“You’ve gotta have a gimmick.” A schlock line that’s as true in show business as it is in the restaurant business. From fast food up to haute cuisine, a well-thought out restaurant–one with a cohesive theme, complementary food, sycophantic music, etc.–is a talked about restaurant.
It’s a concept that goes back years. Joe Baum, a restaurateur most commonly known for restaurants like the Rainbow Room, the Four Seasons, and the former Windows on the World was notably design-minded. One of the first to create a high-end theme restaurant, Forum of the Twelve Caesars, Baum changed the landscape of dining and paved the way for the current food-as-entertainment movement. Decorated with mosaics that wouldn’t look out of place in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Temple of Dendur, “Forum” boasted a costume clad waitstaff hawking cheekily named dishes like Mushrooms of the Sincere Claudius–An Emperor’s Delight.
Today, it’s not all smoke and mirrors and high-flying trapeze artists, but most food establishments have embraced some aspect of design as a way to set the stage for their dishes. Whether it’s setting the scene at a Mexican cantina with a few Day of the Dead style decorations and a slew of votives, arranging pin lighting to highlight just the center of each table, or hiring one of the half-dozen restaurant design focused groups to build out the chef/owner’s vision, design and food now go hand-in-hand. And with New Yorkers choosing dining out over a night out dancing and foodies taking to the streets, throwing around terms like sous vide and crÃ¨me anglaise, taking butchering classes and spending weekends waiting for a table at the latest no-reservations brunch boite, it’s really time we explore this niche.
So we will! Join me as we contemplate the construction and creativity of some chefs, meet the designers, and track trends from plates to plantscapes in this new Untapped Cities column.