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A Chat with Michael Landrum


DonRocks
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Well, Michael, thanks for your time and effort. I'll be paying my maiden visit Friday evening with the parents in tow and we're all really looking forward to it.

Some questions (which should hopefully be applicable to other potential visitors):

With filet being the "safe" choice you'd encourage people to branch out from, are there any cuts or preparations that catch conservative diners off guard? You know, a steak where afterwards the person says "Wow, I normally wouldn't have ordered this, but I had no idea it could taste this good!"

Also, any non-steak items you're particularly proud of this season? The clam chowder mentioned above seemed to get high praise.

Thanks for your attention,

Todd

Well, steak is steak and there are only so many options and people generally like what they like, but rib-eye (which I practically denude and trim exceedingly lean, for rib-eye), strip, hanger and flat-iron, anything diablo style.

I love our soups, it's the only food of mine, well that and the diablo, that I crave on a daily basis and wake up wanting to eat.

Blackened scallops, surprisingly good. Grilled calamari is gone til next summer, sorry.

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I was sitting here thinking (dangerous I know) before I go into yet another pointless interminable meeting.

You know what I'm sick of? Mini-burgers! They just appeared on the menu at a little store I otherwise love (Adega) and it sent me over the edge. THEY'RE DONE. Over. Finished. Finito. Fini. Cooked. Passe. Trite. Hackneyed.

What local culinary trend do you wish would quickly end up on the trash heap of history?

If someone writes a book about restaurants and nobody reads it, will it produce a 10 page thread?

Joe W

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Mini-burgers, mini-flashers, mini-bridges, mini-ranters.

So, Mike, do you get along with the neighbors? Like, the folks at Guajilo? Do they get jealous sometimes that you're maybe more brimming with business than them?

Do you agree with me that the coffee at Greenberry's is terrible, but that the people who work there are so damn nice that you keep going back and back and back for more...

Or do you drink tea?

Good for you for not having a bellyvision at home. So, which books are on your nightstand right now? Who (writers, militants, non-chefs, women) inspires you? Answer how ever you want. Or not at all. :-D

PS: That was you honking? I didn't know you had that color Mercedes!

...

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A side note about Zagat's:  recently Tom Sietsema dismissed its value, saying that he and his friends only use it for addresses, on the grounds that it is based on individual surveys.  What a sad commentary, if you think about it, on the DC dining scene when the person whose job it is to inform the public, and who does a fantastic job of that, says that the public is too uninformed and not trustworthy enough to express its preferences and tastes.  It also says a lot that the tastes of the dining public are not considered valid by the taste-makers and trendsetters.  Maybe that is why there are so few restaurants that people actually enjoy going to.

Ah, I think there's more to it than that. Scientifically speaking, responders differ greatly from non-responders (that's my psych degree - only a BA - speaking).

Plus, whereas I would have gone crazy submitting my comments for Zagat at 21, as 31 approaches, I'm much more inclined to come here post, read and think.

Just my two cents.

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1.  I have always found this question, and I know you didn't mean it this way, Nadya, insulting in a tap-the fish-tank kind of way.  The myth of the chef as an exalted being with tastes and powers beyond those of normal men, who wind down after work with Louis Quinze, DP, caviar, a three-hour romp on their Harley's to find obscure artisanal producers on their way to the free-fall sky-diving championship is just that, a myth and BS PR.  I have seen too many careers, families and livers ruined by people trying to live up to this myth and I have witnessed too many chefs become worthless hacks by actually believing their own PR crap.

Wow!! You are already making my responses look bad. Keep up the good work.

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I work with breed-specific (Hereford and Angus), grain-fed, corn-finished,farm-raised beef from Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas.  Unfortunately, right now with the quantities and aging cycles I work with, I need to work with larger producers.

Do you find any difference between Hereford and Angus? I noticed that most beef in the UK and Europe is sold by both breed and hanging time, so just curious.

And how long do you try to age? And if it's longer than the government maximum 21 days, think of some interesting way to say that without saying that (heh heh heh).

Jake Parrott

Ledroit Brands, LLC

Bringing new and rare spirits to Washington DC.

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Mike, I was eyeing your swinging porch benches in front of RTS tonight. Could I have a mug of clam chowder out there the next time the Pho place closes on me? I was doomed to Cafe Asia tonight.

...

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A pretend chat with Michael Landrum and KansasCityKid:

KCK: Michael what are your favorite steaks? :wub:

ML2000: Well I like alot of steaks, however...

KCK: Okay, thats great. I was wondering if you sleep in your checks or do you dream of tartare recipes. :wub:

ML2000: Thats funny, no I dont sleep in my checks and...

KCK: Thats great. But what I want to really know is why are you steaks sooooo gooood? :wub:

ML2000: Okay, seriously....

KCK: Okay then Im done. :angry:

Now back to the real world, I think what alot of us are missing is that ML2000 is one of the citys best businessmen(if not the best). He's managed to take an unassuming space and turn it into the hottest ticket in town. Now I know its not just because of his New York strip or his hanger steak, and wine alone cant carry a business('cept maybe calvert woodley), or his ability to work the floor like its the high rollers pit at the Bellagio. What it boils down to is his formula, and how he implements said formula. I think the most important questions would be things like:

When you were standing in a big open white room, with some money in your pocket, how on earth did you see a place that would book out 2 weeks in advance?

Why is it that your steaks are priced so low? I know that old crazy Rays furniture blowout joke, but even on a national level you offer beef for next to nothing. It cant be cheap product, we have all tasted your steaks and determined you use nothing but the best. So....why....or how?

How have you managed to sustain a viable restaurant without catering to the pseudo-aristocracy of the dc dining scene?

All in all, I would like to say that I am enamored with the way Michael has executed this operation. From my first visit, I realized that Rays was much, much more than steaks. Its a restaurant and a business, that has restaunteurs and businessmen alike shaking their heads.

Edited by kansascitykid (log)

Justin Ulysses Guthrie

Bar Manager @ Central Michel Richard, Washington D.C.

My posts/statements do not reflect the opinion of my employers Michel Richard & Brian Zipin.

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Why is it that your steaks are priced so low?  I know that old crazy Rays furniture blowout joke, but even on a national level you offer beef for next to nothing. It cant be cheap product, we have all tasted your steaks and determined you use nothing but the best. So....why....or how?

Here's one reaon - take a look at the size and complexity (or lack thereof) of his kitchen and the number of people in it, then do the same at your typical Ruth's Chris or Morton's.

If someone writes a book about restaurants and nobody reads it, will it produce a 10 page thread?

Joe W

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With the question of whether or not DC is a first-rate dining town or not, I would say that you can not claim to have first-rate restaurants or to be a first-rate dining town if you do not have a first-rate dining public.  No one, not even food critics, dismisses Zagat's in NYC, SF or even Boston, where people are savvy enough to know what is good and what they want, so maybe that's the answer right there.

Actually, Zagat's NYC has been roundly trashed on eG and in the NYT.

On a different subject:

Last Saturday I sliced leftover RTS ribeye into a pile of Best Buy cheddar and a couple of spoonfulls of Old El Paso spicy taco sauce and fired the stuff until the cheese got little crusties around the edges but the meat was still pink. The resulting mess, scooped into a flour tortilla was spectacular, even though I wasn't hungover.

My first reaction was surprise and joy and the way the meat helds its own against its aggressivbe and less refined tortilla-mates; it was actually kind of an "oh wow," moment.

My second reaction was that the ill-dressed burrito utterly overwhelmed the wine I was drinking. In this case, that was a good thing. But sometimes I spend more than six bucks for a wine and, given your affection for diablos and similar, high-spice preparations, I thought you might have a suggestion for the kind of butch reds that can fight back when confronted with a sauce more potent than a Bernaise (besides Zinfandel, Zinfandel and Zinfandel).

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Here's one reaon - take a look at the size and complexity (or lack thereof) of his kitchen and the number of people in it, then do the same at your typical Ruth's Chris or Morton's.

Well its all relative, Rays has 50 seats and 3 back of the house. Ruth Chris: 150 seats, 10 back of the house. I dont really think it has to do with ml2000 cutting corners, I think it has more to do with not fleecing the guest.

Justin Ulysses Guthrie

Bar Manager @ Central Michel Richard, Washington D.C.

My posts/statements do not reflect the opinion of my employers Michel Richard & Brian Zipin.

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Michael,

My wife and I were in your restaurant Saturday night and loved the Flat Iron and Hangar steaks. Without giving away too many of your trade secrets, do you have any tips/advice for those that want to cook a steak at home? I've had some good success, however, my steaks taste like puppy chow compared to what we had at RTS Saturday night.

"My cat's breath smells like cat food."

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Mike, I was eyeing your swinging porch benches in front of RTS tonight.  Could I have a mug of clam chowder out there the next time the Pho place closes on me?  I was doomed to Cafe Asia tonight.

Come back into the kitchen, you can have your chowder there. It's too cold on the porch.

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I came up in the business from a much different path than most, and I am therefore much less beholden to certain interests, ways of doing business, and insider's clubs and cliques.  I am therefore more free to speak my mind, and that is a freedom I have worked very hard to earn. 

The restaurant business today is much different than the business that I fell in love with over twenty years ago.  In fact there is much in the industry that I despise and fight against with a passion, and much that I would like to change.

Well, Michael, it's been a few days and I do hope you are ready for a new batch of questions, and no, you do not need to fit it all in two minutes. Pressure, pressure!

With regard to the points raised above, I would adore it beyond all sense if you can elaborate on what obviously is something you care deeply about. What is it that you despise? What would you like to change? Come on, you can't just bring it up and expect to not be asked about it.

Aside from the above, your description of the chef lifestyle/character myth made me laugh very hard. I can so see the type of person you had in mind who believes his own PR and rates himself on the units of arrogance expressed in one day. This makes me appreciate the down-to-earth cooking types I know (few as they are) even more.

Resident Twizzlebum

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I was sitting here thinking (dangerous I know) before I go into yet another pointless interminable meeting.

You know what I'm sick of? Mini-burgers! They just appeared on the menu at a little store I otherwise love (Adega) and it sent me over the edge. THEY'RE DONE. Over. Finished. Finito. Fini. Cooked. Passe. Trite. Hackneyed.

What local culinary trend do you wish would quickly end up on the trash heap of history?

I don't eat out much, so the latest trends are lost on me. Either the food is good or it isn't, and nothing much can change that.

Industry trends that belong in the trash are:

Chefs and owners who do not pay their employees, and even steal their gratuities outright, and piggishly enrich themselves in an obscene gluttonous orgy of stolen wages and livelihoods.

Critics and the community continuing to support those vile thieves.

Chefs who claim that title over more than two establishments and reap the acclaim that comes from others' work without giving the proper credit or fairly sharing the rewards.

The misappropiation and cynical cheapening of other cultures' heritages and cuisines.

Restaurants that treat any one group of guests differently at the expense of another group of guests.

Critics and the community continuing to cheer those above-mentioned trends.

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Do you find any difference between Hereford and Angus?  I noticed that most beef in the UK and Europe is sold by both breed and hanging time, so just curious.

And how long do you try to age?  And if it's longer than the government maximum 21 days, think of some interesting way to say that without saying that (heh heh heh).

I work with Hereford for the cuts where the priority is a rich, robust, intense flavor and a meatier bite--strip and hanger, and with Angus where tenderness is a premium--rib, tenderloin and flat iron. Were I to do Prime Rib I would choose Hereford for it's texture and roast-ability.

I age as long as I can, and we'll just leave it at that.

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Michael,

This has been just fascinating!  So, when's the best time to get a reservation?  I can't interest DH in the Corduroy outing, so he's gonna have to take me to your place.

The best time to get a reservation is when I'm not cooking.

Or you can call the answering machine for our availability up-dates. It may not help you with your table but it is good for a laugh.

Seriously, though, an insider's tip only for e-gulleteers: if you are interested in a day that the machine says we are full, go ahead and leave a message asking that we call you in case of a cancellation. Be flexible and your chances are decent. Mnembergal has worked out a good strategy that he has shared with others, but be advised, his strategy works because we love his kids.

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Now back to the real world, I think what alot of us are missing is that ML2000 is one of the citys best businessmen(if not the best). He's managed to take an unassuming space and turn it into the hottest ticket in town. Now I know its not just because of his New York strip or his hanger steak, and wine alone cant carry a business('cept maybe calvert woodley), or his ability to work the floor like its the high rollers pit at the Bellagio. What it boils down to is his formula, and how he implements said formula. I think the most important questions would be things like:

When you were standing in a big open white room, with some money in your pocket, how on earth did you see a place that would book out 2 weeks in advance?

Why is it that your steaks are priced so low?  I know that old crazy Rays furniture blowout joke, but even on a national level you offer beef for next to nothing. It cant be cheap product, we have all tasted your steaks and determined you use nothing but the best. So....why....or how?

How have you managed to sustain a viable restaurant without catering to the pseudo-aristocracy of the dc dining scene?

All in all, I would like to say that I am enamored with the way Michael has executed this operation. From my first visit, I realized that Rays was much, much more than steaks. Its a restaurant and a business, that has restaunteurs and businessmen alike shaking their heads.

Honestly, I still have no idea what I am doing. I am still making it up as I go.

I just try to do best by the guest and by the house and I let the guest lead me to what that is.

If I have an operating philosophy it would have to be: Every plate, every guest, every table, every night, the restaurant stands or falls on that one thing. And each day you have to build it all from scratch. And I cook each steak like my life depends on it because it does.

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Michael,

My wife and I were in your restaurant Saturday night and loved the Flat Iron and Hangar steaks. Without giving away too many of your trade secrets, do you have any tips/advice for those that want to cook a steak at home? I've had some good success, however, my steaks taste like puppy chow compared to what we had at RTS Saturday night.

At home, get your basic Weber grill and real hardwood charcoal, and then use it, rain or shine, winter or summer. It's worth the time and the frostbite, and the Weber is the best.

If that is not possible get a Lodge cast iron grill pan, not calphalon, Lodge, and season it right. Get it so hot it sets off your smoke detectors. When you can't stand the smoke alarm any more, the steaks are done.

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I don't eat out much, so the latest trends are lost on me.  Either the food is good or it isn't, and nothing much can change that.

Industry trends that belong in the trash are:

Chefs and owners who do not pay their employees, and even steal their gratuities outright, and piggishly enrich  themselves in an obscene gluttonous orgy of stolen wages and livelihoods.

Critics and the community continuing to support those vile thieves.

Chefs who claim that title over more than two establishments and reap the acclaim that comes from others' work without giving  the proper credit or  fairly sharing  the rewards.

The misappropiation and cynical cheapening of other cultures' heritages and cuisines.

Restaurants that treat any one group of guests differently at the expense of another group of guests.

Critics and the community continuing to cheer those above-mentioned trends.

So It's safe to say you won't be first in line at Fat Tony's Panini Hut.

Jarad C. Slipp, One third of ???

He was a sweet and tender hooligan and he swore that he'd never, never do it again. And of course he won't (not until the next time.) -Stephen Patrick Morrissey

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With all the attention recieved lately to Hoof in Mouth here in the States and Mad Cow Disease abroad, could you comment briefly on your views of the current state of affairs of the beef industry. I only ask as with all the dead baby animals I tear through I'm lead candidate for Crutzfeldt-Jacobs.

Edited by HOOLIGAN (log)

Jarad C. Slipp, One third of ???

He was a sweet and tender hooligan and he swore that he'd never, never do it again. And of course he won't (not until the next time.) -Stephen Patrick Morrissey

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Well, Michael, it's been a few days and I do hope you are ready for a new batch of questions, and no, you do not need to fit it all in two minutes.  Pressure, pressure!

With regard to the points raised above, I would adore it beyond all sense if you can elaborate on what obviously is something you care deeply about. What is it that you despise? What would you like to change? Come on, you can't just bring it up and expect to not be asked about it.

Aside from the above, your description of the chef lifestyle/character myth made me laugh very hard. I can so see the type of person you had in mind who believes his own PR and rates himself on the units of arrogance expressed in one day. This makes me appreciate the down-to-earth cooking types I know (few as they are) even more.

Actually, I am surprised that my reponses were not challenged more. What do I have to do to get a rise out of you guys, call my next restaurant DaSteaks???

The one thing I would like to change is this:

Ownership and management are now so far removed from the people doing the work and the guests they serve.

This denies the guest the real experience of hospitality and prevents the guest from sharing and enjoying the fruits of the passion and dedication of those creating his meal and the service that frames and enhances it.

In fact, that passion and dedication themselves are denied a place.

At the same time, dedicated, talented and passionate restaurant professionals are denied the opportunity to have their work count for something. Anything, really. John W., Jared and Jaime, Mark S. and others (apologies for not mentioning you by name, I know you're out there) pull this off, god knows how, though. Houses like Jerry's Seafood, Restaurant Eve, Corduroy, Palena, 2941, Colorado Kitchen, SBC, Ray's and others (again, apologies to those I overlooked) stand in stark contrast to this norm, and the beauty of these houses is that every member of the house counts for something, as does the guest, which is perhaps why they are so well-liked by this forum.

The restaurant business throughout American history has always been an engine for economic empowerment, especially for immigrants and minorities, and has served as the portal of entry into the middle class for countless families and even entire communities.

Today the corporate restaurant is a plantation system specifically designed to deny that opportunity and prevent that advancement. This fact, and its purveyors, sicken me.

If I do have a mission in what I do it is to deny the exploiters who run rampant in the industry today the ability to do business as usual and to bring back a sense of community, purpose and opportunity to the hospitality business by making ownership closer to those served and those who serve.

Oh, and more cowbell. I'd like a lot more cowbell.

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With all the attention recieved lately to Hoof in Mouth here in the States and Mad Cow Disease abroad, could you comment briefly on your views of the current state of affairs of the beef industry. I only ask as with all the dead baby animals I tear through I'm lead candidate for Crutzfeldt-Jacobs.

Ouch! Hit me where it hurts.

I mentioned above that our dependance on the petrochemical industries for our food supply is the single greatest threat to our continued existence. And what you mention are only symptons of that problem.

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