Restaurant Review - Felonius
First came restaurants that touted ethically sourced ingredients and fair-trade supply chains. Then came restaurants specializing locally-sourced menus. Felonius owner Rustem Shatnov is committed to what he believes is the next logical step in this progression: criminally sourced food. Rustem alleges that every meal served in his restaurant is made entirely from ingredients that were stolen by members of the Felonius staff.
I can’t say I understand his logical leap, but the idea of a restaurant where everything you eat was personally stolen by the waiter, busboy, or sous-chef was too interesting to ignore.
I spoke to Rustem when I visited Felonius last month, and learned quite a bit about his eat-from-the-rich philosophy that links the field of gastronomy to his peculiar flavor of social justice.
“I have no supply costs!” Rustem explained excitedly as he showed me the "haul" (his term for the ingredients) that his "crew" (his term for the staff) acquired during the 24 hours prior to my visit. "I can pass all the savings along to friends of ours." (“Friends of ours,” I learned, is another term Rustem uses to refer to his staff.)
As interesting as Rustem’s unique business philosophy is, what is even more interesting is the experience of dining at Felonius. At Felonius, you aren’t merely a customer or diner, but an accomplice. The waitstaff uniform - denim-colored, collared shirts buttoned to the top button - imparts a gang-banger feel to the crew. The waiters wear black balaclavas to hide their identities, since accomplices are paired with the member of the waitstaff who personally stole the food they will be served and, essentially, confess to their crimes as they introduce the dish.
My waiter, a tall, balaclava-wearing man who called himself Mike, explained to me how my medallions of dry-aged beef came to be on my plate. “I pulled the fire alarm after the truck backed up to the loading dock,” he explained. “When everyone bailed, I grabbed three boxes and hauled ass back to the restaurant. Today these are prepared in a burgundy sauce made from a bottle of Domaine Rousseau that was pinched from the display case at Palomino’s on 5th street.”
In the kitchen, Chef Audrey Waiburn doesn’t make any specific requests for ingredients to steal. This is both for creative and legal reasons. “I did check with a lawyer before I started working here,” she said. “If I refrain from asking for specific ingredients, and instead just prepare meals with whatever happens to show up, then I can’t be charged as an accessory. Unless they build a RICO case. But they probably won’t. And besides, I really enjoy the challenge of coming up with new menu items each day based on what our staff was able to make off with.”
The Felonius tasting menu varies daily, and, depending on the contents of their haul the day you dine there, they may not be able to cater to every diner’s dietary requirements or preferences.