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Chats / John Winterman of Bâtard

 

From James Beard award wins to Michelin stars, TriBeCa’s Bâtard restaurant has had a wildly successful start, to say the least. A large part of that success is due to managing partner, John Winterman. A leader in the hospitality industry, John is no stranger to fine dining and excellent service. Before opening the upscale European restaurant, he was the maître d’hôtel of Daniel where he became a certified sommelier and artisanal cheese connoisseur. Our CEO and Marketing Director sat down with John to chat about Bâtard, his perfect day in New York, guilty pleasure foods, and more.

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Tell us about your tremendous success and the people that have helped shape it. 

Outside of Markus [Glocker] and myself, the people who’ve helped shape it would be the staff. There are a lot of hard-working people behind the scenes that are amazing, and some of them have been here since day one. It’s one thing to have a vision, but neither Markus nor myself nor our partner, Drew Nieporent, can execute a vision entirely on our own. We had to get people to give us input that may be contradictory to what we’re trying to do. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but you have to be willing to listen. 

What was winning a Michelin star like?

The Michelin star was a nice surprise because we didn’t expect it, especially opening in late May [2014] like we did. The idea that Markus already had 2 Michelin stars, obviously that doesn’t carry over, but he would be on their radar. Opening in May just meant that we were hoping for the following year to get a star. We thought we opened too late in review season for it, so it was a very nice surprise. When we got the call, we were like little kids.

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…and the James Beard award?

We took it as an honor to be on the semi-finalist list. We took it as an honor to be on the finalist list. There are some great restaurants out there and some great competition, so all we kept thinking was just, ‘we’re happy to be here.’ When we got to the awards ceremony, people kept saying, ‘good luck tonight, you deserve it,’ and when they called our name, I had this feeling like I was Michael Jordan hitting that final shot against the Jazz, where he just jumped up and was pumping his fist. 

It’s been almost a year since then. What does the future hold for Bâtard?

Bâtard is going to evolve subtly. The next step for Markus, Drew and myself is looking for a space to open up a different restaurant. But regarding Bâtard, you could argue that people can be a victim of their own success. It was great getting all of those honors straight out of the gate, like best new restaurant and the other awards. The flip side of that, is that people think they can’t get in. So there are nights where we’d like to be busier – especially those ‘New Yorker nights,’ like Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, where New Yorkers are going out to avoid the crowds. It’s easy to fill up on a Friday or Saturday, but I think there are definitely a lot of people out there who don’t even try to come in because they automatically assume that we are too busy.

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A lot of restaurants that have that success have that problem of people thinking, ‘I’ll never get in.’ There are restaurants I, myself, haven’t tried because I have that mindset. There are lots of ways to get into a restaurant as long as you’re flexible with where you sit and the timing. You may not be able to come in at 7:30pm, but try earlier, later – even sitting at the bar.

Things that we plan to do with Bâtard include new lamp pendants for the bar, new chairs, some dividers – it’s a never ending process. We’re even looking at the menus and have decided to redesign them. There is a constant reexamination of what you’re doing.

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What is the perfect order at Bâtard? 

We are transiting right now to an early spring menu. I would definitely tell you to get the tuna, which is done partially carpaccio style and partially tartare style. There are maybe six ingredients on the plate: toasted quinoa, a little yuzu, a touch of lemon, soy sauce – that’s a really light and refreshing way to begin. Next, we have a turbot dish coming on. It’s a stellar dish for the spring. It’s going to include chive blossoms and poached egg. We just put on [the menu] a doppio pasta dish that is sort of like a ravoli with a split in it. There are fresh herbs on one side and braised rabbit on the other. We’re doing that with a rabbit reduction stock and some grated aged gouda.

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You would definitely have to have the veal, which we just put back on the menu recently. It’s wrapped in this Italian sandwich bread which holds in the moisture. It’s really soft and tender, but gets nice and crispy so you have this really great texture.

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Milk Bread is also going back on the menu. A ton of people order it. It’s a very thick brioche that is soaked in milk for about five minutes and then glazed with a caramel sauce which hardens so it has a beautiful crispy shell. It’s served with huckleberries and crème fraîche. It’s really light – it doesn’t sound like it, but it is very nice. If you want to do a cocktail, we just put on an old cocktail called The Knickerbocker, which is rum-based with raspberry. A lot of people seem to enjoy it. The cocktail I would personally order here is the rosemary-infused Old Fashioned. I could drink that anywhere, anytime.  We also have one of the best wine lists in New York and are known for our burgundy options.

What makes the perfect front of house man or woman? 

An excellent front of the house person is someone who strives to do very well. It’s someone who has empathy, but at the same time can take into consideration the entire dining room. You want to be empathetic to a diner who is an hour late, but at the same time you need to care for the people who are coming in at 9pm and have been waiting for their table. Make everyone feel like you’re on their side. You have to have this ability to question yourself and to be questioned. Sometimes you have to stand up to principal and sometimes you have to bend and not break. Here’s an example: a party came in two hours late. Instead of turning them away and putting them out in the cold, I gave them my card. I said, ‘you are going to get a reservation here. But for now, I’m going to put you up at another restaurant.’ I called a place down the street, explained the situation, got them a table, and they had a great time. They will come back here and remember that I didn’t treat them like assholes.

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What ingredient do you find to be highly underrated?

I honestly feel like it’s cucumber. It’s one of those things that people just think, ‘oh, you chop it or you marinate it,’ but I find it extraordinarily refreshing in a lot of ways. I also like to cook cucumber. It adds an interesting dimension. It’s one of those things that I tend to look for at a lot of places. I love cucumber sandwiches at English tea – the texture, that snap! Another underrated ingredient is mayonnaise. I cannot get enough mayonnaise in my life.

What about overrated foods?

Hamburgers. When it comes down to it, it’s a burger. It’s a satisfying food you eat with your hands. It’s a sandwich. It’s essentially a salted piece of grilled meat. It’s not a bone-in ribeye. I love a good burger, but I don’t find it to be an art form. And I can say the same about tacos and ramen.

Describe your perfect day in New York.

There are 100-thousand perfect days in New York. My recommendation is Buvette to start. I love going there for breakfast. I go there about six times a year, which is not enough. The thing I love about Buvette is that you can begin and end your day with it, since they serve ’til 2 o’clock in the morning. It puts you right in the heart of the West Village. Next, and I know it’s going to sound a little obvious, but The High Line is a great thing to do, especially since they opened the third section and you can see the massive Hudson Yards project from up there. For me, there are some museum choices out there, most obviously, The Met, but you can get lost there. If you are going to go there, pick a specific area and concentrate on it. Otherwise, go to the Neue Galerie. It’s small enough to get in, spend an hour, enjoy a Viennese coffee and pastry at Café Sabarsky, and move on. The perfect day for me also includes going The King Cole bar in the St. Regis. I think it’s a great spot. I just love that bar – I love the mural and I can gaze at it all day. If the weather’s nice, I go across the street to the Peninsula rooftop bar. For me, I like a little element of sophistication. My perfect day would also include tickets to a broadway production. Markus and I have recently become big supporters of Roundabout Theatre.

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If you want to start the late night on a good note, Wallflower is a great place to go and is run by a bartender that used to be at Daniel. It’s only a few tables and a few seats at the bar. I like the fact that he is not trying to fool you. He really has a foundation in the classics and in his smart flavor combinations. He creates drinks that are interesting and imminently drinkable. They are really delicious. I can’t imagine talking about a perfect day in New York without mentioning Le Bernandin. It’s my go-to spot for occasions, even just for the occasion of celebrating that you’re not dead yet! Every time I walk in there I feel like I’m pampered, like Mr. Biggelsworth — that’s just what they do. 

You have a unique style – where do you shop for clothing? 

Mr Porter is my go-to. They also have a great guide to style. I have to give a nod to the gentlemen down at The Ludlow Shop at 50 Hudson, as well. I have a few pieces from Richard James Saville Row and I also have a thing for Billy Reid. I have these snake skin boots from him. I’ll probably be buried in those – they are stunning. I get shirts made in Seoul, like five at a time. I love the magazine The Rake, it gives really good style inspiration.

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…and what about interior decor?

I get basic stuff at Room&Board. I have a few pieces from Baxter & Liebchenthey used to be in Dumbo and now they’re in TriBeCa. They tend to specialize in Danish, vintage, modern furniture. We have curtains made in Korea, a rug we bought in Turkey. Two years ago I really wanted a vintage ski poster but didn’t want to go to posters.com. We ended up tracking down this illustrator who did a signed lithograph, and it’s this huge poster that’s in my stairwell now. We also have a few pieces from One Kings Lane. My apartment is a pretty eclectic mishmash of styles, but it all seems to work together somehow.

Let’s talk seasonality. What is your favorite restaurant to go to each season?

In the spring, it’s Gramercy Tavern. You can argue that Gramercy Tavern is good to visit any season, though. Spring, especially. I love walking into the restaurant with the high ceilings, the floral displays, the smells when you walk in there, the options of sitting at the bar, sitting in the tavern or sitting in the dining room. I think [Chef Michael Anthony’s] cooking is extremely fresh and seasonal. I’m always surprised and delighted every time I dine there. I’ve never had a bad experience – or even an average experience! I always leaving thinking, ‘when can I go back?’

In the summer, it’s Stone Park Cafe in Park Slope. They’re right off of the park and have great outdoor seating on a big, wide sidewalk. I’ve come to know the staff really well and whenever I come in for brunch, they immediately hand me a Bloody Mary. Even if you don’t know them, they are so welcoming and happy to see you. I’ve even had days where I go there for brunch and then come back later to sit at the bar. I like that there are old favorites on the menu that don’t change much. It has a great neighborhood feel and you wind up seeing the same people week after week. I’m extremely comfortable dining there.

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In the fall, I get back into my Minetta Tavern phase. I love ordering some bone marrow or a New York strip, and sitting in one of the banquettes. Every time I walk in, I feel like having a martini.  For dessert, I always have to order a soufflé. I’m a sucker for a soufflé.

In the winter, I love Keens. There’s something about the prime rib that’s primordial. It’s just so satisfying on a basic level. I would pick it over any steakhouse. It has the feel of old New York.

What is your guilty food pleasure?

Doritos. I don’t buy them, though. If I do, I will eat the whole bag.

How do you take your coffee? 

If I can quote Alexander Petrovsky from Sex and the City, ‘regular coffee is for regular people.’ I drink espresso. Once it hits 11am, I am downing, like, ten double espressos.

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What are some of your favorite spots to grab a drink around the city?

WallflowerThe Dead Rabbit / Smith + Mills / King Cole Bar / Bull+Bear at the Waldorf / Maison PremiereStone ParkThistle Hill

What’s your go-to drink at a bar?

Beer. I like most beers – it’s all across the board. I love cocktails, too, but I tend to stay classic. I like a great gin martini. I’m a big believer in enjoying whatever someone has to offer. I tend to order what is best at each place , as long as it’s in the proper context.

Where is your favorite travel destination?

Skiing in Arlberg, Austria. The town had one of the first ski schools and produced many Olympians. The little town I stay in has 38 total buildings. The hotel is family-owned. It’s not a huge, Ibiza-style, party-scene type of place, but they do have a very discreet party scene. There is a very limited number of things to do. If you want to go to an after-hours club, there’s about three options. The ski scene is great, though. If you’re on the mountain, you don’t have to wait in a buffet line to get nachos or something – the food is delicious and there is waiter service. They have great weather and great sun bars with heat lamps. Most of the hotels are considered half-board, so they include breakfast and dinner, which is nice. You feel like, “(sighs) I’m home.” I’ve been there eight years in a row for four or five days at a time, and I feel like I’ve lived there. 

What’s one thing you want to do before you die?

Go to Burma and see the temples of Bagan.

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What, to you, makes an excellent concierge?

I think it’s a very noble title. People who make a phone call or walk you to a table are not concierges. It’s so much more than that – it’s caring about someone, it’s about hospitality and service. If you can’t get the 7:30pm spot at Carbone, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad concierge. What you can do is offer options. It’s about showing that you can take care of them and go above and beyond. It’s about building relationships.

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BATARD / 239 W BROADWAY BETWEEN WALKER + WHITE STREETS