The RULES:  the Most Interesting Restaurant in the World

A Restaurant Review by Lawrence de Tyle,   January, 2014

I have submitted restaurant reviews to this newspaper for 24 years and have eaten more meals than I can count but I have never come across anything like “the Rules”, not in any respect at all.  Why I am submitting this review for your consideration? Because, awesome.

I must suppose it is a restaurant, as it serves food, although sometimes patrons are asked to leave before they eat any food at all.  They also charge for the food they serve, although sometimes they charge nothing at all and if patrons ask questions about the single slip of paper they get with a single number on it as their “bill” they are then given an itemized list for food and services that totals considerably more than the initial amount on the flimsy slip of paper unceremoniously presented either at the end of their meal or at the end of the time the proprietors want them in their establishment.  But there is so much about this place that makes it not like a restaurant and more like, well, a visit to an art house.  

“The Rules” bills itself as “the Rules: the most interesting restaurant in the world” and this seems apropos, as it may be, in the end, more of a curiosity or outright entertainment experience than a restaurant.  For certain it is not at all typical of anything else that bills itself or can be described as a restaurant or café or bistro.  And what exactly makes it the “most interesting”?  Well, what doesn’t? (More on this in a moment.)

This establishment appears on our scene with the backing of a few names unknown in the world of fine dining.  ‘Bill and Phil’, as they prefer to be known, give out little more information about themselves nor about a rather mysterious dark, exquisitely dressed, male figure who looks about the rooms and whispers to Bill or Phil from time to time, but to no one else.  More is known of the master chefs who are responsible for the cuisine that is extraordinary in more ways than heretofore known.  Something mightily attractive needed to be offered to these three superstars to secure their participation in the event or attraction or show that is “the Rules”.  Romero Alonzo left his own Casa de Italia, as did Brendan Gill abandon his own top rated Nuovo Cuisine on the tony north side of town and add to that seriously impressive duo one, Suzuki Matoromuru, who left his Orient Mystique where he practiced his own culinary artistry to the delight of his considerable following.  These three furnish the allure of “the Rules” and they do not disappoint when the meals are served, and in whatever order the chefs so deem appropriate for that evening.  One must not assume too much and anticipate nothing when approaching “the Rules”.  One learns quickly not to assume anything ordinary and, of course, not to question anything at all at or about “the Rules”, lest the invitation to leave the premises be unceremoniously presented by management. 


While there are no postings to alert possible patrons of any rules that are operative with this establishment there appear to be rules which if violated will lead to the immediate denial of service to any offenders of the proprietors’ “rules” or whims or fancy of the day or moment.  Potential diners may be denied a reservation for violations of unwritten rules or at their arrival turned away for some transgression of unspoken regulations.  There are reports of diners being asked to leave in the middle of what would be their dinner, although in such cases there are no bills presented to them for whatever they may have consumed before the offense that precipitated their invitation to leave the premises immediately and with all due haste.

The invocation of the “the Rules” can be implemented with nuance or with blunt force and by the reservationist, receptionist, manager, server, busboy, even the valets and, of course, by Bill or Phil!

What is known about “the Rules” is gleaned from scant posting on social networks and rare word of mouth reports from those who were able to secure a seating and were actually served a meal.  It appears to speak about the “Rules” is to violate one of the innumerable rules.

What follows is a necessarily incomplete listing, as the number of rules may be increasing with time. It is also just a rough sketch as there is no discussing of the “rules” with their authors and no confirmation from them.  What little we know we glean from those who dare risk breaking a rule and report their experience with “the Rules” on social networks or, by word of mouth, sending the information into the realm of urban legends and myths. 

·         No attempts to secure a reservation through reference to status or relations.[One local television celebrity of sorts, due more to notoriety than accomplishments, has reported on his show , with thorough indignation, that several times he attempted a reservation using his name only to be informed that there would be no table available for him. It is thought that this brought favorable attention to “the Rules”   for potential diners who disliked the pretentious celeb and thought how great to dine where he could not.]

·         No questioning of the bill.

·         No ordering of any food. Food allergies may be made known when the request for them is made by the wait staff.

·         No expressions of appreciation for the meals.

·         No request for specific tables.[One young woman, when being led to her table, expressed a desire to be seated at a location other than that to which she was being led and was abruptly informed that there were no tables available and her reservation could not be honored and was led to the exit.] 

·         No request for specific wine by type or vintage or chateau. [A diner who fancied himself something of an oenophile merely mentioned what he thought would be a good match for an entre item and that was placed before him and then the wait staff removed the item from his place and all those dining with him and were told that the meal was over.]

·         No request for the various courses of a meal to be served in any specific order.[A would be diner was seated and at the start of the meal was being served what appeared to be a desert. He expressed shock and displeasure and was informed that indeed a mistake was made in seating him and his party and that he would no longer be served and he and his entire dining party were asked to leave.]

·         Cash only and be prepared for a large total bill ranging up to 5 times what you would normally expect and down to perhaps nothing at all.[A father who took his wife and two children to “the Rules” was pleasantly surprised when presented with the “bill” at the end of a sumptuous repast for which he was grateful and prepared to pay a goodly sum instead saw the large numeral “0” and a note , “thank you for letting us serve you and your family.”]

·         No speaking about the meal with the staff.[A frequent diner upon his second visit to “the Rules”  mentioned several of the items of his previous meal to the waiter and was then asked to leave before being served anything at all.  His companion left with him.]

·         No questioning of the meals as to the ingredients or preparation. [See above.]

·         No late arrivals. [One party of seasoned diners arrived 12 minutes after their reservation time and within what was thought to be the traditional but presumed  margin for arrivals and the holding of a table only to be informed at the door that they no longer had a table and would need to make another reservation for another day.]

·         No early arrivals.  [One young couple, so delighted that they scored a reservation after several failed attempts,  arrived 20 minutes early thinking they would spend a few minutes at the bar waiting for their table (There is NO BAR at “the Rules”)and were informed that they would not be seated and not seated at all on that evening but they could make a reservation for another date.]

·         No loud voices about anything at any time inside of “the Rules”. [There are several reports on social media of diners being informed that their meal was concluded and that they should leave immediately when they could only surmise that their raised voices was the precipitating factor for their ejection.]

·         No small children. [A young couple made a reservation for three and when they arrived at “the Rules” the hostess at the door inquired as to whether all members of their party were present, they answered “Yes.” They report that she then glowered at the child and informed them that there would be no table for them, as they had a small child with them.]

·         No photographs or video of anything or anyone, ever [A woman was invited to leave the restaurant and take her entire dinner party with her when she could not resist taking a smart phone photo of the appetizer dish.]


RESERVATIONS:   Dinner only, 6 and 9 pm seatings,  Monday to Saturday    CAPACITY:  10 tables , 40-60 seats, ADA compliant

While reservations are a necessity there is nothing to guarantee receiving such nor any manner in which to improve the likelihood of securing such.  From what is posted and spread about, mainly by those denied a reservation, scoring a seat at “the Rules” is a victory in and of itself and worthy of proclamation and boast, although what was done to bring about the desired result may be entirely unfathomable.

Patience is advised and frequent attempts may bring a seating.   It appears that “the Rules” is either booked for a month in advance or simply denying reservations making it appear so.  Patrons do report there were no empty seats when they were being served their delights and their were none when we dined there.


Simply put: it is better to arrive by foot.  While there is ample valet parking for all patrons of “the Rules”, however and nonetheless, perhaps to be sure, the safest course of action is to arrive at “the Rules” on foot.  This would be to avoid the distinct possibility that after your meal the valets will provide you with an automobile other than the one which you left with them. Fair warning: upon arrival when you leave your vehicle with the valets you sign an agreement that you will accept any vehicle in exchange for your own which the valets may deem more suitable for you. [One diner arrived with three companions in a Porsche SUV.  After the meal the valet presented him with a Ford pickup truck to drive home. Another reported his Lexus replaced with a BMW 750.] This aspect of “the Rules” alone might be a “deal breaker” or sufficient dissuasion for nearly all would be diners but on top of the other oddities it is simply a wonder of wonders that there are reports of so many folks actually disappointed over not obtaining their own reservations to an establishment or operation such as found at “the Rules.”.


“Impeccable” and “over the top” are not ill suited to describe the service at “the Rules”.  As long as one does not violate any of “the Rules” you and your party will be treated as royalty are when they dine. We certainly were and I detected no awareness or care on their part that we may have been there to compose a formal review of “the Rules” for publication.   It is unlikely that many diners will have experienced any the like as what they will enjoy there, let along superior to the service at “the Rules”.  There is a server dedicated to each table and attention to detail is extreme.  As there is little for any diner to say or ask for or about that will not cause an immediate ejection there is the impossibility of disappointment over requests unfulfilled.  Instead, those who subject themselves to “the Rules” in the first place will have placed themselves into a role of passive recipient without question and will be pleased with the result.  Suffice it to say that anyone disappointed by the service is likely to have an unreasonable set of expectations for how diners are ever to be treated. It is also possible that a good number of diners will be educated as to the finer aspects of formal dining with which they may not be familiar.  This makes dining at “the Rules” a bit of an educational experience.


The renovations of this space were total as it was previously a Borders bookstore.  Both the exterior and interior were renovated to create one of the most intimate and comfortable dining spaces you will likely ever enjoy.  It is enough to bring back the use of tres chic as an assessment and description.  If “the Rules” were to admit reporters or critics, which is doubtful, there might be mention or two in Architectural Digest or other such publications that recognize new, unique and stylish design. 

 The Ambience

Well, suffice it to say that, once a diner gets past the edginess of tension concerning the real possibility of immediate removal from the premises and settles in to focus on the culinary art and the entertainment offered by the delightful service, the mood can be one associated with an encounter with luxury not often found with a restaurant or anywhere else.  Somehow one feels as if at a spa with the comfort of a massage and at the same time having all delights of the palette being thoroughly cared for and then some.


One is at a loss to describe the wonders served at just the one meal observed by this reviewer, who has (as previously noted) eaten hundreds of meals in order to render expert opinion about them.

Romero Alonzo, Brendan Gill and Suzuki Matoromuru prepare the most extraordinary items and serve them in extraordinary manners.  Ordinary reference points for criticism appear not quite serviceable here. For instance, the meal may be served with what would be desert at the very start or at the end or at any point in between.  There may be more than one desert or appetizer or entre served and in any order.  So the food served at "the Rules" defies standard categorizations. Whatever the order, the items are works of culinary art at its highest levels.  These three are given free reign and reign they do over each meal, each night.  Their fancies are satisfied and the diners are sated with delight.  On the night that I dined I observed several diners at other tables variously laughing or crying for joy when they were served dishes that appear more for museum installation than for human consumption.

I venture into territory forbidden by "the Rules" to offer even these descriptions. I am a food critic and restaurant reviewer and so after all I need to do something to convey what the food is like.  But just how to do that with a place so unconventional and spectacle at the same time.  So imagine, if you will,  that over your precious time on this Earth you have had, let's say, striped bass served you in three or four wonderful ways and all quite memorable and then forget all about those and prepare for striped bass prepared and served as you have never imagined it done, appearing or tasting.  Likewise for about any other dish you have had, be it a staple or the most esoteric and intriguing.  It simply does not matter whether beast or fowl, fish or verdant displays of vegetables, at the "the Rules" the past is not simply past but in another dimension altogether.  The chefs or maestros here or these artists of culinary wonders have gone beyond all the rules of food preparation and ordering and serving.  If you find your beef served with what might be otherwise termed as desert matter or served as desert or your swordfish served as a treat for the mouth on what appears as a cracker but tastes like nothing you have ever had in your mouth before, then you are at "the Rules" because I have not experienced the like or even heard of anything near this anywhere at anytime.


There is no wine list.  Nevertheless, there must be an extensive collection of some of the finest wines presently available as your meal will have wines paired to the food you are being served.  From those scant reports and our own observation the pairings are well thought out and are most acceptable. Oenophiles will find delights with one or more of the servings with each meal.


Now here is one of the most intriguing and potentially satisfying aspects of the experience of “the Rules.”  Should you and your party avoid violating any of the rules and complete your meal, well then your server will appear and present the table with a single slip of paper no larger than Metrocard with but a single number of it. Expect a figure several times what any other restaurant would be charging for the meal you have had: two or three times larger.  If you question how the number was determined, the server will remove the bill and return with an itemized accounting that will most likely bear a total larger than the number on your original “bill”. 

Then again there are several reports of the server announcing that there would be no charge at all for the sumptuous experience enjoyed by your party.  There are no reports offering the slightest of clues as to any factors that might determine such an outcome.   Remember that speaking of the event will violate the rules and prevent securing future reservations at "the Rules."


In attempting to make a reservation one can forget about any consideration at all for having previously dined at the “the Rules”.   In fact mere mention can lead to a denial of a spot.  While normally a restaurant survives on its repeat customers and regards its frequent diners with special attention, such is not the case with “the Rules.”  This establishment is so contrarian that the near opposite of the norm is what is operative here.  Expect no recognition for prior visits, not with reservations, nor with seating or service.


There is money behind “the Rules” and no insignificant sum.  This is obvious as three of the finest chefs in our city would not have left their restaurants to enter into this endeavor or experiment without some sense of financial security at its foundation.  A restaurant with such chefs cannot afford to turn away clientele nor to waive all charges for the meals so painstakingly prepared and with the most costly of ingredients. The renovations done to the physical space are also so well done that the materials and design and the execution all bespeak quality and quality financing. For the time being, and despite some initial incredibly favorable notices in print and digital media, the ownership of this “restaurant” is likely to remain cloaked in mystery as great as the mystery behind “the Rules” itself.

RATING: “the Rules” gets *******

0 = Do not eat here. Seriously.

* = If you really need to put something into your stomach and quickly, try this place.

** = The food is edible and not likely to hurt you.

*** = OK to eat here but do not expect anything memorable

**** =  A nice place to eat

***** = Something to look forward to, a really nice place to eat a really nice meal

****** = Extraordinary, elegant, reserve for special occasions when you go all out

******* = There simply is no such place that rises to this level


© Copyright Philip A. Pecorino 2014. All Rights reserved.