I don’t expect this from Bloomberg, but I like it.
This week, reporter Ryan Sutton published his review of the new NYC location of Tao, one of Wall Street’s favourite upscale restaurant/party spots.
Now, the word “review” actually, is incredibly gentle for what it was — it was actually a takedown, a complete beating, a Bruce Lee roundhouse kick to the face.
For years Tao has been known for a luxe experience catering the the world’s wealthiest. The group that owns the restaurant, Strategic Hospitality Group, also owns monster nightclubs like Lavo (see: brunch), Marquee and Upper East Side steakhouse Arlington Club.
Surely you’ve heard of Arlington Club.
Now the thing with Strategic is that it specialize in the experience — in the ‘you-can-have-this-with-a-side-of-diamond-dust-and-sparklers’ kind of entertainment that people pay top dollar for. In Manhattan, it’s not just a reality, it’s its own genre.
Forget the genre, though, the experience was not enough to save Tao for Sutton. At the end of the day, he argues, the massive Tao downtown — which occupies the space of defunct velvet-rope-vibe nightclub Hiro under the Maritime Hotel — does not deliver on its primary purpose for existing… food.
OK this is rough (from Sutton):
Now why so many people spend their money here is a more complicated question. The salmon rolls, chilled into a chokehold, taste as if they were freshly delivered from a local bodega. And raw tuna, paired with stiff shards of parmesan, is littered with so much sinus-clearing wasabi it could qualify as a frat-pledge dare at Binghamton University…
And Wagyu beef, with “sophisticated dips and sauces,” has scant more tenderness or flavour than a $US10 steak from Pathmark.
Sutton goes on: The waitresses wear sexy dresses, getting a reservation is impossible, and a bottle of Grey Goose costs $US400 — all the givens. That’s the experience Strategic specialises in. You can take it, or you can leave it.
None of this is going anywhere. But neither are the people, like Sutton, railing against it.
This is the epic civil war of all nightlife, people.
Do you just throw money at an experience that you know, historically, will impress people with even more money?
Or do you try to answer questions — the questions that people have the liberty to ask during their precious nights and weekends away from work?
In their free time people wonder. They wonder about what dumplings really taste like Shanghai or how much spice is too much spice in Vietnamese cuisine.
Even better, in NYC, they can explore that. They can get those questions answered by dedicated chefs and restaurateurs that are asking the same questions. This kind of exploration is actually an opportunity for mini-adventure. It’s a high, and it’s a huge reason why people are drawn to this city.
Inarguably, Tao has mastered the international language of “luxe,” but it provides no satisfaction to Sutton or others that want more — for people are looking for the rush of something they’ve never had before.
Some people, however, do not care about any of that. Diamond dust is good enough.
So while much of New York itches to learn more about the myriad regional cuisines of the Global East, filling fine spots like Pok Pok, Cafe China and Xi’an Famous Foods, Tao provides the opposite, trafficking in the pedestrian Pan-Asian luxuries of business district hotels of Shanghai, Mumbai, or Dubai. Tao is the type of restaurant designed for those who refuse to eat from street vendors when travelling abroad, and for those who suddenly become vegetarian in foreign countries.
So now you know about the culture war. Whose side are you on?