Joshua Shapiro - September 2014
Food Arts presents the September 2014 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Richard Bloch, a prolific designer of “architecture for adults.” Since opening his practice in New York City in 1986, he has created several hundred restaurants in the United States and Japan, each simple, elegant, and efficient in design and cost, all the while remaining out of the limelight. As Nick Valenti, Patina Restaurant Group’s CEO and a longtime client puts it, “Richard is a great unsung hero.”
His commissions span grand projects like the Arthur Ashe Stadium’s four venues in Flushing Meadows; the Plaza Hotel Grand Ballroom’s vast 28,000 square feet of event spaces and catering kitchens in New York City; barMASA and Shaboo, occupying 15,000 square feet at the Aria hotel in Las Vegas; and reach down to the intimate, five seat sushi bar at the exclusive Sony Club in Manhattan.
Comfortable doing ultra fine dining spaces like Masayoshi Takayama’s Masa as well as the quotidian, like the Japanese chain of Hamazushi conveyor-belt sushi restaurants, Bloch has influenced how Japanese cuisine is presented.
A Manhattan native, Bloch studied architecture at Pratt Institute. After a year as a Fulbright Scholar in Turkey studying urban design, he traveled through Europe for three life-changing months. A week in Venice taught him more about city planning than a year’s worth of courses, and he developed his penchant for rendering cityscapes. After graduating, he worked for the Peace Corps as a town planner in Iran, then designed a string of United States Information Agency culture centers around the world, along the way becoming nearly fluent in Farsi. Mentored by Philip George, the eminent designer, he got his start designing restaurants, most notably Le Bernardin, in New York City.
Bloch doesn’t design by fiat. There is no signature, only collaborative designs that mirror the chef and/or owner’s own taste and intent, and are congruent with the food and service concept. He’s a very good listener. Within an hour, while asking only a few questions about the overarching idea of the project, the proposed menu, the number of seats, and the check average—Bloch can accurately scope the budget and schedule for a new project. He understands that every table has to be a great table—comfortable and accessible.
When working with chefs like Corey Lee, Bloch makes sure that they prepare a meal for him. Experiencing a 15 course tasting, Bloch understood Lee’s aesthetic. To complement the intensely disciplined food, he designed for Benu in San Francisco a subtle, serene, nonaggressive, and minimalistic environment. “Richard’s experience as a diner and his understanding of cuisine and ambience informs his work,” Lee says. “His design really feels like it’s yours.”
At the end of the project, when a chef claims it was his design, Bloch knows he’s been successful.
Currently, he’s finishing several projects in Manhattan—including State Grill and Bar in the Empire State Building—Orbit Cafe at Cape Canaveral, and Vivoli, the famous artisanal Florentine gelateria, at Walt Disney World.
Bloch believes that his designs “exist to allude to the dining experience.” Once food is served, the meal and companionship take precedence and good design disappears into the overall dining gestalt. He wants his restaurants to make money. “Many architects design failures. Not Richard,” says Valenti. “His restaurants have longevity.”