On Tuesday night, Grub Street joined up with dapper GQers and fashion-deprived foodies for a cocktail party at Lincoln, celebrating Alan Richmans gutsy proclamation that the restaurant is the best in the country. Richman, the ubiquitous star of the soiree, was happy to sit down over drinks and what looked like prosciutto-wrapped pretzels to explain his decision to crown the tepidly received Lincoln as the ultimate eating experience today. Considering our recent words about Richman's devotion to the restaurant, he was a little defensive, a bit tipsy, and very happy to have taken his "two subways and a bus" from the burbs to be near Lincoln chef Jonathan Benno. He also mused on food blogs, Marea, and an upcoming appearance on the HBO show Treme. The full interview, straight ahead.
Lincoln as the Best Restaurant really? Heres your chance to defend this decision!
Okay, No. 1, I think its stunning. Granted, I dont know anything about physical space, but I know I love it. (2) Its a freestanding New York restaurant and that takes vast ambition. I am always looking for that level of ambition, and you dont see it on this scale often. (3) The passion and dedication of chef Benno. (4) What other new restaurant has the class of this one?
But you didnt even mention the food, is that No. 5?
Im getting there! We all know and agree that Benno can produce amazing things. Do I think the food is soaring? No. Do I think the food is very good? Yes. Look, theres Cesar Ramirez at Brooklyn Fare where every single thing he puts out is perfect. Just perfect. I cant say Jonathan is doing that here yet. At this point, half of his food is killing me because its so good and half the food is going to get better. The man is a perfectionist; hes not going to settle until its perfect.
So why all the haters?
I think Adam didnt like the food, and Bruni [Editor's note: He means Sifton] didnt like the place, so theres no consensus on whats bad here. You cant just dismiss something like this because you had a bad entrée or because a waiter made a mistake. My summation is this is a restaurant that has more potential than any restaurant Ive seen in years.
Do you taste Thomas Keller in Bennos food?
The main courses say Keller, yes. Its the precision. And Im not sure thats the best thing for Benno here. That Keller approach might not be the best thing for Italian food, to be honest. The Keller style is a little too ... un-Italian.
What got you more excited, Lincoln, or last years choice, Marea?
Marea was knocking the food out of the box right away. The service was mixed, and the room wasnt on this level. But the food was almost perfect. Michael White was always there and always in the kitchen, and thats how the food soars.
[Drew Nieporent politely interrupts the interview.]
Drew: Alan Richman is the last remnant of a phenomenal food journalist in America. Dont listen to what they say about Jon Mariani, this is the best food journalist right here! Im always pissed off at Alan, but thats our MO.
He loves you ... who wouldnt?
Oh, I am hated by many! I just made a cameo on that show Treme because they say Im the most hated man in the history of New Orleans. You have to watch and see. Its a fictional plotline, but I appear as myself. I guess it happened because I was critical of New Orleans the year of Katrina ... look it up ... I made joke comparing Creoles to Leprechauns. It was a joke!
Do you read the blogs?
Not really. Theres too many critics, its too diverse. None of it matters. Its the same hierarchy as always, New York Times and New York Magazine are the most important ones; theyre the top ones, no question about it. They can do a lot of good or a lot of damage to restaurants. In New York, I think print has crushed the blogs. There are so many people blogging about restaurants that the print people have returned to preeminence. I mean, there are a few good food bloggers ... Josh Ozersky drives me crazy. Half the time hes brilliant, half the time I want to punch his face in. Hes a talented guy. Hes a smart guy who does so many stupid things. But he does so many brilliant things too.
Any chefs youre afraid of because of things youve said or done?
Oh no, Im not afraid of anyone. Theres even a chance I could beat up some chefs, even at my age. Im a lot faster than the big guys. I could run rings around Michael White and Mario Batali.
If you get drunk tonight, where are you going to go for late-night food?
Celeste on Amsterdam. Its this ridiculous, crowded, cramped place. Carmine, who owns it, abuses everyone, including me. I love that; I miss being abused at restaurants. If I get really drunk, Ill go to Big Nick's and get a burger.
Whatcha drinking over there?
Oh, they gave me a damn mint julep. Jews dont drink bourbon!