The Restaurant that Changed Everything
And a really cool way to play cards.
If you’ve got a restaurant-obsessed friend who likes to play cards, the Gourmand 52 Deck is the perfect gift. Created by three students at the University of Pennsylvania, Maggie Tang, Alaina Chou and Amy Yang, each card is hand-drawn with a picture of some iconic New York restaurant; they include Katz’s, Russ & Daughters, Via Carota, King and Estela. A portion of every sale goes to ROAR (Restaurants Organizing, Advocating & Rebuilding). Play on!
When I told my editors at New West that Michael McCarty was opening a restaurant in Los Angeles and the chefs were all going to be young, American and college-educated, it was enough to sell the story. It was a revolutionary idea: in those days chefs were typically old European men who’d been working in restaurants since their teens.
But that' wasn’t all. Michael McCarty wanted to use American products. Among the other firsts at Michael’s: he dressed his waiters in Calvin Klein and put excellent art on the walls (Hockney, Diebenkorn, Jasper Johns). He also pioneered a complicated computerized system to keep track of sales and supplies.
Michael’s chefs all went on to fame and fortune. His opening team included Ken Frank (who quickly left), Jonathan Waxman and Mark Peel. Before long Nancy Silverton joined them as pastry chef.
Michael was not happy with my article. He complained to my boss (Colman Andrews) that I’d misquoted him about crusty old Frenchmen who are mean. The thing is, we were all so young, and I spent so much time hanging around that they forgot I was a reporter and let down their guard. But I had everything on tape.
As for me, I spent the best part of a year working on this piece (the restaurant took a lot longer to open than anticipated) for the princely sum of $500. But it was a wonderful education — and I had a terrific time.
Michael, of course, went on to open the watering hole for New York’s media set — but that’s another story.
I think the first one is Michael’s opening menu. The second one is four years later, in 1983. It’s interesting that the dishes are almost the same, but the prices have nearly doubled. And that by 1983, Michael had done away with tipping and added a 17% service charge.
The last menu is, rather obviously, from a Haut Brion tasting in 1989. Interesting, isn’t it, how the food (and the descriptions) had evolved in six years?