“I’m not really hungry, but I’d like to have reservations someplace.”—David Van Patten (American Psycho, 1991)
In the darkly satirical world of Bret Easton Ellis’ cult novel American Psycho, dining out is a shared obsession among Patrick Bateman and his Wall Street cronies, who brag about reservations at Dorsia and trade stories about the sea urchin at Le Bernardin. For these moneyed, name-dropping yuppies, food is status—it’s not so much what you’re eating, but where and with whom. In fact, they’re usually too drunk or knocked out on Xanax to actually enjoy a meal; instead, they poke at grotesque creations—pasta with fennel and banana, peanut butter soup with smoked duck and mashed squash—while reciting lines cribbed from Gourmet and New York magazine (that peanut butter soup is a “playful but mysterious little dish,” Bateman famously tells his date).
Belt-notching is the name of the game, and the rotating cast of high-rollers is more likely to skewer a dining companion for a supposed faux pas of taste—ordering champagne on the rocks, or pronouncing carpaccio as cappuccino—than say anything original about the restaurants they’re dropping hundreds on.
In hindsight, Bret Easton Ellis’ restaurant scenes read like a perverse, pitch-black Portlandia set in moneyed Manhattan.
More than two decades later, what has really changed? Recently, while re-reading the novel (full disclosure: I’m a huge nerd and wrote my college thesis on its connections to Gothic literature), I wondered what it would look like if it had been set in 2014 instead of the late 1980s—in particular, where would Patrick Bateman eat?
When I first encountered American Psycho, I have to admit I took a lot of the absurdist dish descriptions at face value. My understanding of haute cuisine maxed out at surf and turf back then, so I didn’t fully appreciate the ridiculousness of “free-range squid,” “monkfish ragout with violets,” and “red-snapper pizza.”
Filtered mostly through narration, these comical dishes are a reflection of Bateman’s patched-together personality—just as he mixes up the names of Genesis band members while praising their talent, his grasp of food culture is nothing more than a meaningless word cloud skimmed from menus and magazines. But Ellis was clearly getting his jabs in too, lampooning the pretentiousness of early “foodie” culture in New York. In hindsight, his restaurant scenes read like a perverse, pitch-black Portlandia set in moneyed Manhattan.
Of course, the Batemans of the world are still everywhere you look in New York, prodding at Wagyu sliders over after-work drinks and making their secretaries stay up late to score a pair of counter seats at Sushi Nakazawa. However, there are some key differences distinguishing Bateman’s New York from today’s dining culture:
- The popularity of nouvelle cuisine and fusion. Some of the foodie tropes referenced in the book could easily pass in 2014—excitement over seasonal “fiddlehead ferns” at Pastels, for example, or Bateman’s irrational fixation on a hot new “Salvadorian bistro.” But the novel is also a time capsule of a culinary moment marked by head-scratching exoticism (“pilot fish with tulips and cinnamon”), ubiquitous Cajun and Southwestern influence (“blackened redfish” and “quail stuffed into blue corn tortillas garnished with oysters in potato skins”), and baroque plating (“yellowish marmalade circling the plate in an artful octagon, cilantro leaves circling the marmalade, chili seeds circling the cilantro leaves”). There’s also endive everywhere in the book. These elements feel particularly outmoded, though you could argue that they’ve simply been replaced by newer trends—these days, Bateman and the guys would probably be quoting Pete Wells one-liners about New Nordic cuisine and obsessing over “that Sichuan dive” they read about on Grub Street. Oh, and that endive would be kale, natch.
- The absence of celebrity chefs. Amid all the dining one-upsmanship in American Psycho, it’s notable that none of the characters ever mention chefs or restaurateurs—a huge difference from today. (The closest they come is when Bateman says he’s going to “Vanities, the new Evan Kiley bistro in Tribeca” for a date with Bethany, and later getting incensed at the news that she is dating the Dorsia chef and co-owner Robert Hall.) The characters are more hung up on novelty than who’s in the kitchen, arguing about “California classic cuisine” versus “post-California cuisine.” Ironically, modern-day mooks might be even less critical, content to brag that they’re going to a “Michael White restaurant” and leave it at that. Patrick would definitely watch Food Network religiously.
- The reliance on Zagat. “I brought the trusty Mr. Zagat,” Van Patten says to his buddies at drinks one night, waving the crimson booklet in the air like it’s the ticket a magic kingdom. Needless to say, whipping out a Zagat would get you laughed out of the room by anyone under 50 these days, but Ellis’ world is largely analog, with no Blackberries blinking on the table and no OpenTable reservations. In addition to Zagat, Bateman’s food bibles are New York and Gourmet—he follows their recommendations blindly, and memorizes lines that will make him look smart at dinner. In 2014, I imagine that he would be a slave to the Eater Heat Map and the Times review, and he would say things like, “Pete Wells called this dish the most soulful foie gras he’s ever tasted!” He would also force his secretary Jean to refresh the Momofuku reservations page until she scored a pair of seats at Ko. He might even snap a few food pics at dinner while surfing Tinder for women to murder.
- Smoking in restaurants. It was always jarring to read scenes where Evelyn is so loaded up on anti-depressants that she can barely sit up straight. These days, it’s doubly so because of her penchant to light up at the table—something that hasn’t happened since the smoking ban of 2003.
One thing that remains constant between the decades is the ennui associated with dining out. In a chapter titled “At Another New Restaurant,” Patrick goes to Luke, a “superchic nouvelle Chinese restaurant that also serves, oddly enough, Creole cuisine.” Sound familiar? One day you’re eating at a “primitive modern” joint in Williamsburg (remember Isa?), and the next you’re tucking into “Japanese-Venetian” fare near Union Square (been to All’onda yet?). Before you know it, they all sort of blend into one another. That California-Sicilian place Patrick really wants to try could easily exist today.
Recently, rumors have circulated about a possible TV sequel to American Psycho, set in the present day. As a huge fan of the book and a relatively big fan of the film adaption, I’m duly concerned about this development. But it did get me thinking: Where would Patrick Bateman eat, drink, and party in contemporary New York? Well, let’s see…
The Patrick Bateman Dining Guide: 2014 Edition
Here’s a short list of some of the restaurants, bars, and clubs that Patrick Bateman frequents in American Psycho, as well as their contemporary equivalents.
Then: Luke, a “nouvelle Chinese restaurant” that has Creole influences and charges $20 for “moo shu custard, lightly grilled” (a.k.a., “a fucking egg roll”).
Now: Red Farm, a farm-to-table dim sum spot that has Jewish-American influences, charges $20 for beef fried rice, and serves an egg roll stuffed with Katz’s pastrami. (Photo: Liz Barclay)
Then: Deck Chairs, a hot spot with high ceilings, “New Age” remixes on the stereo, and “post-California cuisine.” Patrick goes on a double-date here to try the “blackened medium-rare redfish.”
Now: Today it would be more like “post-Alice Waters”—farm-to-table cooking remixed for young, black-card-strapped diners—and the tunes would probably be acoustic versions of ’90s hip-hop classics, but the general vibe would probably be similar. I think you’d find Bateman bored at Jean-George’s ABC Kitchen, sitting at a table full of people droning on about the importance of composting. (Photo: ABC Cocina)
Then: Flutie’s, a restaurant at South Street Seaport that was owned by quarterback Doug Flutie.
Now: Clyde’s Wine & Dine, the sports bar and restaurant near MSG where you can often find Knicks legend Walt Clyde Frazier holding court in one of his distinctively garish suits. (Photo: Clyde’s Wine & Dine)
Then: The crew is impressed with McDermott for scoring a reservation at Pastels, where everyone seems to be drinking champagne and eating red-snapper pizza. It’s here that Patrick narrates the famous line, “I’m on the verge of tears by the time we arrive at Pastels since I’m positive we won’t get seated but the table is good, and relief that is almost tidal in scope washes over me in an awesome wave,” which is remixed when he goes to a place called Espace in the film version.
Now: Lots of seafood, champagne, and mooks? The new Pastels would have to be Marea, the jewel in Michael White’s crown. That red-snapper pizza would be replaced on everyone’s table by the already-iconic fusilli with red wine-braised octopus and bone marrow. (Photo: Liz Barclay)
Then: Barcadia appears multiple times in the novel and seems to be a go-to hot spot for Patrick—the next best thing to Dorsia (he even tries to justify it to Evelyn by saying “it’s twice as expensive”). We get a few concrete facts about it—”the tables are well spaced, the lighting is dim and flattering, the food Nouvelle Southwestern”—but the food is all over the place, from peanut-butter soup to chèvre tinted pink with pomegranate juice.
Now: We’d find Patrick suffering through mind-numbing dates at the NoMad, where the team behind Eleven Madison Park has created a buzzier—and slightly more accessible—alternative to the city’s vaunted four-star restaurants. He’d get the chicken for two, stuffed with foie gras and scented with black truffles, and complain that Evelyn didn’t touch it. (Photo: Liz Barclay)
Then: Dorsia, the toughest reservation in town and a constant source of anxiety for Patrick, who can never get in.
Now: Dorsia is one of the novel’s most clearly fictionalized restaurants, but in terms of sheer impenetrability and prestige, a modern analogue might be Per Se. However, you can bet that the maître d’ at Thomas Keller’s establishment wouldn’t laugh at you for trying to book a table—she’d just politely tell you no. (Photo: Wikipedia)
Then: Le Bernardin, which apparently has the best “sea urchins” in town.
Now: Le Bernardin—Eric Ripert is still the city’s most celebrated haute seafood chef, and now he’s got a refurbished dining room for Bateman to drink heavily in. (Photo: Le Bernardin)
Then: Union Square Cafe, where Patrick likes the “smashed turnips.”
Now: Danny Meyer’s trailblazing restaurant remains relevant as a classic NYC restaurant, but Bateman and Co. would probably have moved on to the buzzier room at Gramercy Tavern by now. (Photo: Facebook/Gramercy Tavern)
Then: Indochine, the Vietnamese-inspired fashionista hang where Patrick trolls for models.
Now: Acme, the New Nordic fashionista hang where Patrick would troll for models. (Photo: Acme)
Then: River Cafe, the only restaurant that can lure Patrick and his town car to another borough.
Now: Though it’s completely different in spirit than the old-school River Cafe (which recently reopened after suffering severe damage during Sandy), Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare—the only three Michelin-star restaurant in Brooklyn—would be Patrick’s new Kings County obsession. I’d pay good money to hear him try to describe a modern 20-course tasting menu. (Photo: Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare)
Then: Texarkana, a Cajun restaurant in Greenwich Village where Patrick takes Paul Owen in one of the most memorable scenes of the American Psycho film (key quote: “the mud soup and charcoal arugula are outrageous”). According to a Times review by Mimi Sheraton in 1983, it served “high-style Gulf Coast specialties” and attracted a “young-spirited, attractively costumed crowd.”
Now: The Cajun wave has been replaced by a trend toward more impressionistic Southern flavors in NYC, but Bateman would get his fix of “elevated” Dixieland grub at Maysville, where he’d be pissed that he had to drink bourbon instead of J&B on the rocks. (Photo: Facebook/Maysville)
Then: Au Bar is a popular hang out for Patrick’s Wall Street croneys when they’re coked out and cruising for chicks.
Now: They wouldn’t have to look far for a replacement. The Vegas import Lavo now stands at the same location—a mook’s paradise of bottle service and oversize meatballs. (Photo: Lavo)
Other places Patrick would definitely go: Arlington Club, Charlie Bird, The Dutch, Carbone, Beauty & Essex, Quality Italian
Further reading: Check out Scouting NY’s excellent look at the real restaurants and bars of American Psycho, and what they are now.