We Love ‘Em Even Though They Blew Us Off.
Andrew Knowlton, deputy editor of Bon Appétit, says Hillstone is the “best-run, most-loved, relentlessly respected restaurant in America.” I agree. That’s why I chose a Hillstone property, Bandera in West LA, for the 5-year DeathbedFood® celebration last night. Toasting with a Tito’s straight-up martini and digging into the Grilled Sea Bass with Parmesan Mashed and Cucumber Salad was the perfect way to celebrate the milestone.
Andrew’s article comforted me beyond validating my venue pick.
First, it’s clear I’m not alone in my love for Bandera, Houston’s, R+D Kitchen, South Beverly Grill and other Hillstone restaurants. In fact, there’s a huge fan base including iconic chefs and restaurateurs like Danny Meyer (Shake Shack) whose regular order is yellowtail sashimi salad and Ding’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich, David Chang (Momofuku) who said the French Dip haunts him, and Jon & Vinny (LA’s Animal and Son of a Gun) who are amazed that these restaurants can duplicate their quality again and again.
Second, but more importantly, Andrew made me feel better about being ignored.
In 2012, I was traumatized when Bandera removed their Mac & Cheese from the menu. I wrote a piece about it, “A Memorial Tribute to Bandera Mac & Cheese.” Knowing this post would do nothing to bring my beloved back, I wrote a follow-up piece about my contact with Hillstone management to plead my case. In “Bandera Mac & Cheese Watch: Hillstone Responds, Time To Act,” I shared the letter I received back from management – a lovely “Thanks, but no thanks” even though they gave me props for being a Banderaholic.
Thank you for forwarding the link to your blog post about Bandera’s Mac & Cheese. We are truly flattered that you hold it in such high esteem. We made the decision to remove that item from the menu due to issues with consistency and execution. As a “Banderaholic,” I am sure you are aware how committed we are to the quality of our food! However, please know I have shared your blog with our executives and culinary team, and that your desire to see the Mac & Cheese reinstated has been heard. Meanwhile, we hope you will find a new favorite on our menu to enjoy.
Thank you again, Diane, and we look forward to serving you again soon.
Warm regards, Laura Biel, Guest Relations
At the time, I considered it to be another blow-off. Was it that restaurants really didn’t care about free, positive publicity? Or was it me? If I were Eater or … Andrew Knowlton of Bon Appetit, would they be nicer? Four years later, I find out the answer is no, at least that is at Hillstone.
When Andrew approached them to do a story, he got a solid “Thanks, but no thanks” also. Andrew Knowlton! Deputy Editor of Bon Appetit!!
When Andrew wrote again saying that he really wanted to do the piece and that he’s their Number 1 fan, the VP again thanked but rejected him!
Then Andrew went in for the third time,
I e-mailed Brian [VP] a final time, pleading my case. I told him how I had grown up in Atlanta going to Hillstone restaurants, how they were my mom’s favorite lunch spot for the Thai steak and noodle salad, how they were the place I’d taken prom dates in high school, and how I thought they had one of the best cheeseburgers on the planet. I assured him that I wouldn’t necessarily need to talk to George Biel, Brian’s father and the founder of the privately held group, who I knew from sources didn’t like to talk to the media. I even included in my appeal that Bon Appétit’s parent company, Condé Nast, is also a family-run business that values its privacy.
That did it. So if it took Andrew that much time, effort, energy and creativity to break into Hillstone, I’m gonna breathe easier knowing that I got a nice blow-off letter.