Thursday, March 23, 2006

Windy City, blow this way

An Open Letter to the Residents of Chicago:

We, the restaurant trade and clientele of New York City, would like to settle this amicably, or at least with a minimum of slams against each other’s style of pizza. But a score has to be settled, and quickly. You constantly read on the business pages about the United States’ glaring imbalance in international trade. That’s nothing compared with the discrepancy between what we’ve sent you restaurant-wise, and the next-to-nothing we’ve gotten in return.

Just this week, for instance, your city was graced by the opening of an Il Mulino, a clone of the Greenwich Village institution that’s repeatedly cited as one of New York’s best Italian restaurants. You also were treated to a new steakhouse, David Burke’s Prime, which is admittedly a bit like bringing coals to Newcastle. It’s especially true since Burke came to prominence working for Smith & Wollensky, parent of the steakhouse chain of the same name, which of course has an outlet in your downtown area, along with a sister concept called Mrs. Park’s Tavern.

You have a Vong’s Thai Kitchen, an adaptation of the highly regarded New York outpost of Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the world-renowned chef who now calls the Big Apple home.

Heck, you even have a branch of P.J. Clarke’s, the quintessential midtown watering hole.

And what have you sent us in return? Pizzeria Uno and McDonald’s—the latter a transplant itself, from the West Coast.

Granted, you’ve tried. In the 1980s, your concept phenom, the golden-handed Rich Melman, helped to open a new Playboy Club, of all things, in midtown Manhattan. Its sole point of notoriety was having beefcake waiters, called Rabbits, and certainly not the food.

Why aren’t you willing to share the wealth a little? Why not a Rick Tramonto outpost, or a glitzy place in the Meatpacking District from Melman? Heck, we’d settle for an Al’s #1 Italian Beef storefront, especially if it sold Old Style.

You’ve teased us with the prospect of getting a place from Charlie Trotter, veal-cheek to pig-jowl with Per Se and Masa in the Time Warner Center. But then he begged out, citing the costs. What’s a budget of $11.5 million?

But the time to pay up is here. If you take requests, we’d really like an outlet of Paul Kahan’s Blackbird, or a distillation of Everest. I’ve also always been partial to Shaw’s Crab House, and Hot Doug’s, the self-described encased meat emporium, tops my list of places to try the next time I’m in your city.

So get with it, Mon Ami Gabi. We need to correct this imbalance right now. Do it, and we might even let your baseball team play in the World Series again.

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