Observations & Themes from New York City

We just returned from our strategic planning trip in New York City. Whew – what a whirlwind of meetings, and eating and drinking at some of America’s best restaurants. It’s quite spectacular what that tiny island produces in terms of art and culture and food…it’s powerful. I found inspiration thrown at me everywhere I went. It’s really intense to constantly pay attention to all the details, and because of my profession, I’m often distracted in hotels and restaurants by both nuance and substance. How are they serving their butter? Is it a trend or a great idea? What brand of coffee are they using? Why is the wine-by the glass list mundane while their full list is esoteric? It is details like these that consumed me most of the trip.

In reflecting about what I got “thematically” from the trip, it is this: the pure lack of humility and over-abundance of confidence (deserved) is actually what makes New York City the Mecca of dining.

Everywhere we went we were greeted by hosts accustomed to being super-busy all the time and while courteous and professional, had no need for extending warmth or empathy. We had some fantastic meals in every genre from casual to uber-fine-dining. Each one was so self-assured in their execution and the technical aspect of the dish so superb, that it made it a more cerebral experience than visceral one. And the maitre d’s, sommeliers and managers — wow! — so incredibly knowledgeable from the young to the more seasoned. They all were so charmingly outgoing and happy to give copious amounts of information about the smallest inquiry. I was consistently impressed with their barrage of knowledge. It was as if every single person in the city just happened to be amazingly smart and sophisticated.

Interestingly enough, this same confidence made me long for understatement and subtly. I felt there was a constant underscore of “Look at us, aren’t we clever? We know so much. We are New York.” I began to feel exhausted by their tricks. A small griddle of quail egg with a slice of lamb bacon and a petite potato crisp. Cute and clever. Dessert with cotton candy AND pistachio marshmallows (which we didn’t order – it was just sent to us without explanation). It became inauthentic. I yearned for a plate of delicious food that wouldn’t take my 20-year career to discern.

Because of the weather and being snowed in, we shared a few unplanned meals together. A non-foodie friend of mine joined us, and I think I enjoyed her comments more than when Trey, George and I pontificated from our professional points of view. She gave me insight into what the “regular” person wants from a dining experience. Also an artist, she drew comparisons to our descriptions of food, wine and dining to theatre with an acute accuracy that spoke to the reality of the meal. While at Café Boulud she was blown away by the amuse bouche – equally because she didn’t expect it, and the dumpling, cured salmon, and arancini were perfect. At a popular “cool kid” eatery, she remarked how over-produced she felt everything was from the menu wording, to the décor and feel of the space. In contrast, at Momofuku,– without being familiar with the food – she thoroughly enjoyed a good lunch because it was a simple, comfortable meal.

So does New York deserve the accolades and reputation for forging trends, for being clever and exuding confidence at every turn? Absolutely. But did I leave there feeling that my service was authentic, soulful, and custom-tailored to my experience? No. And that’s the real trick, isn’t it?

That is my quest here at George’s – to provide an exceptional dining experience to each and every guest; to bring someone somewhere new in order to make them feel at home; to provide genuine service. That intangible magic of making people comfortable, entertained, delighted and satiated. I hope when you dine with us, you can feel our mission. Either way, I’d love to hear about it.