Of course the question on every diner's mind is not which restaurants will open this year. It's which ones of the slew will survive the season and which ones the media will feed on like carrion. Fortunately I have come up with a foolproof method of predicting the formative successes and failures. And it has nothing to do with the chefs the restaurateurs employ, the type of cuisine they serve (which has become so boringly predictable that it couldn't predict much anymore), or the surroundings in which they present it. Instead my system is based on the numbers. Numerology to be exact. Hans Decoz writes in his book Numerology that, "Numbers can be seen as archetypes.... The personality of each number is so clear and defined that once you get to know the numbers, you will be able to predict each number's response to any given situation." As it applies to restaurants, if I can determine each eatery's "number," I should be able to analyze it and thus hazard a guess as to how the public will respond to it.
A restaurant's number is easily determined from its name. Each letter of the alphabet has been assigned a number from one through nine (numerology deals only with single-digit numbers except for the "master" numbers of eleven and twenty-two). For instance A = one, B = two, et cetera. By adding up these numerical values and then reducing them to a single digit (twenty-one would become three by adding the two and the one), you come up with a single number.
Let's look at an actual restaurant. Diners might think that Azul, the opulent eatery in the new Mandarin Oriental, Miami, on Brickell Key, is not only destined for success but it also will be impervious to criticism given the substantial lineage of the hotel chain. Moreover Michelle Bernstein, former chef-owner of The Strand, is at the helm, and her fusion-French cuisine has attracted a serious following. And tallying the whole-name "expression" number for Azul, derived by adding together all the letters of a name, it comes up a six. Sixes are creative and artistic and extract a deep love and appreciation from those who encounter them. They do well in businesses that focus on people. On the surface Azul sounds like a slam dunk. But Azul's consonant ("personality") number, which is achieved by adding only the consonants of the name, is eleven. The eleven personality, as it turns out, is both unstable and overly vulnerable. "Even minor criticism ... can have a devastating effect," writes Decoz. "They are easy prey." Azul will have to tread carefully and work hard to provide a positive experience for the Everydiner, or word of mouth will ruin it. Even one negative review could cause Azul to experience a media backlash along the lines of the one faced by Mayya.
AcQua, the restaurant forthcoming in the former Mezzanotte space in South Beach, could be in the same boat as Azul. AcQua's personality number also is eleven. Julia Line, author of The Numerology Workbook, notes, "Elevens are expected to be brilliant -- humanitarian, artistic, spiritual, individual, and a source of inspiration." Impossibly high standards? Perhaps. But AcQua will be run by the Tantra people, who appreciate a good reputation at the moment. And the curse of the eleven could be offset by the expression number, which is seven. Sevens, it seems, are refined, cool, and aloof, and do well in business because they are unaffected by emotional pitfalls. For a restaurant in Miami, that translates to exclusive appeal: velvet ropes at the door, reservations that are hard to score, and ridiculously high prices.
Enter Nobu, another whole-name seven. Run by famed Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa and his partner, Robert De Niro, Nobu has been the most anticipated opening of the season. In fact we've been talking about the restaurant, which will debut in the Shore Club in South Beach, since last season. But Nobu has more going for it than a proven track record and a sterling buzz: It's got a consonant number that also is seven, which Decoz says is "mysterious and different." Nothing piques a jaded diner's interest more than those two words. Nobu, no doubt, has fate on its side.
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Pearl, the recently renovated seafood restaurant at Penrod's in South Beach, is the third seven of the season. So maybe it has a shot at being a happening kind of place. For one thing Pearl is not only a whole-name seven; it's a consonant seven. Consonant sevens "appear cool, calm, collected, and somehow different from everyone else. They look capable and as if they should be able to handle any situation with poise and the utmost efficiency," Line writes. Penrod's has been trying for some years to overcome its wet-T-shirt image; Pearl could be the vehicle to drive it toward some culinary recognition.
You might have noticed by now that one-word names are in fashion this season. Along with Azul, Nobu, and Pearl, Suva will soon appear on the South Beach market. Formerly NOA's space, Suva is owned by China Grill Management, and actress Marisa Tomei is a partner. Its cuisine is being touted as "tropical island." But more significant than its pedigrees are Suva's numbers: As a whole-number nine, Suva should know that it's subject to impatience. Suva's proprietors will work toward perfection, but it's possible they could become frustrated before achieving it. Indeed nines are their own worst critics. But those impulses will be counteracted by Suva's consonant number five, which will ensure a certain sensuality to the restaurant. Additionally fives are known for having nervous energy and an adventurous spirit.
Located in the downtown Hyatt hotel, where Hamilton's used to reign, Japengo is a five on the whole-name side of things. For Japengo the number signals free-spiritedness and an interest in exotic lands, which is spelled out by the restaurant's Pacific Rim menu and Eastern-oriented décor. The eatery will be benefited by its consonant number two, a digit that is associated with warm, unpretentious behavior and harmonious surroundings. Of course an upscale crowd might find such refined grace boring, and Japengo should be aware that it could become "the blank tablet for others' projections. People may underestimate [its] strength," Decoz believes.
But of all the restaurants scheduled to open this season, the one most discussed is the one that has yet to determine its standing in the area: Diamond Cabaret. Located in the Albion Hotel and conceptualized in part by Bobby Rifkin of Touch, the cabaret wants to showcase adult entertainment in a fine-dining atmosphere. Proponents of Lincoln Road as a family oriented walking mall find the idea inappropriate. Should they worry? According to the numbers, not yet. Diamond Cabaret turns out to be a whole-name eleven, which means it will be devoted to the community and, according to Line, "take the lead in public/civic affairs ... and always be modest and unassuming." So much for beefcake with your beef and a little look-see with your Touch. Speaking of Touch, it's a 22, the only restaurant I've found to have 22 as its whole-name number. Twenty-two, in fact, is a master number, as is Diamond Cabaret's eleven, and as such is the most powerful and successful of all the numbers. Decoz writes that it could "turn the most ambitious of dreams into reality." Maybe there is something to fret about, after all, unless the restaurant fulfills its worst-case scenario. Decoz theorizes, "If not practical, 22s waste their potential." Numerology aside, there couldn't be a better summary of advice for new restaurants.I suppose it was symbolic that the day I returned to work, my mailbox was overstuffed like a ballot box with press releases and invitations. And I guess it was an omen that on the drive to the office, I witnessed an inordinate number of turkey vultures dive-bombing something dead on the sidewalk. Clearly while I had been on maternity leave, events of great momentum had occurred. We still didn't have a president, but we did have a new season to examine.