February 13, 2015

Still Hungry

Still Hungry

I usually don’t write about economics, but based on some of my recent experiences, this week’s column will focus on just one segment of our economy, that of high-end restaurants. And now, before you start sending me emails about the 1 percenters, please accept it as the commentary it’s meant to be.

Last Thursday night, I traveled to Miami to attend the Open House we held to celebrate our new office there. It was a tremendous event, attended by both clients and friends of the Firm. Special kudos should be given to our partners Cecelia Garber and Michael Futterman, who were instrumental in managing the process that created our new space. Since I was busy meeting and greeting our guests, by the end of the evening at around 9PM, I was hungry and grabbed another two of my partners, Michael Balter and David Appel, for a quick dinner. I had heard about what was supposed to be a “great” sushi place around the corner from our office, called Zuma, which is located in the Epic Hotel. So we walked over and were nicely told by the host that a table for three would be at least an hour’s wait. Needless to say, we passed and walked across the street to the Miami outpost of Wolfgang’s (a steakhouse) and were seated immediately.

Fast forward to this week in New York. Tracy and I were having dinner with friends, and there are two new restaurants we both wanted to try. The first is a new Italian place on lower Park Avenue called Upland. Upland is a Stephen Starr restaurant (Google him if you don’t recognize the name) that received a great review recently in The New York Times, so imagine the business they are doing. We took our chances and walked in one night a few weeks ago without a reservation and tried to get seated at the bar, but that was a 45-minute wait. So this week I tried to make a reservation for any day and the lovely person who answered the phone, after asking how many people and what time, politely told me our only choices would be 5PM or 10PM, neither a perfect dinner hour, at least for us.

So with Upland a non-starter, I picked up the phone and tried another New York restaurant, the Polo Bar, opened by none other than Ralph Lauren, of Polo clothing fame. Who knew Ralph was also a restaurateur, with restaurants in Paris (since 2010) and Chicago (since 1999)? Well, if Zuma and Upland were difficult to get into, the Polo Bar is downright impossible. When I called on February 7 to make a reservation I was nicely (well, maybe not so nicely) told that the “restaurant is fully committed for the month of February.” I guess in restaurant-ese that meant no table for me. This was particularly disturbing since I feel a particular connection to Ralph because on most days I can be found wearing his socks or boxers. Well, not his exactly (I’m sure you get the picture). But the person on the other end of the phone did tell me that they were accepting reservations for March and April, with the last two weeks of March being limited at that point.

I just tried to make a reservation for four for Saturday, April 11 – two months away – and was told the only availability was 5:45PM or earlier or after 10PM. It must be nice, Ralph, to have everything you touch turn to gold! Upland wouldn’t even consider an April reservation because they only book 30 days in advance. Unbelievable.

I’m actually not so much whining about not being able to eat where I want when I want (well, maybe a little), but rather I’m amazed at how these high-end restaurants are hitting it out of the park in these two urban areas. It must be a commentary about the strength of the economy, at least in Miami and New York, for those who take the risk to open upscale culinary meccas. It seems that launching an expensive restaurant in a major city is not such a bad investment at the moment. Hopefully, one of these days I’ll be lucky enough to see if any or all of them are worth the wait – and whether they have enough staying power for me to find out.

On another note, tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, a day first associated with romantic love in the High Middle Ages. I hope you have better luck than I did getting a dinner reservation with your special someone. Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody.