A quiet moment at Benno. Photos by Bloomberg
212 Fifth Avenue where Bezos bought three condos totalling US$80 million.
Now that the divorce of MacKenzie and Jeff Bezos is final, it is time to turn the page and focus on subjects like where the world’s richest man can eat near his new US$80 million (RM331.2 million) penthouse complex in Manhattan.
Bezos has a penchant for unlikely food. He has eaten iguana; he also famously shouted out “breakfast octopus”, using the seafood as a metaphor for buying companies. “You’re the octopus that I’m having for breakfast. When I look at the menu, you’re the thing I don’t understand, the thing I’ve never had. I must have the breakfast octopus,” Bezos is reported to have said.
He is coming into a neighbourhood around 26th Street and Fifth Avenue that has had its ups and downs in the culinary world. Besides big, shuttered storefronts such as the old RH (nee Restoration Hardware) flagship, several high-profile restaurants have closed in the neighbourhood since 2017. They include A Voce at 41 Madison Avenue (Missy Robbins, a former chef at the Michelin-starred restaurant, has found great success in Brooklyn at Lilia); the steakhouse BLT Prime, which shut its East 22nd Street dining room at the end of December to relocate uptown; and the popular seafood restaurant John Dory at the Ace Hotel, which closed in February.
The streets around NoMad and the Flatiron District still have their heavy hitters, though. Just across the park is the renovated Eleven Madison Park, the former No 1 restaurant in the world. Closer, by a few steps, is the original Shake Shack that put the ShackBurger on the map. (To note: This location is one of the few where you cannot order ahead.) Also scattered within a six-block radius are the elite Mexican dining room Cosme (the best restaurant in America right now if you are tracking the World’s 50 Best), the terrific Korean steakhouse Cote, destination Cal-Med cooking at Upland, astonishing Korean small plates at Atoboy, and swanky everything at NoMad.
But beyond those stalwarts are fantastic drinking and dining spots that have opened in the last year or so, just in time to welcome Bezos and his girlfriend Lauren Sanchez. Here is a list of new places that they would not have to travel far to get to:
At Rezdora, which means “grandmother” in Modena’s Italian dialect, no one should leave without eating pasta. Chef Stefano Secchi is an alum of Osteria Francescana, which twice won the World’s Best Restaurant, and several of his pastas have whimsical names such as Grandma Walking Through a Forest in Emilia — code for tender spinach cappelletti stuffed with creamy, sweet roasted leeks. The US$90 pasta tasting is a deal, and the Italian-focused wine list has some unusual selections. But if Bezos walks in, Secchi would recommend the spaghettoni con vongole (clams) with a brothy sauce replete with parsley and plenty of garlic. “This is one of my favourite dishes,” said Secchi. “We handmake the spaghettoni every day, so even though it seems like a simple dish, a lot of work goes into it. I think Jeff would appreciate that.” Location: 27 E 20th St.
The Middle Eastern restaurant from Breads Bakery owner Gadi Peleg on the northern edge of NoMad is redefining hospitality by offering a spread before you have even looked at the menu. That is what Peleg recommends for Bezos if he walks in: “It’s a wide variety and comes fast — he would like that.” The dozen or so small dishes include a terrific labneh, baba ganoush, skordalia (garlicky potato dip) and pickled sumac onions, arrayed around a slab of rippling, just-baked bread called Jerusalem laffa (US$25). If you can make it past that, there are main courses like Shabtai-style fish fried in chickpea batter and a major slow-roasted bone-in short rib. Location: Arlo Hotel, 11 E 31st St.
Bourke Street Bakery
The first US branch of the beloved Australian bakery takes its superior loaves so seriously that there is a chalkboard timetable for when they are put out: Seeded sourdough and white sourdough are generally available daily at 8am, while the chorizo thyme roll appears at 11am. The cafe, which has about 50 seats, also serves sandwiches and sweets, but if you get one thing besides a flat white, it should be a sausage roll, just voted best in Australia at the Uniquely Aussie Awards. Location: 15 E 28th St.
At yet another new neighbourhood hotel, the Evelyn, ex-per se chef Jonathan Benno oversees the luxe tasting menu dining room, which starts at three courses for US$105 and features lobster, duck and dry-aged sirloin. For Bezos, Benno would insist on the corzetti pasta with clams, Greenmarket broccoli rabe and walnut sauce. “Corzetti is a unique pasta shape, hopefully as intriguing as octopus,” said Benno of the coin-like discs. “Plus, they’re stamped with ‘JB’. He and I have the same initials.” Location: 7 E 27th St.
While the scene may be a bit young for the 55-year-old centi-billionaire, the rooftop bar at the Freehand Hotel evokes the retro vibes of its original Miami Beach location with panoramic views of the city. The burger comes with yuca fries and mojo mayo, and there is chicharron with the sour cream and onion dip. From the drinks on the tiki-styled list, head mixologist Evan Hawkins said he would make Bezos the Bad ‘n’ Bitter cocktail (bourbon, Campari, blanc vermouth, watermelon and sea salt) because “it’s a gentleman’s drink — boozy, bitter, with a hint of summer”. Location: Freehand Hotel, 23 Lexington Avenue, 18th Fl.
Simon & the Whale
Meanwhile, sitting on the ground floor of the Freehand Hotel, Simon & the Whale operates throughout the day with a menu of tweaked hotel standards. Chef Matt Griffin makes pork hash with Calabrian chilli (forget the corned-beef version) and bowls of coconut rice porridge in addition to overnight oats and black pepper grits. At both lunch and dinner, there is a little gem tonnato salad, served with bagel chips, and a fish-of-the-day sandwich with fries. The dinner menu has a pork chop with an egg on it. At late night, drinkers heading down from Broken Shaker can order the Simon Burger with jack cheese, tomato aioli, jalapenos and crispy shallots. Location: Freehand Hotel, 23 Lexington Ave. — Bloomberg