Crown Chef John DeLucie on Catering to the Elite
Photo courtesy John DeLucie Want a mushroom omelet? John DeLucie will happily make you one.
John DeLucie is a chef who knows how to bring the New York elite to his restaurants. He was notably the chef at the impossible-to-get-reservations-at Waverly Inn, before replicating that magic at the Lion. His latest venture is Crown (24 East 81st Street, 646-559-4880), a decidedly fancier affair on the Upper East Side that opened a few months ago. We called him up to learn more about his opinions on fine dining and the crazy rich patrons who frequent his restaurant.
So Crown has been open for a few months now. How have things been going?
I'd say things are going beyond expectation. We are doing an upscale restaurant. I think it was the New York Post critic who said that it's comfort food for millionaires, and I am using that to describe it. It's a funny way of saying it.
How do you feel about fine dining?
It depends. The future is certainly the casualization of the New York City restaurant. Our Lion restaurant is fairly casual. But [at Crown] we're on 81st between Fifth and Madison, so it changed the dynamic of our customers. It's all about what the market will bear. We serve caviar. If you're a restaurant on Clinton Street, you're probably not selling caviar. You'll always have your Le Bernardins and your Daniels, but overall, there will be more places like the Lion.
Do you eat a lot of fancy food?
Personally, I'm a simple guy. I grew up in the suburbs. I like veal parm.
Why is it that all your restaurants seem to cater to New York's elite?
You know, hell if I know. I had an opportunity to open the Waverly Inn with Graydon [Carter] and cooked chicken pot pie and macaroni and cheese. Then it just sort of went from there. I can't say I set out to do that; you just find your niche and do what works.
What should someone who's never been to Crown order?
Jason Hall is our executive chef, and it's really a team effort. There's a fantastic mushroom salad as an appetizer. We have two really great handmade pastas and a Taylor Bay scallop dish. And we have our pastry chef, Heather Bertinetti, doing a fabulous chocolate soufflé. It's just really sublime.
Do customers ever order ridiculous things off-menu?
Not so much, but it's funny when people do come and order stuff. We have an amazing menu at Crown and the Lion, and we had someone come in and order a mushroom omelet or a bowl of white rice. And we happily do it. We've also had someone order a côte de boeuf for their dog. It costs $125!