Le Bernardin is also where this writer was lucky enough to celebrate her most recent birthday, the venue chosen by someone who literally makes his living by having excellent taste in restaurants. So it came as a surprise to see where Ripert celebrated his birthday (actually March 2) this past Saturday. According to his Twitter feed, he was at Tao Downtown, a sprawling, club-like restaurant famed for its bro-friendly atmosphere. A video on his feed shows multiple bottles with sparklers stuck in them and signs reading “Happy Birthday Eric! From Tao Group” and “Happy Birthday Chef” while the DJ spins “In Da Club” and gives a shoutout to “chef.”
Let us be clear: Tao is the opposite of Le Bernardin in every conceivable way. It has been described, by various critics, as “sexless and exhausted” and “the type of restaurant designed for those who refuse to eat from street vendors when traveling abroad.” This might be a good time to note that Ripert is close pals with intrepid international gourmand Anthony Bourdain, the poster child for those who do eat from street vendors when traveling abroad. Tao is reportedly the favorite restaurant of Jonathan Cheban, bestie of the Kardashian clan and possibly the most obnoxious person ever to be profiled in GQ. The restaurant’s name is a punch line among a certain class of NYC women—shorthand for a place where someone might roofie your drink, or at least use “I work in finance” as a pick-up line. It is safe to say no one has ever gone there for the food.
It seems such a vast change of pace from Ripert’s usual milieu that it’s fair to ask whether his visit was a joke: Did he get punk’d by a friend or colleague? Blindfolded and kidnapped and taken to a surprise party thrown in his (dis)honor? If it was, in fact, by choice… Well, I suppose when you’re the king of NYC’s food world, you can do whatever you damn well choose.