Even hard-core Vanity Fair readers come up blank when pressed to remember the last time the monthly ran a restaurant review that was more than a few paragraphs long and covered anything other than a) Keith McNally, b) Ian Schrager or c) the establishment’s popularity with the in crowd.
Well, that all changed in the magazine’s August issue, when British writer A.A. Gill trained his gimlet eye on chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and restaurateur Phil Suarez’s nouveau Chinese Tribeca hotspot, 66, and sent the town’s food service industry into a tizzy.
Until the Vanity Fair piece, 66 had been blessed with enviable press. Condé Nast Traveler named the restaurant to its most recent Hot List, Time Out‘s readers voted it “Best New Restaurant.” And though Gourmet editor in chief Ruth Reichl concluded that 66 was still “working out the kinks,” she wrote that the restaurant “marks a significant phase in our culinary development.”
Not Mr. Gill. His critique reads like the magazine equivalent of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later. Titled “Rote 66,” it’s a relentless but always entertaining opera of evisceration that doesn’t stop until just about every aspect of the restaurant-from Mr. Vongerichten’s food to architect Richard Meier’s design to the eatery’s poor bathroom attendant-has been slaughtered and Mr. Gill has offered a theory as to why the place is so popular: “It’s just such a rare pleasure to be able to go somewhere smart and modern and hysterically expensive and hate it generously, safe in the knowledge that everyone else in the room hates it … and everyone who matters hates it as well. It gives you such a warm sense of belonging to the right gang.”
While the article has understandably upset 66′s owners (“This is satire,” said Mr. Suarez of Mr. Gill’s article. “This is not the restaurant that all of our clients have gone to”), the steamrolling tone of the piece-as well as the fact that Mr. Carter’s vision of the magazine has heretofore not included 1,000-word restaurant reviews-has led some 66 staffers to conclude that the review was payback for an experience Mr. Carter had at the restaurant back in April.
Sources at the restaurant told The Transom that Mr. Carter and two friends came to the restaurant, which is located at 241 Church Street, on April 16 for an 8 p.m. reservation. According to one of those sources, Mr. Carter “had to wait like five minutes for a table. And he was pissed.” His ire apparently only increased when he was taken to a table that, the source said, the editor did not like and when, according to another source connected with the restaurant, he was told that he could not smoke in accordance with the city’s new anti-smoking laws.
“He walked out in a huff,” said the first source. “And then he flew this guy in.”
Added the source: “This was a vendetta.”
Neither Mr. Carter nor Vanity Fair‘s press department would comment on the allegations, but one informed source at the magazine told The Transom that while the piece was in no way a vendetta, Mr. Carter’s decision to assign the piece was prompted by his experience there.
According to the source, Mr. Carter wasn’t bothered by the wait, which was “minimal,” or his table, and he “knew” that he wouldn’t be able to smoke. Instead, the source said, Vanity Fair‘s editor in chief was turned off by the restaurant’s “office park”-like décor, the “unfriendly” staff and by his waitress’ spiel that “the food can come out in random order.” Because dishes tend to be shared family-style at the restaurant, 66 does not have a strict appetizer-precedes-entree structure. Rather, the dishes tend to be delivered to a table as soon as they are finished in the kitchen. But the waitress’ interpretation of this procedure prompted Mr. Carter to ask her: “Does that mean dessert can come out before the main course?”
The source also said that Mr. Carter was “starved” that night and after looking around the restaurant and seeing that “nobody had food on their tables,” he and his friends decided to head for his Greenwich Village home and order Japanese takeout.
As it turned out, Mr. Gill, who writes for the Sunday Times of London and other publications, was coming to New York to, as the Vanity Fair source explained, “start reviewing hot spots” for the magazine, and Mr. Carter, still fascinated by his experience, instructed the writer’s editor, Dana Brown, to send Mr. Gill to 66. The source said that at no time did Mr. Carter speak to Mr. Gill about the piece or influence its point of view. The source also disagreed with the article’s characterization as a restaurant review. Rather, the source said, Mr. Gill’s piece was about “explaining something that is new and supposedly transforming.”
If Mr. Carter did want an assassin, he’d picked the right man for the job-an out-of-towner with no ties to the city’s seductive restaurant industry and a lethal pen (and in keeping with the Ian Fleming stereotype, a beautiful blond girlfriend, Tatler writer Nicola Formby). “He’s a brilliant writer,” said restaurateur Drew Nieporent. “But he’s also one of the most vicious.”
In 2000, for instance, Mr. Gill congratulated London’s the Langley for “managing to come up with quite the peerlessly worst restaurant so far this millennium. He likened the slow-baked cheese-and-onion tart to “snot in a box” and its grilled kipper to “smoked postman’s Odor Eater.” No wonder chef Gordon Ramsay-a cook as tetchy as Mr. Gill is lethal-once threw the critic out of his restaurant.
Mr. Vongerichten’s 66 was ravaged in similar fashion. “It’s just a guess, but I reckon the greeting-and-seating procedure at 66 is modeled on the aliens line at Immigration-just after the Friday-night flight from Khartoum has landed,” reads the first sentence of the review.
It gets worse from there, and, interestingly, at least one of Mr. Gill’s perceptions of the restaurant dovetails nicely with Mr. Carter’s. “Having treated you at the door like social scurvy with contagious halitosis, the staff subtly changes demeanor once you’re inside. They treat you like deaf cretins with learning difficulties,” Mr. Gill wrote. “‘Have you eaten here before?’ they ask. ‘Do you understand how this works?’ ‘What-I order, you serve, I pay, you give me my coat back?’ Ha, ha, ha … No, we bring you the food when and in the order it’s prepared.’ This talk-to-the-chopstick attitude implies one of two things: either after a lifetime of experience, I’m still not to be trusted to feed myself, or, like edible thongs, the food is really only an amusing addendum to social intercourse.”
There’s more. In his attack on Mr. Vongerichten’s food, Mr. Gill broke out more of caca-peepee similes: “How clever are shrimp-and-foie gras dumplings with grapefruit dipping sauce?” he wrote. “What if we called them fishy liver-filled condoms. They were properly vile, with a savor that lingered like a lovelorn drunk and tasted as if your mouth had been used as the swab bin in an animal hospital.”
Mr. Meier was not spared either. “And why is it that every postmodern, hot-and-cool, less-is-more, minimal, brave, to-die-for dining room looks like every other postmodern, hot-and-cool, less-is-more, minimal, brave, to-die-for dining room you’ve been in since before vinegar went balsamic?” Mr. Gill wrote. He also took issue with the red flags bearing Chinese characters that hang over the restaurant’s communal table. Translated, they read “Beauty,” “Clarity,” “Peace” and “Destiny” among other things, but Mr. Gill worried that the signs were “making fun of me” and really could be saying “WE SPIT IN YOUR SOY” or “ALL DIM SUM INCUBATED IN CHEF’S JOCKSTRAP.” And “the evening’s punch line” he concluded, is the waiter “whose sole, humiliating purpose is apparently to show you to the bathroom and open the secret unmarked door. Now how far up your own minimally designed, imperative fundament do you have to get before you employ a chap to be a human rest-room sign?”
That’s the last line of the piece, and between that and the crack about Khartoum, Mr. Gill does not find one single redeeming quality about 66. And that’s what seems to irk the city’s chefs, restaurateurs and even Mr. Meier the most. As Mr. Nieporent said, “There’s nothing that restaurant writer wants to do more than go into the busiest restaurant in town and fuck it up.” But the Vanity Fair piece, Mr. Nieporent said, was “an assassination.”
“I thought it was a very odd thing for them to do,” said Mr. Meier. “And I wondered what it was all about.” Given Mr. Gill’s reputation, the architect said that, “Even asking the person to come in and write this article was, I guess, a hostile act.” And hostile acts tend to be greeted differently in New York than they are in London, where masochism is considerably more popular.
Mr. Meier counts 66 as the first stand-alone restaurant that he’s designed and he said, “I couldn’t be happier” with “every aspect of it.” And so, he said, he plans to get an explanation from Mr. Carter. “I thought I would invite him to dinner there and say something to him,” the architect said with a laugh. And if Mr. Carter, as the Vanity Fair source said, was truly “conflicted” about running the piece because he “likes” both Mr. Meier and Mr. Suarez, then he will have to accept.
As for Mr. Gill, attempts to reach him through the London Times were unsuccessful, but Vanity Fair‘s source said that the writer has already written pieces about targets in Washington and Las Vegas-though not necessarily about restaurants. The source said that Mr. Carter hopes to have him appearing monthly in the magazine.
We’ll see. But if Mr. Gill does return to New York’s eating grounds, he should bring a taster from the Vanity Fair research department.
Now that speculation about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s political future has become a staple of the summer media cycle, it’s time to rent Demolition Man again. That’s the 1993 movie that dared to imagine that Mr. Schwarzenegger’s muscle-bound charisma and Kennedy connections would take him not to the California gubernatorial race but all the way to the Oval Office.
Demolition Man starred Sylvester Stallone as a loose-cannon cop who had been frozen in a “cryo-prison” in 1996 for a crime he didn’t commit; only to be unthawed in a seemingly utopian 2026, to assist Sandra Bullock hunting down a murderer (or perhaps the agents that had put them in the movie in the first place).
Mr. Schwarzenegger’s name is mentioned in a scene where Ms. Bullock attempts to bring Mr. Stallone up to date on what’s happened in the world in the 30 years that he’s been asleep:
Bullock: “I’ve been an enthusiast of your escapades for some time now. I have in fact perused some newsreels from the Schwarzenegger Library, and that time you took that car-”
Stallone: “Hold it! The Schwarzenegger Library?”
Bullock: “Yes, the Schwarzenegger Presidential Library. Wasn’t he an actor when you-”
Stallone: “Stop! He was President?”
Bullock: “Yes. Even though he was not born in this country, his popularity at the time caused the 61st Amendment, which states that-”
Stallone: “I don’t want to know.”
Rumors about Mr. Schwarzenegger’s political ambitions were already swirling back in the early 90′s when Demolition Man was made and Daniel Waters, who co-wrote the screenplay, told The Transom that the action star seemed like an appropriate symbol for the times. “Instead of doing a science-fiction movie that was about everything people feared, it was about what people at the time supposedly wanted,” Mr. Waters said, “a society that was clean and nice, and without crime, and politically correct. And in a continuation of the quote-unquote beauty of the Reagan years, and in keeping with the star-fucking of the times, I thought: Wouldn’t it be great if Schwarzenegger were President? It was kind of perfect for the new image of the future.”
Early drafts of the script hadn’t included that bit about the 61st Amendment. It was Mr. Waters’ brother, in fact, who brought his attention to the fact that Schwarzenegger could not, under current rules, become President.
“When [my brother] brought that up, I just laughed, ” Mr. Waters said. “Because anything that’s in the Constitution can be changed. Just like you rewrite a script, you can rewrite the Constitution. Just another draft.”
Limp Bizkit may drip attitude on stage and in the studio, but in interviews the band’s Yankee-cap-wearing front man Fred Durst speaks in the toothless generalities of a ballplayer working for George Steinbrenner. Mr. Durst fielded reporters’ questions after Limp Bizkit’s 45-minute AOL BroadBAND Rocks! concert at Webster Hall on July 16, and his response to questions regarding his much-written-about tryst with Britney Spears and a more recent encounter with Avril Lavigne made Alfonso Soriano sound like a poet laureate.
On Ms. Spears: “I, um, um, I don’t regret anything in my life. And I’m happy to live the life I am. I have my ups and downs, but I got it better than a lot of people so I ain’t complaining.”
On Ms. Lavigne: “I thought she was cool. And I went to see her at a show,” he said initially. Then after a brief pause, he elaborated: “I thought she was cute and just went to see the show.”
Then again, Mr. Durst may have just been having a laugh at the expense of the press. When one reporter asked him about his plans for a solo album, Mr. Durst replied: “It’s like, uh-I have like layers to me.” And The Transom also overheard him remark to a young People reporter, “I have a weird mental disorder. Have you seen [A] Beautiful Mind?” So that’s why Limp Bizkit is on the Summer Sanitarium tour!
If Mr. Durst wasn’t feeling like opening up to the press, there were plenty of Limp Bizkit fans who were. Take 18-year-old Greg Rufland, who attended the concert in a Winnie the Pooh costume. “[I wore the costume] to meet Fred Durst, “Mr. Rufland told The Transom.
He accomplished more than that. During the first song of the night, Mr. Rufland-as-Pooh got up on the stage and bounded blindly around, knocking over drum mikes and sullying the chaste image of A.A. Milne’s creation on Internet AOL Broadband.
Beneath the costume, Mr. Rufland wore casts on each of his wrists. “Broke both of them … last week during Limp Bizkit’s set. Moshing,” he said. “It was worth it, though.”
So, apparently, was the Pooh costume. “That’s it?” Mr. Rufland asked after the questions stopped coming. “I got more interviews to do.”
Fountain of Truth
On 6:15 on Friday morning, a small cluster of drably clad journalists and photographers ventured out onto the median wall of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis reservoir in Central Park to watch the inaugural spray of the reactivated decorative fountain.
The fountain, which sits in the southwest quadrant of the reservoir and consists of five water shoots, was initially built in 1917 to celebrate the completion of the Ashokan Reservoir. It was shut off almost immediately afterward because New Yorkers complained that they were getting wet, and not resurrected again until 1998 when a team of scuba divers rediscovered it. The fountain was turned back on as part of the park’s dizzying 150th anniversary celebration.
But it was with very little ceremony that the stream of water began to climb up the air to its height of 60 feet, thrown into relief by the sonorous El Dorado behind it.
Presiding over the event was Commisioner Christopher O. Ward, a big man in the requisite turquoise shirt of the Department of Environmental Protection.
“The question everyone wants to ask me,” Commisioner Ward said, “is why it isn’t in the center of the reservoir. Well, for whatever reason, that’s where they built it.”
But that wasn’t the question that New York Times photographer Sara Krulwich wanted to ask Mr. Ward. After wandering further down the petrified stone median wall than Ward had advised, Ms. Krulwich returned to where the other photographers were standing.
“It’s ugly, though,” she said to the commissioner. “The base isn’t beautiful like the Bethesda Fountain. It’s just cartons.”
Mr. Ward looked stricken. “Those are lights,” he said after a tense pause. “Those aren’t cartons, those are nozzles and lighting houses.”
Replied Ms. Krulwich: “I’ve seen death and destruction.”
The Transom Also Hears …
· Chef Rocco DiSpirito may be trying his hand at “acting” with his new reality show, The Restaurant, but that doesn’t mean his actress girlfriend is going to be donning an apron anytime soon. At a July 17 sneak-preview party for the NBC summer series, which was held at Mr. DiSpirito’s Flatiron Italian restaurant, Rocco’s on 22nd, the chef’s current paramour, Italian actress Yvonne Sciò, told The Transom: “I don’t like to cook. I’ve never followed cooking seriously. I was never part of the whole restaurant scene, so I know nothing. ” But there is one meal that Ms. Sciò can manage. “I’m the one that cooks breakfast,” she said. “I make espresso. That’s about it.”
· Ethan Hawke wasn’t chatting or chewing at one of the outdoor tables at Chat ‘n’ Chew on July 19. No, Mr. Hawke was reading a book, and his lips were moving as he read.
-Anna Jane Grossman