Notes from around the country: steak houses, dining-room face-lifts and umpteen wines by the glass.
There are a lot of pretty, young restaurants out there looking to catch the eye of the fickle diner. So, like a rich man's wife who's hoping not to become a rich man's first wife, establishments of a certain age are splurging on face-lifts and new wardrobes. They're getting million-dollar renovations, like Silks in San Francisco, which now has chandeliers of hand-painted silk and a collection of traditional Chinese ceremonial garments behind glass frames (222 Sansome St.; 415-986-2020). Or $2 million ones, like March in Manhattan, which has two new rooms and 38 more seats (405 E. 58th St.; 212-754-6272). Or, in the case of Patina in Los Angeles, they get a still more beguiling multimillion-dollar overhaul: The ceilings were raised by 11 feet, the kitchen was tripled in size, a private room with state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment was built, and the facade of the building was pierced to allow sunlight to enter the dining room (5955 Melrose Ave.; 323-467-1108). Even Paris, where aging gracefully is an art form, has caught makeover fever: The two-star Guy Savoy was entirely dismantled and reassembled by world-famous architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte at an untold cost (18 Rue de Troyon; 011-33-1-4380-4061).
The Beef Goes On
Way back in January, we boldly predicted that fish restaurants would be "this year's steak houses." Well, as it turned out, steak houses were this year's steak houses. Witness the entry of several big-name chefs into the red-meat game: Joachim Splichal, who made his reputation at Patina in Los Angeles, just opened a Nick & Stef's Steakhouse in Washington, D.C. (601 F St. N.W.), and another in Madison Square Garden in Manhattan (9 Pennsylvania Plaza). They're offshoots of his Nick & Stef's Steakhouse in downtown Los Angeles, and like the original, they offer choices by the dozen: 12 different cuts of meat, 12 sauces, 12 vegetable dishes and 12 potato preparations. (The chefs at these new-style steak houses lavish their creativity on the side dishes, knowing better than to fool around with a good piece of meat.) Also in New York, David Walzog is heading the kitchen at Strip House (13 E. 12th St.). The specialty is the same New York strip sirloin that has been such a success at Michael Jordan's The Steak House, a restaurant in Grand Central Terminal that's also overseen by Walzog. In Chicago, Michael Morton, a scion of the Morton's steak-house family, has gone into business with chef Michael Kornick of mk to create Nine (440 W. Randolph St.; 312-575-9900), a razzle-dazzle place with a velvet rope, a gilded ceiling and a fleet of custom silver Suburbans to drive patrons home when they've had their fill of beef--or, more to the point, martinis.
Breaking The By-The-Glass Ceiling
Expensive wine-storage systems by Cruvinet or WineKeeper, which prevent large numbers of open bottles from spoiling, were once the ultimate wine-geek gizmos; now they're almost as common as corkscrews. They suck oxygen out and replace it with some more wine-friendly gas, thus allowing restaurants and bars to offer dizzying numbers of wines by the glass. Most places stick to a manageable 30 or 40, but more and more are now offering as many as 100 at a time. The Tasting Room in Chicago (1415 W. Randolph St.; 312-942-1313) has at least that many (and sells all of them by the bottle in Randolph Wine Cellars, its retail shop next door). The trend has spread as far as Kansas City, where a new Sicilian restaurant called Trattoria Luigi (919 W. 47th St.; 816-531-3800) has installed a wine-storage system to accommodate 72 bottles and offers 60 more that have to get by with old-fashioned corks.