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Eating New York: Culinary Research at Its Finest

How I nibbled my way through the Lower East Side (and Beyond)...

I recently went to New York on an eating escapade, though I like to think of it as research and development. We had only 2 ½ days to conquer New York's acclaimed dining scene. Those who know NY know this isn't even enough time to nibble through the lower east side!

Our goal was simple: look at savvy restaurant décor, lighting, furniture, and, most importantly, taste some great food. This is all part of opening a restaurant; there is nothing wrong with seeing what others are doing to spark your own creative juices!

Day 1: Kicking Things Off with Chick Peas and Jean-George

Our agenda included more than 27 stops, not to mention others we were bound to run into along the way. After arriving in NY by 11am from Dallas (and talking business the whole way up), we headed straight into an organic hummus shop called Nannoosh. We admired their very simple décor. The highlight was a unique chick pea glass fixture that ran the length of the center table, but their OUTSTANDING quinoa salad was a close second!

We scouted a handful of restaurants prior to arriving at our next dining destination, Jean-George, where we met with a friend to discuss business and enjoy a beautifully prepared lunch. We started our meeting off with a very interesting non-alcoholic drink; they have a line of flavored syrups that they make in house and inject with soda water to create a highly carbonated, flavor-packed beverage. I started with the tarragon flavor, enjoying it so much that I couldn't resist ordering the black cherry-yuzu with my lunch entrée. Ideas like this should not only spark your creativity, but also your business sense. They provide large profit margins for your beverage costs.

New York City, A La Carte

After our outstanding lunch at Jean-George we walked through the Time Warner Center, the home of world famous restaurants Per Se (Thomas Keller) and Masa (Takamya)! It was a big tease-we were able to look but not taste as all the doors were as sealed as the JFK files!

That evening we managed to conquer our list of 7 more restaurants! We started our evening tour with Allen and Delaney (former chef of Gordon Ramsey), Momofuku Noodle Bar, Falai (contemporary Italian), Katz's Deli, then wrapped up with several of Danny Meyer's restaurants.

Each restaurant that evening had a unique highlight! Some of them shined with their cuisine, some with their décor, some with the service, and even one with their bar stools. Here are some photos from our evening out!

Evenings like this are so beneficial to chefs and restaurateurs because we are not only enjoying some great food, but gaining a bit of insight into some of the country's best chefs' visions. It also gives us an opportunity to take the industry's pulse, identifying current and future trends. Be sure to ask others what they thing-it is so critical to embrace other peoples' opinions as a means to reach the final vision.

Day 2: Health Conscious Cuisine Takes the (Gluten-Free) Cake

Want to know whether diners more health conscious these days? New York is a great place to find out. We began Day 2 with some organic vegetarian restaurants. To my surprise, they were all packed! Delivery orders flying out the doors, 30 minute waits for lunch-it was unreal. I never realized there such a demand for vegetarian cuisine, and have already made adjustments to our menu based on what I saw. One of my favorite restaurants was Candle Café; try the Indian platter!

After rustling through the sleet we headed to Antho's, a fine dining Greek restaurant, which was outstanding. Then walked to the world famous Joel Robuchon's L'Atelier in the Four Seasons Hotel. This restaurant was impeccable in Japanese design and had by far the most comfortable banquette I have ever had the pleasure of sitting in. After a morning of fresh organic cuisine, I stuck with the trend and ordered vegetable-centric dishes.

Despite a journey wrenched with harsh weather conditions and crazy taxi drivers, we somehow managed to still accomplish our goal and make our reservations at Little Owl, P-Ong, Cones, Spotted Pig, Bar Fry, and WD-50 for desserts.

Digging for Culinary Treasure

New York City is a special place rich in history and diversity. As the birthplace of many concepts and progressive ideas, it has a culture of its own. Do not be shy, get out there and explore, meet new people, seek out those local restaurants, and you are bound to stumble upon some hidden treasures.

One of the most notable of these for us was the McNulty's Tea and Coffee Shop (since 1895). We met the Irish owner who shared his story and weighed our purchases on a vintage scale. These shops are a dying breed in a country flush with the Internet and the conveniences of large chain grocers. When you have the pleasure of coming across such a find, please take the time to enjoy it.

Indulgence can be a Great Thing

My recent trip to NYC was a great success. I approached with an open mind and left with new-found creativity and innovation. When traveling, do not be shy to stop by the kitchen to meet the chef. Chefs and restaurateurs are a society all their own, striving to help and support one another. My ideas were met with knowledgeable advice-the fruits of their own experiences.

Part of becoming a great chef is committing to lifelong education, and taking the time to learn from great chefs before you is no less valuable than any culinary class or certification you've considered. Neither is replacing your chef's toque with your dining hat now and again, seeing the culinary landscape through fresh eyes. Get out there and indulge once in a while-I sure did!