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Jonathan Benno's Lincoln


Chris Amirault
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As I understand it, the debate from oakapple's perspective isn't whether it is, or will be a 4 star place. It's whether Patina Group set out to make a 4-star place. This distinction is the only thing that matters cause he argues that a) They clearly didn't b) IF they didn't, then it's (historically anyways) impossible that they'll get it. It's a very sound argument. . . .

What I've disagreed with all along, and still do, is part B of oakapple's argument above. If a kick ass high end tasting menu blows the doors off, I think a 4 is in play still. I'll forever point to EMP's lunch service as the central pillar of my argument - a NYT critic was so enamored by the rest of the place that he willfully discounted their 2 star lunch program, and gave them a 4 despite it (which - lunch program now scrapped - they very likely proved they deserved some months later). The tasting menu at Collichio and Sons presumably bumped their star rating up a notch or two as well. "Impossible" and "Unlikely" are two different things in my book.

"Impossible" may have been slight hyperbole. I would have thought that Momofuku Ssäm Bar's three-star rating was impossible, until it happened. But by the time Colicchio & Sons got three stars, there was ample precedent. There is no precedent for a place like Lincoln, as currently configured and operated, receiving four stars. Sooner or later, a critic will decide to change the rules, and then anything will be possible.

(Incidentally, I don't think the critic "willfully discounted [EMP's] 2 star lunch program." I believe none of the current NYT four-star reviews so much as mentions lunch, which is a strong indication that it is simply not part of the equation.)

As I've said elsewhere, I think the 10:30 closing time simply reflects Lincoln Center's inability to see beyond the large suburban component of its audience (which is, of course, why it finds it hard to attract a younger more urban crowd).

Have any of the Lincoln Center-area restaurants had much luck with post-10:30 menus?

Edited by oakapple (log)
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Yeah, Bar Boulud is packed. So is P.J. Clarke's -- and it isn't even good. Even Ed's Chowder House is pretty crowded that late.

Picholine's bar (but not dining room) used to be fairly crowded that late (they gave up that business when Bar Boulud opened). Even that place Bar Americain (not the Bobby Flay place in Midtown -- the place that used to be on I think 64th St. east of Broadway) used to do a pretty brisk business that late.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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Went to Lincoln last night, and I can say with certainty that Michael White et al have some serious competition. Waited at the bar for my table; not many cocktails to choose from, but my bartender helped me choose which drink to have. Wonderful professional staff. Asked to do tasting menu; maitre'd had to ask Mr. Benno if he could do a tasting menu before I could order it. Pasta excellent: had the cavatelli with razor clams and sweet peppers, potato gnocchi with matsutake mushrooms in veal jus, and rigati with sea urchin, sea beans and Dungeness crab. Pastas are well-made, and the rigati was excellent: my favorite pasta dish of the year. Steak was a 28-day dry-aged beef from Creekstone Farms with spinach and cipollini mushrooms: real good. Only "bad" dish was burrata with roasted squash: burrata too strong for delicate squash. Wine pairing on the mark. Got the chance to go inside the kitchen to personally thank Mr. Benno for the meal. Can't wait to go back.

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Went to Lincoln last night and had about a third of the menu. First off, let me say that Lincoln is a very good restaurant. It might even be an excellent restaurant. That said, I hate to be the first to burst the Benno love bubble, but I think the statements originally made by Sneakeater and Oakapple are dead-on even though they haven't been yet, in terms of the level of place it is. Judging by the decor of the room (clean, elegant, but definitely not formal at all) and the level of service, there most certainly aren't any four-star aspirations going on here. This, of course, assumes the current reviewing status quo, whereby a restaurant needs to have a certain level of ambience, service, presentation, etc. to even be seriously considered for four stars. This is a restaurant with no tablecloths, after all, and no visit by a sommelier at any point in the meal, despite the fact that we ordered quite a bit of wine. I'm not even sure the sommelier was in the house. There is no way it can or should be considered in the same group as the likes of Daniel, Per Se, EMP, etc. It's not of that level, and there isn't any serious effort to try to be. It's much more comparable to a slew of three star Italian restaurants in town (e.g. Esca, Alto, A Voce, Babbo), and the debate will be over whether it's as good as those (in which case it will be competing for three stars), or not (in which case two is more likely). But on to the specifics.

The Food: We had the Capesanta In Padella (sea scallop with sunchokes, almonds and sunflower oil); the Di Stefano Burrata with squash blossoms; and an order of the eggplant parmigiana to start. All were really solid, though none blew me away. In fact, that's sort of my overall impression of all the food we ate. Everything was very skillfully prepared, and the flavors were nice, but there were no surprises, no super vivid flavors, and nothing so memorable that I had to go back. The scallop was very pleasant, but I've had sweeter and I've had ones that were better caramelized. The sunchoke puree was reminiscent of high end hummus...and a little bit pastier than optimal. The whole sunchokes were unevenly cooked, with a few perfectly done, one mushy and one almost totally raw. Still, the overall taste of the dish was quite good. The burrata was a very nice sample of the cheese, although I agree with the poster above who mentioned that the match with the squash blossoms might be reconsidered. However, I perceived the reason for this a little bit differently. Burrata is not a really strongly flavored cheese, so the idea that it was overpowering to the squash blossoms is a bit odd. I think the problem was that the blossoms had almost no flavor of their own. While the burrata may have been a tiny bit more pungent than average for the form, I don't think the idea of pairing it with that type of vegetable is misguided; you just need an example with more offer. The eggplant parmigiana, intended as a side, was the most flavorful of our starters. Like an upscale version of the red sauce classic, it really hit the spot. It was constructed sort of like a mille feuilles, and was sort of an optimized version of the one I ate at Torrisi once. Very nice, but certainly not four star food.

We then moved on to the primi, where we sampled the Bucatini with dungeness crab, pacific sea urchin, pepperoncino and sea beans; the Agnolotti Di Polenta with braised lamb, cavolo nero and marjoram; and the Lasagne Verdi Alla Bolognese with veal, beef and pork ragu. The bucatini has a lot of potential. In the same way that any bite of foie gras is delicious, I find that almost any bite of sea urchin can provide real pleasure, assuming it's of decent quality. Still, the main flavor of the dish was butter, and while I really liked its decadent richness, there really weren't any counterpoints such as acidity, sweetness or the like. It was just straight butter and umami...not that there's anything wrong with that. Still, once it was gone, I wasn't thinking of ordering another round. The agnolotti di polenta was a little less successful. The agnolotti had a really mild (read: almost bland) center, which was an odd pairing with the extremely rich and unctuous lamb. The cavolo nero (a braised green somewhere between kale and cabbage) was a bit bitter (which it's supposed to be) but didn't add much. Overall, the dish just seemed a bit unbalanced to me. It either needed more flavor in the filling, or a bit more balance and restraint with the braised lamb. The lasagna, like the eggplant before it, was an upscale take on a lowbrow classic, and was again probably the most successful dish of the course. Calling it lasagna is a bit misleading, since the pasta portion of the dish acts almost like a pie crust, containing a ragu filling. There aren't really layers of noodles throughout, but the flavors were well-balanced, and the overall effect was very nice. We then moved on to the Agnello Arrosto which consisted of a lamb chop and shoulder, garlic sausage, and romanesco cauliflower. The chop wasn't a traditional form, as it had the sausage worked in. The result was a large ball-shaped piece of food on the chop's bone, almost like a stuffed and formed magical McNugget. The taste was very rich, but wasn't necessarily balanced by anything, which made it a bit overwhelming. Also, it was cooked slightly unevenly, with parts being just barely off-red, and others closer to medium. I think that's a risk of cooking something so round in form. Still, the flavor wasn't harmed. The shoulder was even better, and just as rich. Biting in to the cauliflower was a welcome respite from the intensity and richness of the two lamb elements, but a sauce would have been welcome doing the same. We also had a veal chop with gnocchi alla romana, green market carrots, and chanterelle mushrooms. This was the best balanced dish of the night, although again, there were no flavors that I hadn't had before at many Italian restaurants. Overall, the food was very good but lacked the creativity, inspiration and technical perfection that would make it stand out from the other very good Italian restaurants in NYC.

The Service: Since our entire meal service was provided by one waiter, this is really more of a review of him rather than the restaurant's overall service. But I think the fact that one waiter was expected to be the only service person involved with our meal also says something about the place as a whole, and their aspirations. He was extremely nice and tried very hard to be helpful and informative. However, I was surprised at his level of food and wine knowledge...or rather his relative lack thereof. As I often do, I asked him whether there were any really amazing dishes that he liked, or that were possibly future signatures of the chef. I'm guessing that he hasn't actually tried all the dishes on the menu (in my opinion a big no-no at a good restaurant), because he seemed to balk at that question. Instead, he told me what he thought were the most popular/high-selling items. That's the sort of answer I expect at an Applebee's. Considering this is a new restaurant with a not particularly adventurous clientele (I don't think Sneak, Oak, et all were wrong when they noted that a notable portion of the customers would be Lincoln Center visitors), that wasn't what I wanted to know. Obviously, they're going to order the chicken and the steak and stay away from the tripe. When it came time to select some wine, he was even less sure of himself, and was actually unfamiliar with a number of the wine regions of Italy. Now, I'm no Italy expert, but when I asked about Alto Adige offerings, I got a sort of blank look. Same thing happened when I asked about a particular wine that I thought might have a combination of typical red and white wine qualities. Rather than being able to confirm or deny, he simply answered that it's "very good". Not very helpful, and most of the other info provided to my dining companions suggested that he was essentially faking it in the wine department. I had even asked him whether we should consult the sommelier or simply ask him our wine questions, and he decided to do it himself. As mentioned earlier, I'm not sure there was even a wine/spirits person in the house (other than maybe the bartender). There is no doubt that a good restaurant, even at the two and three star NY Times level, needs to offer better service than this. Friendliness gets you far, but not far enough when the prices are as high as they were.

The Cost: It's worth noting that the appetizers are $18 - $30 and the mains $32 - $60 (for a $120 steak for two. At this price level, Lincoln is more expensive than most of its competition, and this high price point (along with the fact that Benno is in the kitchen) may be why people are comparing it to places that are a bit out of its league. Personally, I think the prices are a bit higher than appropriate for the restaurant, but I'm guessing it won't be a barrier with the captive Lincoln Center audience. Certainly the service level should be elevated at these price points, but instead it would best be characterized as an "elegant bistro", in a similar way to A Voce (the restaurant it reminds me most of).

The Room: It's a really nice space, with lots of glass, some pretty dramatic design touches (including a slanted wood ceiling and an ambience that changes as the sun goes down. The circular booths are appealing to the eye as well as to sit in, and the other tables on the open floor benefit from the floor to ceiling windows, even if they aren't as comfortable as the booths. Still, the decor would not be characterized as formal, as the tables are bare wood, and space quite spare. It's my taste but it's not trying to be Daniel or the like.

The Bottom Line: As I said, Lincoln is a very good restaurant. The fact that I sound as critical as I do in the prose of my description is because of the rhetoric that has preceded the restaurant. With all the hype, the high prices, and Benno in the kitchen, the level of expectation is very high. And while there aren't a lot of things notably wrong with the restaurant, it certainly raises the question of whether Benno might be a better executor of other people's (i.e. Keller's) brilliant ideas than a creator of his own. The cooking here and the flavors are certainly not original. And while the technical level is quite high, it was far from perfect, and he has led us to expect more in the past. Although obviously the Per Se experience isn't what anyone would reasonably have expected here, I still was hoping for more. I'm not convinced he's actually a better creator of dishes (at least Italian ones) than his competition at the previously mentioned Italian strongholds. I've had better tasting meals at most of them, as well as at Scarpetta, Locanda Verde and L'artusi. I know that last statement will certainly earn me some flames on these boards, but it's a very subjective thing, and that's my feeling. It's true that this is based on only one meal at Lincoln, and that it's very early in their existence, but at those prices, it's going to be tough to get me to go back on my own dime when I can go to those other places for about two thirds of that (6.6 cents?).

So back to the star issue. I think that four NY Times stars is definitely out (even if Sifton does have questionable judgement). For a restaurant to change the entire historical paradigm of the star system, it's going to have to be much better of its kind than this...even if it improves a lot in the next three months. Certainly if places with this level of service were in the running for four stars, then places like Marea, Brooklyn Fare and Ko would already have received them. I'm guessing that the likely result will be either two or three stars, depending on how well they tighten the screws down. Certainly better educating their wait staff will be one key (or choosing ones with more experience and skills). But in terms of food, there are restaurants that have two stars right now that are not only more ambitious at a better service level and lower price point, but the food just tastes better and is more inspired (I'm looking at you, Annisa).

Sorry to disagree with all the Benno-philes, as I truly wanted him to succeed and for Lincoln to be special, but I don't think Lincoln is a game-changer in any sense. Still, it's worth a visit, and probably a re-visit in a few months.

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. . . it would best be characterized as an "elegant bistro", in a similar way to A Voce (the restaurant it reminds me most of).

That strikes me as a very good analogy.

So back to the star issue. I think that four NY Times stars is definitely out (even if Sifton does have questionable judgement). For a restaurant to change the entire historical paradigm of the star system, it's going to have to be much better of its kind than this...even if it improves a lot in the next three months. Certainly if places with this level of service were in the running for four stars, then places like Marea, Brooklyn Fare and Ko would already have received them.

It's worth noting that if the critics follow their normal pattern, their visits have already begun. Lincoln may well improve over time, but initial impressions will be formed starting right about now.

Incidentally, Brooklyn Fare never got a New York Times review at all.

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The comparison to A Voce pains me - While I found A Voce to be bland, I thought far more importantly to the discussion at hand, that technicality was incredibly lacking in the preparation of food. Very different (to my mind) to Lincolns highly technically accomplished food, regardless of what you think of the flavor. Just my 2 cents.

My closest comparable (having enjoyed the food very much at both establishments) was Alto. I think this makes sense to some extent since both restaurants have a strong Piedmontese influence, both wine lists as well. LP - you may well have exposed an even greater weakness in the wine service than had already been noted above, which needless to say, is fairly critical at a high end Italian restaurant.

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I have very pleasant interactions with the sommelier throughout my two meals at Lincoln. I found him pleasant and extremely knowledgable. My first meal he chose a 2006 trebuabi d'ambruzzo by EMile Pepe that went superbly with my dinner. The second time he paired each course with a appropriate glass of wine.

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The comparison to A Voce pains me - While I found A Voce to be bland, I thought far more importantly to the discussion at hand, that technicality was incredibly lacking in the preparation of food.

My closest comparable (having enjoyed the food very much at both establishments) was Alto.

I can't speak for LPShanet, but when I make the comparison to A Voce I'm referring mainly to the "vibe," since I haven't yet had the food. Alto, I think, presents a much more luxurious, more unhurried environment. Again, that's just the vibe.

I have very pleasant interactions with the sommelier throughout my two meals at Lincoln.

I think the issue is not just whether the sommelier can give good guidance when you have his attention, but also whether there is enough of "him" to go around. Restaurants like Per Se and Le Bernardin have teams of sommeliers, not just one--and their dining rooms are smaller. At even a three-star restaurant, much less a four-star place, the experience LPShanet described simply should not happen.

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The "vibes" at AVoce (at least the downtown version) and Lincoln are completely different. The one meal I had at AVoce was ruined by the noise in the dining room: I couldn't hold a conversation with the person sitting next me, much less the person sitting opposite me. Lincoln affords a very pleasant and quiet space to have an excellent meal.

Oakapple, I do agree that service errors shouldn't occur at any 3 or 4 star restaurant; Unfortunately, service errors do occur even at 4 star establishments renown for giving wonderful service and that have been open a lot longer than Lincoln.

Edited by sethd (log)
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for what it's worth, I had a pleasant wine experience with the sommelier when I asked them to pair wines with my courses. granted it was opening night so they were less than half full so he may not have as much time compared to when it's busier.

Ed aka Wordsmithing Pantagruel

Food, Cocktails, Travels, and miscellany on my blog:

http://www.wordsmithingpantagruel.com/

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Incidentally, Brooklyn Fare never got a New York Times review at all.

I hope it stays that way. It's been tough enough getting in up till now, and with the Michelin stars, it's going to be a nightmare to keep going back. Tell everyone it's awful and they shouldn't even consider it! >:)

Edited by LPShanet (log)
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The comparison to A Voce pains me - While I found A Voce to be bland, I thought far more importantly to the discussion at hand, that technicality was incredibly lacking in the preparation of food.

My closest comparable (having enjoyed the food very much at both establishments) was Alto.

I can't speak for LPShanet, but when I make the comparison to A Voce I'm referring mainly to the "vibe," since I haven't yet had the food. Alto, I think, presents a much more luxurious, more unhurried environment. Again, that's just the vibe.

I have very pleasant interactions with the sommelier throughout my two meals at Lincoln.

I think the issue is not just whether the sommelier can give good guidance when you have his attention, but also whether there is enough of "him" to go around. Restaurants like Per Se and Le Bernardin have teams of sommeliers, not just one--and their dining rooms are smaller. At even a three-star restaurant, much less a four-star place, the experience LPShanet described simply should not happen.

The vibe in the room was probably somewhere in between the two in my estimation. The decor and style of the place was closer to A Voce, in the sense that it was elegant but casual. But it was definitely quieter, less bustling and not in any way rushed, although the level of service I received was not as deep as that I had at Alto. I wonder how much of the quietness and lack of rush was due to superior vibe and how much due to the fact that the dining room wasn't very full. A Voce is partly cursed by simply being more popular at this point.

Maybe the sommelier wasn't on duty when I was there, or maybe a visit wasn't deemed necessary for our table, but either would be considered a failing at a place competing for three stars. As oakapple points out, there should be enough wine staff to at least have seen one of them during my visit...especially if the wait staff is going to have so little knowledge of wine. The first step would be for the waiter to acknowledge this lack of knowledge in himself, so that he would seek out guidance from a more educated source.

Edited by LPShanet (log)
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. . . it would best be characterized as an "elegant bistro", in a similar way to A Voce (the restaurant it reminds me most of).

That strikes me as a very good analogy.

I want to like this forum... but with comparing Lincoln to A Voce is like comparing apples to Lear Jets! How can anyone say that the two are even in the same breath. hey I think that Kansas City Royals will win the world series next year! I guess they are both Italian restaurants and so they must be compared. My meal at Lincoln was excellent! After two weeks it was far better than all my meals at EMP and slighty better than Daniel, but A Voce? elegant bistro? What aspect of Lincoln is like a bistro, other than they serve food and drink... they have a door? they have tables? they play music? help me please!

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What aspect of Lincoln is like a bistro, other than they serve food and drink... they have a door? they have tables? they play music? help me please!

- Lack of tablecloths and other high-end service trappings

- tables serviced by a single waiter

- absence of sommelier or wine-specific staff consultation for some visitors at some tables

- wait staff with limited food knowledge

- absence of typical amuse courses and lavish mignardises

- placement and proximity of tables to each other

- lack of separation between dining room and bar

- a la carte only menu format

- wine list of bistro (albeit a very good bistro) level NOT above

- open kitchen (and accompanying kitchen noise)

It's almost the prototype for an upscale bistro, and fairly hard to argue objectively that it isn't less formal than Alto, for example.

Edited by LPShanet (log)
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I want to like this forum... but with comparing Lincoln to A Voce is like comparing apples to Lear Jets! How can anyone say that the two are even in the same breath. hey I think that Kansas City Royals will win the world series next year! I guess they are both Italian restaurants and so they must be compared. My meal at Lincoln was excellent! After two weeks it was far better than all my meals at EMP and slighty better than Daniel, but A Voce? elegant bistro?

Bear in mind that all of the postings to date are based on a very small sample size. Lincoln only just opened, and nobody here has been there more than once or twice. Even for widely acclaimed restaurants that have been open many years, occasionally someone has an experience that is just completely at odds with the "received wisdom" about the place. So for a brand new restaurant, this is not at all surprising.

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Irs Nougative a "high priced bistro"because the tables aren't appropriately dressed. As i mentioned, Noma, the best restaruant in the world has no tablecloths. There is no true seperation between the bar and main dining room at Le Bernardin either. There will be a tasting menu at Lincoln shortly if it hasn't already made the menu. (i haven't been in a week). I have eaten at four star restaurants where I could have joined the party at the next table the tables were so close together.

I agree with oakapple: there are very few, if any, new restaurants that open without a hitch.

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Is Nougatine a "high priced bistro" because the tables aren't appropriately dressed. As i mentioned, Noma, the best restaruant in the world has no tablecloths. There is no true seperation between the bar and main dining room at Le Bernardin either. There will be a tasting menu at Lincoln shortly if it hasn't already made the menu. (i haven't been in a week). I have eaten at four star restaurants where I could have joined the party at the next table the tables were so close together.

The term "bistro," like the term "café," is fairly broad (think of Café Boulud — a three-star restaurant in practically everyone’s estimation). Neither term is necessarily pejorative; it is just a description. Because there isn’t a precise definition, you have to look at a range of attributes, rather than one in isolation. You can check off a number of attributes that, taken in combination, make Lincoln seem bistro-ish. That’s a very different story than a one-off exception like Le Bernardin (where the bar is much smaller and not as loud).

The chef at Noma, rated the best restaurant in the world according to one survey, acknowledges that he never had such high ambitions when he started. This is the reason why I think you can say, without fear of contradiction, that Lincoln was not intended to be a four-star restaurant. No sane person would defy so many of the well known “rules,” if that was their intention. Now, if it GETS those stars, naturally the chef and owners will be very pleased (who wouldn’t be?) but it is patently obvious they weren’t aiming for that.

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What aspect of Lincoln is like a bistro, other than they serve food and drink... they have a door? they have tables? they play music? help me please!

- Lack of tablecloths and other high-end service trappings

- tables serviced by a single waiter

- absence of sommelier or wine-specific staff consultation for some visitors at some tables

- wait staff with limited food knowledge

- absence of typical amuse courses and lavish mignardises

- placement and proximity of tables to each other

- lack of separation between dining room and bar

- a la carte only menu format

- wine list of bistro (albeit a very good bistro) level NOT above

- open kitchen (and accompanying kitchen noise)

It's almost the prototype for an upscale bistro, and fairly hard to argue objectively that it isn't less formal than Alto, for example.

I'm sorry, but we must have eaten at two different restaurants... the table cloth thing is ridculous comment, some of the best resturants in the world don't have table clothes, Noma, and Alinea are two that come to mind right away.

we had 2 sommiliers at our table, and the table are very spaced out, did you eat at the cafe on broadway???

three addition courses were sent out to our table.

what prototype to you refer too, an open kichten does not make a bistro, i had an amazing meal at l'atelier last week, no bistro there, and no tablesclothes... you criteria needs a re-boot, we are not in 1980's anymore!

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we had 2 sommiliers at our table, and the table are very spaced out, did you eat at the cafe on broadway???

three addition courses were sent out to our table.

I have to ask, in all sincerity, are you by any chance known to the house? No other reviewer I am aware of has mentioned three extra courses being sent out, and two sommeliers in attendance at the table. That usually means you are (or they THINK you are) a VIP. Nothing wrong with that I am delighted on the rare occasions it happens to me but one must recognize that it is atypical.

what prototype to you refer too, an open kichten does not make a bistro, i had an amazing meal at l'atelier last week, no bistro there, and no tablescloths... you criteria needs a re-boot, we are not in 1980's anymore!

L'Atelier isn't a bistro; it also isn't a four-star restaurant. By the way, "bistro" isn't a negative term (at least in my book). It just describes a certain kind of place, which I think is exactly what they intended Lincoln to be. Some glitches (staff not yet familiar with the food) will likely improve over time.

Edited by oakapple (log)
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we had 2 sommiliers at our table, and the table are very spaced out, did you eat at the cafe on broadway???

three addition courses were sent out to our table.

I have to ask, in all sincerity, are you by any chance known to the house? No other reviewer I am aware of has mentioned three extra courses being sent out, and two sommeliers in attendance at the table. That usually means you are (or they THINK you are) a VIP. Nothing wrong with that — I am delighted on the rare occasions it happens to me — but one must recognize that it is atypical.

what prototype to you refer too, an open kichten does not make a bistro, i had an amazing meal at l'atelier last week, no bistro there, and no tablescloths... you criteria needs a re-boot, we are not in 1980's anymore!

L'Atelier isn't a bistro; it also isn't a four-star restaurant. By the way, "bistro" isn't a negative term (at least in my book). It just describes a certain kind of place, which I think is exactly what they intended Lincoln to be. Some glitches (staff not yet familiar with the food) will likely improve over time.

I was simply trying to point out that Lincoln is not a bistro, however I feel that my knowledge of restaurants does not compare with the "savants" in this website, i give up! you all win, enjoy your 20 million dollar bistro at lincoln center, with an uneven roof that has grass growing on it.... i know i will!

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What aspect of Lincoln is like a bistro, other than they serve food and drink... they have a door? they have tables? they play music? help me please!

- Lack of tablecloths and other high-end service trappings

- tables serviced by a single waiter

- absence of sommelier or wine-specific staff consultation for some visitors at some tables

- wait staff with limited food knowledge

- absence of typical amuse courses and lavish mignardises

- placement and proximity of tables to each other

- lack of separation between dining room and bar

- a la carte only menu format

- wine list of bistro (albeit a very good bistro) level NOT above

- open kitchen (and accompanying kitchen noise)

It's almost the prototype for an upscale bistro, and fairly hard to argue objectively that it isn't less formal than Alto, for example.

I'm sorry, but we must have eaten at two different restaurants... the table cloth thing is ridculous comment, some of the best resturants in the world don't have table clothes, Noma, and Alinea are two that come to mind right away.

we had 2 sommiliers at our table, and the table are very spaced out, did you eat at the cafe on broadway???

three addition courses were sent out to our table.

what prototype to you refer too, an open kichten does not make a bistro, i had an amazing meal at l'atelier last week, no bistro there, and no tablesclothes... you criteria needs a re-boot, we are not in 1980's anymore!

Check out oakapple's post above (#42). While no one thing makes a place a bistro rather than a more formal restaurant, a collection of items does. And bistro is a pretty broad category, so there's some subjectivity involved. But just because one item, such as tablecloths, seems silly to you doesn't mean that it isn't a valid characterization. (As it happens, I agree, having eaten at many amazing restaurants that don't use them, including the two you mentioned and Mugaritz, among others.) But taken in concert with the rest of the list, many items of which you couldn't argue with, it's not unfair to put Lincoln in a category lower in formality than, well....every single four star NY Times restaurant in NY right now. Right now none of them have any of the items I listed at issue.

In my personal experience (which as we've already discussed could be an outlier, and could still be remedied as they smooth out the kinks), the service was the biggest issue with them being compared favorably to the top restaurants in town. My server literally hadn't heard of the Alto Adige region (shocking in an Italian restaurant), didn't know what bicchiere meant (even though the restaurant uses the term on the wine list), hadn't tasted most of the dishes himself, and was the only server of any kind who interacted with me or my table during all of the courses of the meal. Maybe your table had all the sommeliers and that's why I got none...or maybe none of the wine staff is on duty on some nights and some times. I don't know, but it's not acceptable when you're paying close to $40 for your main and shouldn't happen at a formal dining establishment.

Out of curiosity, what were the additional courses sent to your table? We got arancini before the appetizers, rather than the more involved amuses at more formal restaurants, and a plate of small bakery items at the end that may or may not have been made in house.

When you talk about open kitchens, you also have to take into account what impression those kitchens give, and whether they're run in a way that takes into account their effect on the dining room. There's a big difference between a place where you get a glimpse at the final plating or garde manger station as a showpiece (and they behave with the knowledge that people are watching), and one in which there's a wide open window to the entire kitchen as it goes about its usual business. At L'atelier, which I agree is amazing, they are so smooth and silent that you wouldn't know they are there. Also, items that are cooked in a way that might produce smoke, smells and so on aren't cooked next to diners. At Lincoln, you could hear the chefs barking orders to each other, and see them running around. Rather than L'atelier's slickly produced quiet show, this was a real working kitchen. There are many places that allow you a peek into the prep areas (including Corton), but that's a little different from what was going on at Lincoln. Again, they may still change this, but in its current state, it separates the place from its more formal competition. It's also worth noting that Joel Robuchon himself doesn't consider L'atelier to be a formal restaurant, which is why he called it L'atelier...to distinguish it from its more formal predecessors in his career. He'd wear the label of lowered formality proudly and even suggest that his place is less formal than most would label it. (It's further worth noting that L'atelier has also failed thus far to be awarded four stars by the Times despite its wonderful and inventive food.)

And while they may easily (and probably will) alter the menu to be more in keeping with fine dining formats, that is still unlikely to be the main focus, as that would marginalize their Lincoln Center business. I'm sure they'll be loathe to do that unless the place is a huge smash hit. So far, it's not. Regardless of that, their wine list simply doesn't stack up with that of a top restaurant at this point, and that fix will take more effort and money. All of the places mentioned here as comparison (Noma, Alinea, Mugaritz, L'atelier, etc.) for various specific shortcomings, have wine lists that are so far different to Lincoln's as to make comparison pointless, as do all of the places that have garnered four stars from the Times.

So in the net, while you may personally disagree with some of the things I contend make it an upscale bistro for lack of a better term (albeit a very good one), it's still a valid argument based on the preponderance of items I listed, among others. I can tell that you really enjoyed your meal(s) at Lincoln and want it to do well, but most of these issues are factual, not subjective. I tried to keep the discussion of whether the restaurant is an "upscale bistro" or not on that plane, rather than discussing whether those things make it a better or worse restaurant. In a subjective discussion, I would have had to mention the fact that while they were good, I've had better, more flavorful arancini at quite a few casual Italian joints, and that the bakery plate, which may or may not have even been done in house, was mostly AWFUL (dry as the desert, filled with over-processed marzipan and completely unimaginative), and certainly not any better than what they give you at the end of a meal at Torrisi. I would also have cited a surprising lack of imagination in the menu from someone who became famous at a place that is known for theirs.

Whether you love your experience at Lincoln, hate it, or somewhere in between, on a factual level it's simply in a different CATEGORY of restaurant (by its own ambition) than every single one that currently holds four stars from the NY Times. Whether the items that define that category matter to you or not, they historically do to reviewers and will continue to until some food writer at the Times has the guts to give a four star rating to a place that is SO good that it overcomes the traditional requirements for that status, tablecloths be damned. Personally, I don't think this is that place. They've already awarded four stars to the much more formal Del Posto, and even that was a shock in itself to some. Lincoln isn't different, special or inventive enough to completely change the paradigm for an Italian restaurant that isn't as formal. The food, even if you think it's better (which I don't), can't be objectively found to be so unique when compared to that of Alto, Marea, Babbo and other top Italian restaurants that it "changes the game". Even if you find that every dish was sublime, and compares favorably to existing examples at those places mentioned and others, there are very few flavors there that are new or different from what you'd get at the top Italian places of any level. This isn't the Momofuku Ko or Alinea of the Italian world...a true game changer that will set the restaurant world abuzz all over the world. Someone upthread (maybe Marc) offered to buy dinner for all those who wagered that Lincoln would get four stars. He wasn't slagging the place off...he was simply (and correctly) pointing out that by its very structure and setup, it doesn't seem to be trying to get four stars. Judging by history, and the comparative formality levels, I'd say he's probably safe in his bet.

Edited by LPShanet (log)
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LP Shanet, First, I enjoyed reading your posts. Second, I will say again that I enjoyed my 2 meals at Lincoln and thought both meals were on par with the best in the city.

For me, the issue of "creativity" is a crucial one. I don't believe that creativity or innovation should be the important criteria in reviewing a new restaurant. THey are very few restaurants in the city or elsewhere that are truly creative, especially if one uses Chef Maximin's definition that "Creativity is the lack of copying". Perhaps, by that standard the only 4 star restaurant that can be called innovative or creative is Jean Georges . There is absolutely nothing innovative or creative about Chef Humm's cuisine yet EMP possesses a four star review from the New York TImes.

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LP Shanet, First, I enjoyed reading your posts. Second, I will say again that I enjoyed my 2 meals at Lincoln and thought both meals were on par with the best in the city.

For me, the issue of "creativity" is a crucial one. I don't believe that creativity or innovation should be the important criteria in reviewing a new restaurant. THey are very few restaurants in the city or elsewhere that are truly creative, especially if one uses Chef Maximin's definition that "Creativity is the lack of copying". Perhaps, by that standard the only 4 star restaurant that can be called innovative or creative is Jean Georges . There is absolutely nothing innovative or creative about Chef Humm's cuisine yet EMP possesses a four star review from the New York TImes.

Thanks, Seth. I totally agree that "creativity" shouldn't necessarily be a highly stressed criterion (or even a requirement at all) for a good review. I also think that creativity is one of the most subjective terms used in food analysis and a hard one to define. For that reason, I don't necessarily agree that there is nothing innovative or creative about Daniel Humm's food, let alone many of the others on the Times four star list. And, of course, some of us put a higher value on creativity than others in our dining. However, if it's present and used in a positive way, I do think it can and should be rewarded, as it highlights the chef as creator and even artist rather than just a technician who can re-create existing items. (Maybe it's even a small part of what separates a great chef from a great cook, though that's a much more complex conversation for a different time and thread.) Surely a restaurant that does amazing versions of old standards will be popular and highly rated, but I would say that a restaurant should also have a reason for being...something that makes it different from its competition if it is to be considered a real standout among its peers. I'm not referring to using advanced molecular techniques or unusual ingredients here. If a town doesn't have a great high end Italian restaurant, for example, then just opening one at a high level is an innovation for that area. In the end, creativity is a relative thing. And while Maximin's definition is really great in the absolute, it seems more stringent than we need in most cases. I'd think that even a slight change in something that is otherwise a copy could be seen as creative.

Creativity can simply be a chef putting his own mark on the food, making it his (or hers), for lack of a better description. In the way I intended to use the term, I certainly wasn't solely talking about the use of groundbreaking techniques or ingredients. Creativity can take many forms. And surely there is even creativity in something as basic as creating an upscale version of what is traditionally a more lowbrow dish...though there is a premium on making the revised version an improvement on the original. However, I do think that there is a level of creativity in putting together new flavor combinations at even the restaurant examples you chose to cite. I know I've tasted things that felt new and exciting at Daniel, Per Se, Masa and even EMP. Things that I knew I couldn't get elsewhere or wouldn't taste the same elsewhere, and that were signature items for that chef. And surely, there was an inventive quality to many of the dishes that Benno prepared at Per Se, though we don't know for sure whose inventiveness was at work there. So for those who enjoyed his food there, it may have created an expectation that there would be similar inspiration at Lincoln.

New York is a tough food audience, and they have often shown an unwillingness to pay high prices for something they feel they can get an equivalent of at a much lower price. This has been made quite clear by the failure of places like Jean Georges's 66, among many others. In that case, it seemed that people expected a new take on Chinese food, or at least a clearly elevated one. When they instead felt that they got what they felt was Chinatown food on nice plates at triple the price, they stopped going. (There were many reason's for its failure, some unrelated to the food, but that was absolutely one of them.) It remains to be seen how this standard is applied to other cuisines, as there as some that have a greater expectation of value than others, but if you look at the seven four star restaurants on the NY Times list, there are very few that simply offer upscale versions of food you can get elsewhere for a fraction of the price. The food at Daniel is a far cry from the offerings of any brasserie, the food at Masa not at all comparable to that at a standard sushi bar, and so on. I can't speak to Del Posto with authority, as I haven't been since they re-structured the restaurant's format, but it will be interesting to see how it compares to mid-level Italian restaurants both in quality and in creativity (whatever we decide that it means).

For me, while I don't think Lincoln had any requirement to be creative, it did leave me with the feeling that I had tasted many of those dishes before elsewhere, and almost certainly for less money. That's a big factor in my measuring its value. Clearly, others have visited and felt very differently. Whether the reviewers (and other customers) decide that his technical execution is so far beyond what other Italian restaurants are doing as to set it apart and justify the price point will surely be a critical factor in its eventual reception. If enough people are as impressed as some have been with the cooking, then certainly it may well get good reviews (though I still don't think it can get four stars for the reasons mentioned earlier). And even if it doesn't become a culinary darling, it still may very well be a guaranteed success as a business venture based on its location within Lincoln Center. Just my two cents.

Edited by LPShanet (log)
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I'm finding this thread terribly confusing. I have never found stars to be very tasty or interesting, I go to restaurants for the food. And I love Italianish food.

Is the food at Lincoln delicious? Are there dishes that you "get hungry for" and want to return to enjoy again?

Which ones?

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I'm finding this thread terribly confusing. I have never found stars to be very tasty or interesting, I go to restaurants for the food. And I love Italianish food.

Is the food at Lincoln delicious? Are there dishes that you "get hungry for" and want to return to enjoy again?

Which ones?

If the star-counting doesn't interest you, and if you ignore those posts, what remains is the very clear sense that the food at Lincoln is very good. I do not recall any post (here or in other fora) suggesting it was anything less than that.

To those who follow the industry, it is impossible to separate Chef Benno from the place whence he came, namely Per Se. If there is a debate about Lincoln, it is whether he is still turning out food on that level, or if he is currently operating at a lower (but still very good) level.

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