Zagat is rallying 17 of New York’s most worshipped chefs for an off-beat promotion that one coordinator likened to Restaurant Week, the business booster now used by restaurants from coast to coast.
Stanley Lobel, the Babe Ruth of butchers, said the Vintage Dinner Series could give a lasting lift to the bottom lines of restaurants everywhere by teaching the public to eat low-cost meats that haven’t been seen in kitchens for 100 years.
The promotion calls for a series of banquets featuring dishes, drinks and cocktails from the 19th century. Various signatures of that age will be served—apparently in copious quantities—at the participating restaurants on different nights from Jan. 12 through March 25.
“Each restaurant will hold its own banquet inspired by the 19th century,” with menus varying from feast to feast, explained Tim Zagat, co-publisher of the merlot-colored bibles of sport dining. Seating will be limited, and participants will be charged an all-inclusive price consistent with the host restaurant’s regular menu prices. Translation: Something stratospheric for Per Se, where a normal meal costs the equivalent of a Caribbean vacation, but only skyscraper high at a place like Le Bernardin, chef Eric Ripert’s celebrated outpost.
Lobel, who helped Zagat hatch the idea, cited such banquet menu possibilities as a stuffed calf’s heart. “We all know that’s a round piece of meat that looks like a heart,” explained Lobel, whose family runs Lobel’s of New York, the DeBeers of proteins. But, he conjectured, what if it was stuffed and baked into something delicious? “The cost on that is extremely reasonable and can be given away at a very attractive price.”
“We’re going to see unusual cuts of beef and lamb that are going to be a lot more economical,” he said. “I think that’s going to trickle down to all restaurants.”
He also cited beef liver as a Gilded Age favorite—“not calf’s liver, which is what you usually see. I’m talking beef liver, baked, finished off on the grill so there’s a charred outside, topped with my favorite spice, garlic.”
In addition, “one of the things I’m going to ask the chefs to look into is the blood of the animal,” he said, noting that it was used as “a healer” during the 1800s. He explained that the chefs may want to use it “as gravies, as dippings, as sauces.”
“We’re going to have some meals we haven’t seen in 100 years,” said Zagat. He noted such possible components as game, or, on the drinks side, punches and vintage cocktails. In addition, the banquets might resurrect the sort of presentation showmanship that dazzled Diamond Jim Brady—wows like Cherries Jubilee.
Zagat said the Vintage promotion was conceived as a way of bringing back classic dishes “that have disappeared from American culture.
“This is not just to have a series of parties,” he said. “This is to bring back a lot of what we have lost.”
Lobel, who is working with the chefs to craft authentic 1800s menus, was more straightforward about the potential business payback. “The last time the restaurant industry got a kick was Restaurant Week a few years ago,” he said.
Actually, Restaurant Week began more than a few years ago. A number of restaurants in the city decided in the 1980s to give their lunch traffic a boost during the heat of summer by all offering three-course meals for a price base don the year--$19.88, $19.89, etc. It’s now held twice a year in New York, in winter as well as summer, and has been copied by restaurateurs from coast to coast.
As part of the Vintage Dinner Series, participating restaurants will be asked to donate one table to a charity of their choice. Presumably the seats will be auctioned off or someone be used as a money-raising prize.
Zagat said reservations for the dinners would be handled individually by each place. “I think a lot of the restaurants will be sold out by the end of the day,” he said.
The participating chefs include such marquee-topping stars as Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich of Del Posto, Thomas Keller of Per Se, Alain Ducasse of Adour, Charlie Palmer of Aureole, David Bouley of Bouley, Tom Valenti of Ouest and David Barber of Blue Hill. The complete list is available at Zagat’s web page for New York restaurants.