Fiamma Prices Drop After Bruni PostWhen Frank Bruni decided to confront Fiamma about its price increases, we knew it wouldn’t take long for Team Hanson to get on the problem. Fiamma is the group’s flagship restaurant, and the critical pile-on about high prices and missing ingredients must have stung B.R. Guest. Today, the group announced the inevitable price cuts to tasting menus. Prices are dropping from $92 to $85 for the standard prix fixe menu, and the five-course dinner has been cut to $105 from $120. Fiamma has also reintroduced its full-bore seven-course menu, which will come in at $125.
Fiamma Says the Luxe Ingredients Never Went AwayFiamma got a fair amount of heat last week, from Grub Street and other food sites, about a reduced menu. But B.R. Guest — which did not respond to Grub Street’s requests for comments on the menu until yesterday — vehemently disagrees. “No one had updated the Website,” says owner Steve Hanson. “They just got lazy.” We’d hate to be in their shoes now! Fiamma chef Fabio Trabocchi, meanwhile, explains that the confusion also lay in the fact that the Website wasn’t showing his daily specials or updating the tasting menu. “If you came in and ordered here, it’s the same amount of selections; you can choose from any part of the menu. It’s the same amount of dishes, just listed in a different way,” Trabocchi says. And those luxe ingredients we thought were missing from the menu? Not so, says Trabocchi. “We are using foie gras, truffles, Wagyu beef, ossabaw pig, and Grimaud Farm duck.” (The langoustines, which we also mentioned as having gone missing, are out of season, Trabocchi explains.) Unfortunately for Fiamma, even a full menu can’t sate complaining diners like Nick Paumgarten of The New Yorker.
Earlier: Fiamma’s Menu a Fraction of Its Former Self
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Women Rule the Wine Cellars of New YorkTwo of this season’s most anticipated restaurants — the three-star Dovetail and Ed Brown’s Eighty One — launched with female sommeliers. Former Daniel sommelier and wineshop owner Jean Luc Le Dû recently remarked to Grub Street that only a few years ago, non-white males in the role were considered an anomaly. Today, only three women (and 21 men) in the United States have the coveted “Master of Wine” designation, awarded to 264 sommeliers throughout the world. But in New York, women helm some of the city’s most respected wine programs, including Gramercy Tavern, the Modern, and the entire B.R. Guest group. We interviewed several of these ladies of the cellar for their ideas on the industry, their experiences on the floor, and picks on retail value bottles. Look for them at restaurants near you. —Alexandra Vallis
Slideshow: Women in Wine
Restaurant Titans Descend on Primehouse for a NightHere’s the thing about restaurateurs: They don’t really care about who has the best ramen in the East Village. They’re not really that interested in where Paul Liebrandt’s restaurant will be, and they find avant-garde desserts about as compelling as algebra. But when Steve Hanson opens a restaurant? That, that is something they’re interested in. The fine art of making money via replicable concept restaurants is one at which Hanson is an acknowledged master, and that helps to explain why the main room at Primehouse last Thursday looked like a who’s who of big-time restaurateurs.
Big Lou Elrose Hired as Wildwood Pitmaster
When Steve Hanson decided to launch a major barbecue restaurant (as we told you about in August), he didn’t have to look far for a pitmaster. He turned to the most critically acclaimed new barbecue in the city’s history, Hill Country. Big Lou Elrose, ex-cop, ex–competition barbecuer, and now ex–deputy pitmaster at Hill Country, will lead the pit team at Wildwood BBQ when it opens in December. The six-foot-five ex-policeman will also help develop operations for subsequent restaurants. “Lou has a lot of passion,” the B.R. Guest bigwig told us. “And he really knows pork. He’s truly gotten into the culture of barbecue, and he’s going to be one of our main guys.” Elrose, for his part, has a simpler ambition. “I just want to cook good barbecue,” he says.
Related: B.R. Guest’s New BBQ: Will Wildwood Succeed?
Will Ivy Stark Return to B.R. Guest? We hear from an impeccable source deep inside B.R. Guest that Ivy Stark is returning to Steve Hanson’s corporate embrace, to cook at Dos Caminos. Stark, for her part, only denies half of it. “First of all, I’ve been made an offer but haven’t accepted it,” the Amalia chef says. “It’s not Dos Caminos. It might be some projects with B.R. Guest, but I wouldn’t necessarily be leaving Amalia.”
B.R. Guest’s New BBQ: Will Wildwood Succeed?Last month we reported on the possibility of a new B.R. Guest BBQ restaurant on Park Avenue South, and B.R. Guest officially pooh-poohed the idea. But we trust our BBQ world sources, and we have a lot of them, so today, we’ve got the details. The place will in fact be in the old Barça 18 space, as we predicted, and will be called Wildwood BBQ. David Rockwell will do the interior, which will include a 75-foot-long bar and 200 seats. Our take? Though there’s no doubt that B.R. Guest group knows how to run a restaurant, barbecue is not just another “concept,” and corporate restaurants, with their tight financial controls, rarely produce great meat. And it’s an odd place to put it, given that three of the best barbecue restaurants in New York are in the Madison Square Park–Flatiron area, in RUB, Hill Country, and Blue Smoke.
B.R. Guest to Hop the Barbecue Gravy Train?Now that barbecue has utterly conquered New York, the coast is clear for even the most conservative of restaurant companies to move in and fire up their pits. Even B.R. Guest, the massive company behind such ultrasafe properties as Dos Caminos, Vento, and Ruby Foo’s has one in the works, we hear from one of our best restaurant-industry sources, a businessman with ties to the group.
Neroni Leaves Porchetta; City Hates Big Pink CupcakeChef Jason Neroni leaves Porchetta, citing “irreconcilable differences,” and claiming that pastry chef Mandy Brown and “most of the kitchen staff” are leaving with him. We don’t know the details (yet), but this seems pretty harsh: The restaurant gave him absolute creative license, as far as we can tell, for as long as it’s been open. [Eater]
Related: Chef’s Desperate Plea: Nominate Me for an Award! [Grub Street]
New Yorkers aren’t really spooked by health violations: “If you take the subway, you know what’s down there.” [Diner’s Journal/NYT]
The city wants Burgers and Cupcakes to take down its huge, incandescent pink cupcake sign because it’s too close to a hydrant, saying, “This isn’t a campaign against cupcakes.” [NYP]
Back of the House
Hanson, Now Inside Starwood, to Start Gobbling Other Restaurant GroupsYou didn’t think that Starwood Capital’s 50 percent purchase of B.R. Guest Restaurant Group (a story we broke here, as it happens) was the end of their plans, did you? In business as in evolution, bigness begets bigness, and now word comes, via this week’s issue of Crain’s, that a new group inside Starwood will go on a restaurant-group shopping spree. Hanson is said to already be sending candy and flowers to fellow moguls from coast to coast. But his, and Starwood’s criteria, are very clear: “Any business [Hanson] considers must be a chef-driven operation that owns multiple eateries and brings in revenues of at least $30 million,” the report says. The Craft empire is mentioned in passing as a possible target, and its ruler, Tom Colicchio, says he would listen if Hanson came calling. With the kind of cash Starwood commands, who wouldn’t? Money talks, and independent operations tend to walk.
B.R. Guest to acquire other restaurant groups [Crain’s]
Earlier: B.R. Guest and Buy Our Restaurant Group
Does David Burke Come With That Steakhouse?
Bloomberg Boasts of Many Health Department Closures; Rachael Ray BittenBloomberg doesn’t want you thinking the Health Department is slacking off. As a matter of fact, they’re boasting of closing places left and right. [NYP]
The B.R. Guest sale finally goes through. [NYP]
Related: Does David Burke Come With That Steakhouse? [Grub Street]
Mars 2112’s landlord is ready to give them the boot for hosting hip-hop parties. [NYS]
Back of the House
Does David Burke Come With That Steakhouse?B.R. Guest, the mammoth restaurant group behind Dos Caminos, Ruby Foo’s, and a lot of other big-money operations, is installing a steakhouse in the old Park Avenue Country Club space. The question is, will it be a sister to their hugely successful David Burke Primehouse in Chicago, or just another run-of-the-mill meatery? Burke tells us that negotiations are ongoing (the company is currently giving the name as “Prime’s”). But what’s holding up the negotiation?
Back of the House
B.R. Guest and Buy Our Restaurant GroupWe hear from one of our most reliable sources that a very, very big restaurant deal is about to go through. According to him, the B.R. Guest group, owners of fourteen big Manhattan restaurants including Atlantic Grill, Fiamma, and the Dos Caminos locations, are about to be sold to zillionaire Barry Sternlicht of the Starwood Capital group. B.R. Guest denies it, but apparently, owner Steve Hanson has been looking to unload the group for some time and is already doing business with Sternlicht, a former hotel magnate now wheeling and dealing in private equity and real estate. Looks like we’re about to be somebody else’s guest.
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A Very Special Back of the House: Insider Horror Stories
An online forum for wait staff called Kiss My Bitter Ass might not be the most reliable source of restaurant gossip. But this item, currently residing atop its bulletin board, is so horrifying that we had to pass it along. At midtown tourist trap Shelly’s New York, according to the anonymous poster, a friend of the corporate executive chef came in with a woman of ill repute on his arm. “In the first few minutes, we see the chef of our restaurant in the back waiter station cleaning a thermometer.” Where the thermometer had been isn’t a story for a food blog. But even scarier is the story’s aftermath: “Yes, that thermometer went back to the kitchen.”