The Gin Joint was my first full-length review for The City Paper, and though you can always count on me to write without bias, it has me thinking about our attachments to restaurants. For instance, it’s hard not to be fond of a place you’ve known since it was born. Granted, The Gin Joint is only about two months old. But restaurants are like kids. I should know — not because I have kids, cause I don’t — but because I’ve been lucky enough to staff a lot of newborn restaurants myself.
As a 16-year-old with a passion for cooking, I managed to talk my way into kitchen for what would be my first restaurant job. Little did I know it would be the beginning of a nine-year career where I’d work every job from prep cook (I was absolutely the worst) to bus girl (“Why don’t we try you in front of house, hmm?”) to waitress, hostess, bar-back, bartender, head bartender, and finally, manager. I’ve worked in restaurants everywhere from upstate New York to Manhattan and Nantucket, five of which were newly opening, three of which are still around today.
The passion, excitement, and possibility present when opening a new venue is addictive, and it’s a drug I miss. Getting to attend the soft opening of The Gin Joint, I was able to relive the energy of those start-up days — when the menu is constantly in flux, when front-of-house is still learning the menu and the staff is surreptitiously watching the customers first bite, first sip, out of the corner of their eyes.
Soft opening, the food and service were flawless, and on my recent visit the food was reliably delicious once more — the biggest bone I had to pick (ha-ha) being that so many menu items that had been listed online were nowhere to be found on the real menu. I had the opportunity to talk with the chef, MariElena Raya, after turning in my review (quite irregularly, she and husband Joe had been away from the restaurant), since none of the employees had quite known why, either, so many items were out of stock.
“It’s hard to keep that full of a menu when we’re trying to make everything in house, and when our ingredients have to be so fresh,” she explained. “So we’re making some adjustments to the menu that reflect what’s been most popular.”
The success of a new venue centers on the restaurant’s ability to flex, and the public’s approval and acceptance as new changes are made. MariElena is thinking about going more of the charcuterie route, a la Daniel Boloud’s DBGB in New York, and I certainly think, given the restaurant’s straddling of the dinner/drinks line, it could be an interesting development. In any case, The Gin Joint is one restaurant I’m looking forward to watching as it continues to grow up.