Pushing the Gospel West

Tom Schaudel says he gets accused of having “restaurant ADD,” because he opens a new restaurant every couple of years. But, he points out, Mario Batali has loads of restaurants, and nobody says that about him. Schaudel’s successes include CoolFish in Syosset, and A Mano and A Lure, both on the North Fork, and many consulting gigs. His latest, most ambitious project is Jewel at Rubie Corporate Plaza in Melville.

“The bar is very high these days for big restaurants, and people want to be wowed,” Schaudel says during a dinner in the Chef’s Room. “Like Daniel [Boulud’s restaurant] in the city; his benefactor was the Sultan of Brunei,” says Schaudel, who is prone to hyperbole. “How do you compete with that? If you’re going to enter that arena, you have to do something spectacular.”

Schaudel’s business partner is Marc Beige, owner of Rubie’s Costume Company and the Rubie Corporate Plaza on Route 110. The new, faceted mirror-glass building, located amid a number of corporate headquarters, was quickly nicknamed “the Jewel of the 110 corridor,” and is the inspiration for the restaurant’s name.

Jewel is rather spectacular. “I wanted an organic feel, but I also wanted it to be a little over the top,” says Schaudel. He worked with Sharon Dallago-Genden of East Rockaway–based design firm Dallago Associates Inc. to get the right effect. The interior is resplendent with glass baubles and twinkling lights, a large window into the kitchen, smoky glass partitions separating private dining spaces, and table lamps hanging upside-down over the blue-lit bar just for fun. The colors are muted sepias, blues and natural woods, so the feeling is sophisticated and not at all Vegas, except for the pièce de résistance, the men’s bathroom; designed 100 percent by Schaudel, it will make every man feel like a celebrity.

Moving on to the food and wine: “The vision is a restaurant for Long Islanders by Long Islanders,” Schaudel says. “I have always stayed true to the ’hood, but I want to make more of a statement with this. We use a lot of local farms, local produce.” Jewel’s wine list is heavy on Long Island; 130 out of 300 wines are local, including wines from small producers, like the 2007 Leo Family Red.

“I took a big stand with the wine,” Schaudel says. “Out here in western Suffolk, people just aren’t that familiar with it, and I want to change that. We sold 65 cases of Long Island wine in the first two months—those are unheard-of numbers for this area.”

The food is American modern: fresh, high-end yet straightforward, with portions geared toward people who actually eat. No fussy little towers or edible bubbles or whatever. “You can get away with that stuff in the city, but not here,” Schaudel says. The tasting menu, a parade of small dishes that included a perfect bit of raw fish, crabmeat in mango sauce, a braised pork ravioli and a nice lamb chop went very well with our bottle of 2007 Merliance merlot.

We had a great experience, but no matter how exquisite the decor, how fresh the food and local the wine, there will always be diners who fail to enjoy themselves. Schaudel, whose book Playing with Fire is all about impossible customers, tells of a woman who came to Jewel just after it opened in late 2011. The woman wanted a Caesar salad customized to the point where it was unrecognizable, and then wanted it made all over again, because, Schaudel says, “If she just picked out the croutons herself, she wouldn’t be torturing anyone.” Her companions paid up and left. The woman removed 10 dollars from the tip and expressed her displeasure to Schaudel. He told her that he was trying very hard to give a damn, but he just couldn’t, sorry.

Sometimes he wonders why he keeps going. “I’m pushing 60 and I just want to sit around playing Jimi Hendrix on my guitar,” he says. But then someone comes along with a great location, or wants him to consult and…. So yes, of course, Schaudel has another project in the works, but it’s a secret for now.

“I’m like a crackhead when it comes to restaurants,” he says.

Gwendolen Groocock is the editor of the Greenport Guide, and writes about food, wine, travel and mommyhood from her home in Greenport.