Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Breakfast with Wolfgang

March 17
5:30 p.m.

Wolfgang Puck says a recession is, in fact, a great time to open a restaurant, because it requires that you be a great manager and provide great food and service (My colleague Mark Brandau points out that Anthony Bourdain more-or-less agrees).
Of course, it helps if you’re Wolfgang Puck and you get to pick and choose which of the offers for partnership that come in every day you accept.
One such offer he accepted was from the investors in the restaurant atop Dallas's Reunion Tower, who spent $20 million renovating the place, according to Puck, so he could open a restaurant. That restaurant, Five Sixty (named for its altitude), opened a couple of months ago.
Puck says they wanted him to open a steakhouse, but opening another steakhouse in Dallas seemed silly. Besides, Puck’s not going to sell steak that isn’t USDA Prime, and even though the price of Choice cuts are coming down, he said Prime prices are still insane, and now is not the time to open an uber-expensive restaurant.
Instead, Five Sixty is a riff on Puck’s Chinois on Main concept, with Shanghai lobster risotto and Sichuan peppercorn steak, a robata and sushi bar. The check average is around $60, which isn’t cheap, but it’s not steakhouse-expensive, either.
Puck was holding court at breakfast this morning, speaking of many things, ranging from his son’s college career (he’s a sophomore at my alma mater, Tufts, and just switched from the engineering school to the college of liberal arts, where he’s studying Russian literature and goodness knows what else) to the new bistro concept that he has opened in North Carolina (outside of Charlotte), and in Los Angeles (one downtown, another in Westlake Village), to the new 11-inch pizza line he is launching in supermarkets this month, replacing the nine-inch.
The bistro is fast-casual by day, full-on table service by night.
I learned other things about Wolfgang Puck, too:
• The first restaurant he remembers eating in when he arrived in the United States in 1973 was La Grenouille, in New York, immediately dispelling the myth then popular in France that there was no good food in the United States.
• The most successful concept in his restaurant empire is the cafe in the Denver Airport (at the United terminal), which grosses more than $4 million annually.
• Three years ago Puck realized that he didn’t like the music in his restaurants and wondered why he used the fish he liked and the cutlery he liked but let someone else handle the music. So now he picks the music himself, and it turns out that he is a very big fan of Pink Floyd.
• Puck consulted with American Airlines for awhile, but he could not convince them when making a Caesar salad not to use the outer leaves of the Romaine lettuce. This was a cause of consternation for him.
• Last night the Pucks had dinner at Corton. They said it was terrific.

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