Research + Development: Top Chef Star Mike Isabella Eats NYC

Mike Isabella

It’s just after noon on a sunny, mid-Eighties summer day. The weather is as perfect as it gets in New York City during the summertime. Mike Isabella is in the back of a black SUV headed down Seventh Avenue. Sunglasses firmly in place, he’s wearing jeans and a graphite t-shirt that exposes the tattoos crisscrossing his forearms. Though it’s lunchtime, he’s on his way to visit a couple of coffee shops and an ice cream parlor. It’s not your usual eating agenda, but that’s because Isabella is here to for business rather than pure pleasure.

The chef-restaurateur, who earned widespread acclaim with breakout appearances on Top Chef and Top Chef: All-Stars and recently took home the RAMMY Award for “Restaurateur of the Year” from the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, is in town for a whirlwind day of epicurean exploration. He has already been to Morocco, Spain, Portugal, Chicago, California, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Los Angeles as a part of his culinary canvassing. There are further trips planned to Cuba, Argentina, and London.

All the trips are research for his ambitious mega food hall Isabella Eatery, which is set open in the Tysons Galleria mall in McLean, Virginia in late summer 2017. The 41,000 square foot, multi-concept endeavor aims to be the crowning – and potentially defining – centerpiece of his growing restaurant empire in the D.C. area, which includes his Italian-American small plates and pizza joint Graffiato, (which also has a location in Richmond, Virginia), forward-thinking Greek eatery Kapnos, lead by fellow Top Chef alum George Pagonis, Medi-minded Requin, helmed by another Top Chef-er, Jennifer Carroll, Yona noodle bar, breezy Mexican cantina Pepita Cantina, and others.

Isabella Eatery will house 10 separate entities, including versions of Graffiato, Kapnos, Yona, Requin, and Pepita, as well as five brand-new concepts: Retro Creamery ice cream parlor, Trim steakhouse, Non-Fiction Coffee, Octagon Bar, and Arroz, a Spanish-Portuguese-Moroccan restaurant. Within the concepts there are variety of service options: full service, fast casual, and grab ‘n’ go. Isabella hopes the heightened service – not to mention the food – will vastly elevate it from your usual mall food courts with their bolted down chairs, plastic trays, and impersonality.

Mike Isabella

Today he’s particularly focused on ideas for the café, creamery, the ramen at Yona, and the bar program at Arroz. “Hopefully, I’ll see some cool presentations, design, uniforms, flavors, service steps, paper goods, and techniques,” says Isabella as we near the Roost coffee shop, our first stop in the East Village.

Inside the rusticated shop with white tile walls, marble countertops and a full bar in the back hiding behind a wooden bar door, we rendezvous with James Horn. The day’s unofficial tour guide previously worked as Isabella’s wine and service director and is now the director of operations of New York City’s Añejo Restaurant Group, which includes two locations of Añejo and Abajo. Everyone orders something different, so we can compare. The most compelling element for Isabella ends up being the double-walled glasses the latte is served in, so he takes a picture, and we Uber over to Big Gay Ice Cream.

Mike Isabella

Unabashedly borrowing its aesthetic vibe Eighties cartoons – think My Little Pony and The Care Bears on MDMA – the small shop is decked out with rainbows, unicorns, and vintage action figures. The truck-turned-brick-and-mortar specializes in soft serve cones and sundaes. We sample the Salty Pimp made with vanilla ice cream, dulce de leche, and sea salt, all covered in a chocolate shell. The treat attracts Mike’s attention, but not because of its flavors – there’s none of the aforementioned salt – but, rather, because of plastic holder it comes in. It has a rim around the edge, so ice cream doesn’t drip on your clothes while you’re eating it. This thoughtful touch is filed away for potential use at Retro Creamery.

Another coffee shop – Third Rail on Sullivan Street – is next up on the agenda after another quick Uber ride. We order several espresso drinks, which don’t so much as impress as amp up our jitters. “I’m jacked up on caffeine and the sugar from that ice cream,” says Isabella. “Let’s walk to the next spot.”Continue Reading

Chef Charlie Palmer on Bringing His Take on Steak to New York City, Longevity, Luger’s + More

CP-BlogThis fall, chef-restaurateur Charlie Palmer opened Charlie Palmer Steak in the Big Apple, a much-welcomed addition to Manhattan’s midtown east neighborhood. Joining sibling Charlie Palmer Steak restaurants located in Las Vegas, Reno, and Washington, D.C., Palmer and his team are ready to wow savvy steak-loving New Yorkers with carefully sourced and deliciously prepared meats (and more). Renowned for his restaurants, hotels, and food-forward wine shops around the nation, he discusses the Charlie Palmer Steak menu, how his restaurant differs from the fabled Peter Luger, what’s in chef Matthew Zappoli’s signature cocktail sauce (sort of!), and diners’ longstanding love affair with the steakhouse in this exclusive Q+A.

You’re a native New Yorker and you opened your very first restaurant, Aureole, there. You have other locations of Charlie Palmer Steak around the nation — what made you decide to bring Charlie Palmer Steak to Manhattan at this point?

I’m actually from upstate New York, a small town called Smyrna, surrounded by farming communities. I opened Aureole in 1988 here in New York City, followed by Astra (which we just closed this year and are reopening as Upper Story in the next month), Kitchen 22, Kitchen 82, Metrazur, and more. So, I’ve long had a footprint and a place in New York City. We’ve been searching for the right location for a Charlie Palmer Steak in Manhattan for quite some time, and this one landed in my lap earlier this year.

Dating back to Peter Luger, the steakhouse feels like a very New York convention. What are the challenges of this market? What do diners expect from a New York steakhouse — and how do you deliver that?

It’s true. The steakhouse, or actually the ‘beefsteak’, has been a New York tradition since the 1800s. I think the challenges are numerous, but so are the successes. There are a ton of steakhouses in this town, so it’s about standing out, serving top quality beef, and providing the best service. My philosophy on steakhouses has always been different from the Luger format. I don’t want it to be a men’s club – I want it to be a place where men and women are both equally comfortable and the food goes beyond the beef — to really thoughtful, composed seafood dishes and hearty salads.

Why do you think we, as a nation of diners, have such a longstanding love affair with steakhouses? What is the ongoing allure? Continue Reading

Ride There with Uber in the OpenTable App

Need a ride to your reservation? No problem! We’re pleased to announce our new Ride there with Uber feature. Starting today, you will be able to view availability and estimated pricing of Uber vehicles near your home or a restaurant, and tap to request a ride to your destination via Uber — all within the OpenTable app.

The Ride there with Uber feature displays on your upcoming reservation and confirmation screens for bookings made within three hours of a reservation time, as well as at the end of your meal when paying your check using the OpenTable iPhone app. And, to make your life even easier, the OpenTable app will automatically tell your driver where to go, so you can focus on more important things like what to eat when you get there!

Ride there with Uber is currently available in the OpenTable app for both iOS and Android devices in cities that Uber serves across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K., Germany, and Japan.

At OpenTable, powering great dining experiences is our mission; getting you to them is Uber’s. We hope you’ll appreciate the convenience of our latest — and quite literally — mobile feature.

Josh Garnier is the Senior Product Manager for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone. 

Cheers to the 2014 Bon Appétit America’s Best New Restaurant Nominees

Green papaya salad from nominee Kin Khao in San Francisco.

Bon Appétit has released its annual list of nominees for America’s Best New Restaurants of 2014. While not all of them are actually restaurants (such as Grand Central Market in Los Angeles), most are — and they’re on OpenTable. Neither New York nor San Francisco restaurants dominate the list; rather, the list features eateries in dozens of upcoming culinary cities. The finalists will be announced next week, so book your tables now to sample some of the most exciting food and drink being served around the nation.

Acorn, Denver, Colorado

Alden & Harlow, Cambridge, Massachusetts

CBD Provisions, Dallas, Texas

Cured, San Antonio, Texas

Eat the Rich, Washington, D.C.

Edmund’s Oast, Charleston, South Carolina

El Camino, Louisville, Kentucky

High Street on Market, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Kin Khao, San Francisco, California

Luksus, Brooklyn, New York

Continue Reading