set rolls.  Sharpen your knife, roll your bamboo and get to work.  Whoever creates the most unique, special, funky, delicious, creative roll in the next month *by November 20* will get a spot on our opening menu.  This is the first mention of this competition.  Full details to be disclosed tomorrow.  This your chance to get your creativity working a day in advance before the rules are announced!  Good luck!

A Beautiful Cotton Candy Sunset

20 Oct

I spent a few hours at Anthony’s house this afternoon and left right around dinnertime, about 6pm.  As we walked out of his house, we looked out onto one of the most beautiful sunsets (in terms of color, not setting).  I snapped a quick picture on my phone and when I got home got the picture onto the computer.  When I thought about what it looked like, the colors kept remind me of cotton candy – a layering of bright pink and dull blue sitting on a paper stick and so ready to be eaten.  I could really go for some cotton candy right now.

Tonight’s Sunset.

A Cotton Candy Tree.

How Good Does This Look?


Because of my cotton candy craze right now, I’m going to go into the city next week and eat at a Japanese restaurant on St. Mark’s Street that Yuxi and I always go to.  They have very traditional dishes such as raw octopus in a light butter sauce, all types of yakitori (skewers), and it was here that I was introduced to plum wine – or Umeshu in Japanese – and have since been in love.  And the best part of the restaurant is that they give each guest a shot glass worth of cotton candy sugar and have a machine outside that you can make your own pink and blue treat!  I’ll review them next week.

Working a Dining Room

20 Oct

I was at a blue-and-white-checkered table towards the back of the dining room of Maialino – the hottest new restaurant in NYC – when I realized what it meant to work a dining room.  It was the third night of ‘friends and family’ at the new Roman trattoria in Ian Schrager’s ‘Haute Bohemian’ Gramercy Park Hotel and absolutely frigid outside, but the dining room was filled only with warmth as Danny Meyer walked from table to table greeting his guests.

I remember the moment very clearly.  I sat with two buddies/coworkers of mine, Charles Leisenring and Naum Shuminov, and we stared with open eyes and even more-open mouths at our table full of entrees.  We had already put away a selection of cured Italian meats (portioned for 6), a round of 5 appetizers, and a glass or two of surprisingly delicious white wine.  The entrees arrived and there were even more than we had remembered ordering.  The three of us looked at each other, picked up our forks and started digging.

During the entree course, I saw Danny starting to work his way across the room.  He has this aura about him, almost magical.  When he walks into the restaurant, you know.  He doesn’t have to say anything, but you know he is there.  And so I saw him towards the front of the restaurant and he made his way through the middle area where the fresh bread and salumeria is located.  He stopped at a table about fifteen feet away from ours and spoke with the guests for a minute.  As he turned away from the table, he caught my eye and headed right for our table.  He smiled as he walked to our table and greeted us all with a handshake, a thank you, and that was it.  He was gone.  Off to thank his next table of guests.  It was magical and a moment I will always remember.

Now, at this point in my career with Blue Smoke, I had been there for about six months as a manager.  In a company of about 2,000 people, there were many, many people with more important and higher-ranking jobs than mine.  But Danny remembered my name after the first time he met me.  Not only that – he greeted me and called me confidently by name as if to say that I was important to him.  He didn’t stay long at the table.  What he did do was make me feel like he was on my side.  It is one thing to make a guest feel welcome in your restaurant; it is another to make them feel like a king.

Danny once told me that he feels that the one thing he can do better than anybody in the world is work a dining room.  He proved it to me that night at Maialino.  What he also did was inspire in me a confidence that I could one day soon make people feel that great.  Now, I won’t go so far as to say that I can work a dining room better than anybody in the world.  Not yet.  But I think I am on my way to that point, and that is certainly where I will soon be.

What, then, does it take to work the dining room?

A Genuine, Caring Nature

This tenet is multi-faceted:

  • On one level it is about simply caring for others.  To care for someone is simple.  See every guest as a person.  A mother, father, child, grandparent, friend.  We often forget this principle in business or outside of our homes.  Everybody means something to somebody.  Treat them accordingly, how you would want your loved ones to be treated.
  • On another level, it is about truly caring about how your guests are enjoying themselves.  To be the best, you must get to the point that if even the slightest thing goes wrong with your guest’s meal, it strikes pain in your heart as an owner/manager.  It is about pride.  Even the slightest of mistakes, that is a personal shot against you.  You must internalize that and use it as your motivation to make the guest experience perfect.

A Deep Appreciation

The words of Alan Wong that will forever resonate with me are: “Every guest that chooses to eat at your restaurant had a thousand other places to choose, but they chose you.  It is your obligation to do everything in your power to go above and beyond and show them that they made the right choice.”  While working a dining room, it is imperative to show your guests that gratitude and appreciation not only through your words, but through your manorisms, gestures, and warm smile.

No Set Plan, Be Yourself and Gauge Your Guests

This tenet has three pieces:

  • You can’t have a plan when working a dining room.  Enter with a clean slate and no preconceived route.  Work like Danny did at Maialino; he caught my eye after speaking with another table so he came to greet us.  It is not genuine and not personal enough to walk from table to table based on the floor plan.  Working the dining room is as much about ‘feeling’ the dining room and guests as it is touching the tables.  That is what helps generate that magical aura that Danny has.  He is mentally, emotionally, and spiritually in touch with his surroundings and can function much better than somebody who is relying on his thinking as opposed to feeling.
  • Can’t stress this one enough.  You’ve made it to the point where you’re working a dining room.  That either means that one or more of your superiors trusts you enough to be on the front lines or that you somehow snuck through the metaphorical barricade and are jumping right into enemy fire.  More often than not it is because you’re ready for the job.  Now, not that this should be surprising, but I find it is one of the things managers/owners screw up the most – Be Yourself!!  Chances are you’re a genuinely good, caring person.  If you weren’t, you probably won’t last long in this industry.  So just be yourself with nothing added or fake about you.  Smile when you want to smile.  Feel it.  Enjoy it.  This is your life and guests can quickly tell if you’re starting a conversation because you feel you need to or because you actually want to.
  • One thing I learned very early from one of my mentors, Mark Maynard-Parisi, is that not every guest is looking to chat, regardless of who it is with.  It is important to remember that you are greeting the guest and welcoming them, and therefor are playing by their rules.  Be sure to touch every single table and every single guest, but judge the situation on an individual basis and adjust accordingly.  Some guests will talk to you for hours.  Others just want to eat their meal.  Both are equally fine, and they will all respect and appreciate a visit – even if just a quick hello – from a manager/owner.

Eye Contact, Posture, and a Firm Handshake

This goes without saying.  All the things your parents taught you when you were a little child.  Stand up straight.  Don’t slouch.  Exude confidence.  Look people in the eye not only when you’re speaking to them, but also try to make eye contact from across the room and flash a smile at a guest.  That is above and beyond and that is one of the simple tricks to working a dining room.  When you shake a guest’s hand, make sure it is a firm handshake.  And on the topic of shaking hands, if you introduce yourself to a table, make sure you shake all of the guests’ hands and not just the person you are closest to.  A handshake is a very simple way of gaining somebody’s first level of trust.  Without it, you are just a person at their table.  With it, they feel like they know you.  They’ve touched you.  They can relate to you and will remember the handshake after they leave.

A Sincere ‘Thank You’

One of the simplest things you could ever do.  Relating back to Alan’s point about the deep appreciation you must feel towards the guest, nothing is better and more powerful than a sincere – I’m talking cocked head-shaking, clenched hands, nearly-Japanese-bowing –  ‘Thank You’ — but just make sure it is right from your heart.


Like I said, I’m not there yet, but I will be there soon.  I’m ambitious and competitive beyond belief.  I want to be the best at everything I do.  No doubts.  No equivocations.  If I could say that I truly believe that I can work a dining room better than anybody in the world, that would rank as one of my greatest professional accomplishments in what I hope to be a long life in restaurants and hospitality.  I’m confident that I’ll be able to say that one day soon.  I’ve learned from the best so far, now it is up to me to put my spin on and become the best.

Restaurant Rating System

19 Oct

A big part of what I’m going to use this blog for is to review and rate restaurants.  I want to keep a pretty recognizable system for my ratings, so I’m going to stick with a system of stars similar to the NY Times: the maximum being 4, the minimum 0.

Here is the breakdown of  how restaurants will be rated:

  • Food will be rated out of 16 points
  • Hospitality will be rated out of 10 points
  • Beverages will be rated out of 8 points
  • Service will be rated out of 8 points
  • Decor/Design/Atmosphere will be rated out of 8 points

There are a total of 50 points available for a given restaurant.  The star rating will be determined by the following breakdown:

  • 4 Stars: World-Class – 47-50 points
  • 3 Stars: Excellent – 41-46 points
  • 2 Stars: Very Good – 36-40 points
  • 1 Star: Good – 30-35
  • 0 Stars: Moderate – 0-29

Finally, the following is a breakdown of each category on how points are awarded.

Food Score:

  • Flavor Profile of Dishes – 4 points
  • Freshness of Ingredients – 3 points
  • Originality of Dishes – 3 points
  • Menu Variety – 2 points
  • Temperature of Food: 2 points
  • Timeliness – 2 points

Hospitality Score:

  • Manager Greeting/Warmth: 3 points
  • Server Personality and Knowledge: 3 points
  • Maitre D’ Greeting/Warmth: 2 points
  • Accommodations to Special Requests: 1 point
  • Reaction to Mistakes/Problems: 1 point

Beverage Score:

  • Depth of Wine List: 2 points
  • Depth of Beer List: 1.5 point
  • Depth of Cocktail List: 1.5 points
  • Depth of Liquor List: 1.5 points
  • Depth of After-Dinner Drink List: .5 points
  • Originality of Cocktails: .5 points
  • Beverage Menu Suited for Given Restaurant?: .5 points

Service Score:

  • Accuracy of Order: 2 points
  • Suggestive Selling: 2 points
  • Cleanliness and Table Maintenance: 2 points
  • Correct Table Markings: 1 point
  • Bathroom Cleanliness: 1 point

Decor/Design/Atmosphere Score:

  • Music Selection: 1.5 points
  • Architectural Design of Restaurant: 1.5 points
  • Color Scheme of Restaurant: 1.5 points
  • Artwork, Fixtures: 1 point
  • Plate, Glass, Silverware: 1 point
  • Temperature of Restaurant: 1 point
  • Menus: .5 points

The reviews will be critical and will highlight four main categories after the rating is given out:

  • Eat and Drink This!
  • Skip It
  • Where To Sit & When To Go
  • Special Events

Finally, I will award up-and-coming restaurants the Shooting Star Award.  This is for restaurants in spectacular cases that are newly-opened and not quite there yet but I believe to be on the right track towards success.

The Shooting Star Award

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