Tell us a little bit about the Mermaid Oyster Bar concept–what distinguishes it from the Mermaid Inns?
The Mermaid Oyster Bar is meant to invoke the feeling of being on vacation at the beach and The Mermaid Inn is reminiscent of New England beach shack fare.
Aside from your own places, what’s your favorite seafood restaurant in the city?
I recently ate at Marea and thought all the elements worked great together: the bar, the room, and of course, the food.
Where do you eat when you just want something simple?
Snack on Thompson Street. Simple, delicious and fresh. Only five tables so I get take-out often.
What are your thoughts on the comfort food trend? Will we see even more high-end mac and cheese and burgers, or will they die out?
I think comfort food never really went away but was just reinvented and reintroduced. I don’t think we’re going to see any more mac and cheese or burgers because those items have been over-saturated.
Is there a restaurant trend you’d bet on for 2010?
I would think that the cheap and cheerful trend will continue for some time. Restaurants that offer a great room and service but with more gentle pricing.
What are your thoughts on sustainable fisheries issues? A lot of the fish you serve is sustainable, but some is not, such as skate. Do you have plans to try to serve only sustainably fished seafood?
I think there is a lot of misinformation out there about sustainable seafood. Some farmed fish is great and some is not. We will continue to search out responsible fisheries and do our part in promoting sustainable seafood.
You’ve opened over a dozen restaurants–what’s the hardest thing about getting a place up and running?
Financing is still always a challenge. I try and create places I would like to go to. There is more competition for good staff now more than ever. And the building process is always both fun and frustrating.
What do you eat when you’re alone?
Caramels from Whole Foods.
What’s in your refrigerator?
The usual stuff you would find in the fridge of a busy restaurateur. There could be more in there but I work quite a bit.
What’s the last book you read?
The Nine [by Jeffrey Toobin]. It’s a fascinating book on the inner workings of the Supreme Court. It’s amazing how much personalities play in the decisions that affect us all and how much they all try to persuade each other.
What’s the last movie you saw?
The latest Coen Brothers film [A Serious Man]. I didn’t get it. Everyone says it’s great but it must have been over my head.
Who is the restaurateur you most admire, living or dead?
Jimmy, the guy that owns the diner on 72nd and West End. He works his business every day, and has created a nice, stress-free life for himself.
What would you like to see more of on New York menus?
Interesting salads. I also like a lot of appetizer choices. I’ve seen some menus lately that have six apps and six entrees and I find that limiting.
Who is your ideal dinner companion, living or dead?
I’d love to say Gandhi or someone like that, but it would have to be my mother. I would like one last meal with her.
What three foods would you bring with you to a desert island?
I don’t think I would need to bring any. I could catch and cook fish and use available vegetation. Whatever I bring I would be sick of in three months anyway.
Does celebrity chef culture irk you?
Only in the respect that people are becoming chefs because they want to be famous and not because they love cooking. I don’t like meeting these 24-year-old chefs who haven’t accomplished anything, but have been on TV and think they should be in charge. Bring back the old-school people that love to cook, regardless of the attention.
Is there a celebrity chef that you wish would go away?
I think we need a whole new crop of people. It’s the same 10 people for the last five years.
If you couldn’t live in New York, where would you like to live?
Somewhere warm and near the water where life is easier. New York can be tough. I like to ride my motorcycle and dirt bike so wherever I can do that and make a living, I would be happy.