New Lincoln Center restaurant lacks name

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New Lincoln Center restaurant lacks name

Post by jbuck919 » Wed May 26, 2010 3:03 pm

This is a curiously timely story for us, though this restaurant is not a possibility for the NYC meet-up. Still, maybe we should suggest that it be called CMG (for Classical Music Gourmet, of course).

# The New York Times

May 25, 2010
Lincoln Center’s New Restaurant: ‘Untitled’

THE new Lincoln Center restaurant has no name.

It is unfinished, for the most part unstaffed, and all too aware that it isn’t even a restaurant yet. But that doesn’t keep it from having feelings. It exudes a palpable impatience. Staring out of its construction-smeared windows at West 65th Street, it broods. Biding its time across from the Juilliard School, its annoyance at anonymity grows with the gawking of every new sidewalk superintendent.

Everyone who cares about this $20 million project knows that it is wrong to keep disappointing the restaurant when it is in this mood of sullen silence. And if it betrays no noticeable rage or depression or despair, it is most certainly in a mood. For the Lincoln Center restaurant has no name.

The September opening is just a few months away, by no means a comfy window. Like Sinatra with a cold sending vibrations through the entertainment industry of the 1960s and beyond — and if the previous paragraphs read suspiciously like a third-generation knockoff of Gay Talese’s “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” the celebrated Esquire profile from 1966, well, guilty as charged — the restaurant’s namelessness is stalling more than the printing of matchbooks.

Last week, after half a year of primping, growing and mowing, the 147-foot-by-70-foot lawn atop the restaurant’s roof was opened to the public. In reporting this article — the second in a series chronicling the Lincoln Center project as an emblem of the often-chaotic realities that attend the creation of restaurants in Manhattan — there was some hope that the name could be unveiled at the same time.

“If they aren’t careful, the public will name it soon, if they don’t,” said Clark Wolf, a restaurant consultant based in New York. “You can see people calling it something like ‘Tavern Under the Green.’ ”

There are graphic artists in the wings, waiting to learn the concept and the architecture and the name. There is restaurant signage to create. A marketing campaign awaits brainstorming. Software programming must be devised for a host of new electronic billboards at Lincoln Center. Menus are unordered. Ditto, cocktail napkins. And brochures. Stationery. Business cards.

Not to mention planning for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, which will be held at Lincoln Center for the first time in September. Events have been scheduled in a restaurant that, right now, can only be designated T.B.D.

In a holding pattern, too, are 350 pieces of what restaurateurs call holloware (tableside coffee servers, milk dispensers, teapots and ice buckets), some of which, like the bread stands, will be imprinted with the name.

“The restaurant requires a name as iconic as its location,” said the restaurateur Nick Valenti, chief executive of the Patina Restaurant Group, which will operate the restaurant and runs the luxe Grand Tier in the Metropolitan Opera House. He declined comment on how, or when, a name would be chosen.

The restaurant was originally to be called Patina, referencing the space run by Mr. Valenti’s partner, Joachim Splichal, in Los Angeles.

Mr. Valenti, Mr. Splichal and Reynold Levy, president of Lincoln Center, later agreed that a different name might be more appropriate because Jonathan Benno, the 40-year-old former chef de cuisine of Per Se, signed on with a vision for an Italian-themed restaurant.

Actually the name Benno itself was once considered, but put aside for the obvious reason that Mr. Benno might not forever be at the helm of Lincoln Center’s culinary cynosure.

“We all came up with hundreds of names,” Mr. Benno said. “So many. You would wake up at 4 a.m.? You’d come up with a name. It never stopped.”

The principal actors in the naming drama are circumspect in discussing the realpolitik of the process, but several say that the original list of 300 has been winnowed to a few closely guarded finalists. Among the other rejected were Città and Amoore (as in Henry Moore — whose sculpture at the plaza reflecting pool is a scenic view from the restaurant). After a brief flirtation with Sud (rhyming with “food”), that name, too, was remaindered.

Certainly the restaurant won’t be called The Camel — even though it must pass muster with a committee. Beyond the Patina team, there is a core of decision-makers in Lincoln Center, including Mr. Levy; Frank A. Bennack Jr., the institution’s current chairman; and Katherine A. Farley, who will take over as chairwoman next month. As yet there has been no Kumbaya moment.

Which is not to say that progress is stalled on other fronts. Consider, for example, the cornucopia of tabletop items. Even for a smallish high-end restaurant (120 seats is not vast by Manhattan standards) the inventory is daunting.

Mr. Valenti, Mr. Benno and Paolo Novello, a longtime Per Se general manager who is Mr. Benno’s partner in the venture, are ready to order some 4,000 pieces of china (in 45 shapes), 2,000 pieces of flatware (in 15 types) and 1,500 pieces of glassware (in 15 sizes).

“This minute, hundreds of people all over the world are thinking about our spoons and cutlery and olive oil and junction boxes and dishwashers,” Mr. Benno said. The architectural elements of the kitchen are being built in Quebec, to be shipped in pieces. Tables and chairs are being crafted in Germany following tests during which Mr. Benno, Mr. Novello and Mr. Valenti did a lot of sitting. As for linens? Don’t start.

In many respects, the evolution of the Lincoln Center project “is similar to that of many other high-end restaurants,” said Malcolm Knapp, who heads a restaurant consulting company that bears his name. “But Diller Scofidio & Renfro tend to push the edge on material and conceptual work,” he said of the restaurant’s architects. “There is likely to be enormous attention given its design — and the chef and general manager from Per Se — so that makes it unusual.”

At this stage of any grand restaurant’s development, “the stakes are high,” Mr. Wolf said. For this one in particular, “a lot of people are hoping that the opening will mark a resurgence of post-recession New York.”

Although intricate, expensive planning has been yet another casualty of the current “macaroni and cheese economy,” he went on, “this restaurant is in a temple of high art. It’s one of the few places where the look, and the kind of flatware that is used — and even the way the tableware is presented — can produce a series of icons, as the Four Seasons originally did.”

And so, these days an office at the Patina Restaurant Group in Midtown Manhattan is a Collyer brothers congeries of restaurant amenities. “Here’s the biscotti stand: this one is simple, functional,” Mr. Novello said, holding up a small tray on a recent afternoon. He, Mr. Benno and Mr. Valenti were scouting piles of tableware and glassware like fiancées at Bed Bath & Beyond.

“Is it stainless?” Mr. Valenti asked, and got two assenting nods. He hefted a plate. “What’s your feeling on white versus off-white?” he asked Mr. Benno.

“I prefer white,” Mr. Benno said, handing another plate to Mr. Valenti. “Here, this one is bone.”

After giving the new menus and tableware a spin during food presentations in the coming weeks, the winning table items will be ordered in mid-June, Mr. Novello said, “because it takes six weeks to get it all back.”

The restaurant’s construction is also charging forward. Now, composite synthetic panels extend outside on the 65th Street side, continuing the interior roof line and making the ceiling resemble one solid plane to the outside wall.

More than 100 construction workers — from 12 different trades — are working in the space, according to Juan Veronelli, a project manager.

Can they finish it all in time? “You have to have confidence in the team,” Mr. Benno said. He surveyed the construction bedlam on a recent afternoon. “It’s always hard to imagine that it will all come together. But it always does.”

All well and good. But the restaurant is still nameless. “There is only one rule about the name: it shouldn’t be an unfortunate choice that sticks out its chin,” Mr. Wolf said. “Remember, they named a restaurant Vertigo on a higher floor of the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco. Boy, did that go away fast.”

Mr. Valenti, who has helped name dozens of restaurants in his career — including the Sea Grill, Café Centro and Nick & Stef’s Steakhouse — said that, in the end, “once you repeat any decent name enough, it starts to sound better and better.” He gave an example.

“When Jonathan heard that the name of the restaurant was going to be Per Se, he thought they were out of their minds. But now, six years later? What else would you call it?”

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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Re: New Lincoln Center restaurant lacks name

Post by MarkC » Thu May 27, 2010 1:27 am

jbuck919 wrote:.....maybe we should suggest that it be called CMG (for Classical Music Gourmet, of course).......
I think our vote on that would be unanimous. :)

John F
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Re: New Lincoln Center restaurant lacks name

Post by John F » Thu May 27, 2010 3:29 am

Only problem is, most of us won't be able to afford to eat there. Think Per Se, where the new restaurant's chef comes from, and the prix fixe dinner is $275, service and tax not included. Even if the Lincoln Center restaurant's low-end dinner tab is half that, which is what I've been hearing, that's still too rich for me.

We could always bring our picnic baskets to that weird grass roof...

By the way, I have a name without a restaurant: Gobbledygook. If Lincoln Center wants to buy the rights, I'm open to negotiation.
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Re: New Lincoln Center restaurant lacks name

Post by Beckmesser » Thu May 27, 2010 8:33 pm

John F wrote:Only problem is, most of us won't be able to afford to eat there. Think Per Se, where the new restaurant's chef comes from, and the prix fixe dinner is $275, service and tax not included. Even if the Lincoln Center restaurant's low-end dinner tab is half that, which is what I've been hearing, that's still too rich for me.

We could always bring our picnic baskets to that weird grass roof...
I miss the Footlights Cafe which was located somewhere in the basement in the early days of Lincoln Center. We need a place where one can get a meal before the performance that is not overpriced.

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