On the heels of a Burger Bash meat sweats hangover, it was a welcomed reprieve to hear Italian restaurant mogul Mario Batali, chef Marcus Samuelsson of Red Rooster (310 Lenox Ave., 212-792-9001), and James Beard award winner and Travel Channel host Andrew Zimmern speak on what constitutes an ultimate dining experience in New York City. The Food & Wine panel explored the defining points of fine dining and the diner's ideal experience. What became evident by discussion's end is that "ultimate" does not always equal "formal," that the New Yorker's dining experience should be driven not just by food ambition but by fun and personality. Do you agree? Here's what the cooking trifecta had to say.
On what every New York restaurant should have: Batali admits, "Joe Bastianich says we have to have Caesar salad, salmon, and tiramisu."
On the death of the city's fine dining scene: "Fine dining will come back, but in a different way. It'll be less precious," predicts Samuelsson. While Batali reveals how he takes advantage of a more casual setting, "we have loud music at Babbo (110 Waverly Pl., 212-777-0303) while you're eating soigne food. From 7:30 to 8:15 p.m. we turn it up and make it faster to get people out of there."
On fine dining game changers: "Fine dining experiences that are changing the game for me? Canlis in Seattle, a former steakhouse with a 1950s club environment and 1960s furniture. The guy next to me is ordering a small steak and baked potato, and I'm ordering a tasting menu," Zimmern says. While Samuelsson asserts, "women are the game changers. Look at Julia [Child] and Alice [Waters]. You know what else, it was a big deal, adding a lounge at a four-star restaurant like Eric Ripert did at Le Bernardin (155 W. 51st St., 212-554-1515)."
On New Yorkers' tough-to-please dining attitude: Batali relays, "the beauty of New York is, even if 5 million people on Yelp hate me, there are still 8 million left."
On how to create the best restaurant experience: "The best way to get the best restaurant experience is to announce your intentions beforehand. Then you're no longer 'show me,' you're 'share with me.'"
On how the restaurant industry has improved: "Thirty years ago, restaurant staffs were people who had just gotten out of jail or people who'd just gotten out of the military and we're on their way to jail. Now it's a much more higher education system," Batali notes. But Samuelsson impresses upon the fact that service is everything. "The hardest thing to teach is service. 70 percent of the [Red Rooster] team is from Harlem, but most of them have never dined [at a level like Red Rooster]."
On how to ruin your NYC dining experience: "Flash photography in a restaurant ruins the experience. You want to pick up a phone and take a picture? Doesn't bother me," advises Batali. Looks like it's iPhone photography from here on out.
Didn't get your fill of Batali quotes? YumSugar recorded some of his funnier quips from this morning's chat!