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Café Gray Pre-Opening Discussion


alanamoana
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I'm glad you brought this up. I'm more excited about eating at Cafe Gray than Per Se, partly because of its relative affordability, partly because someone said he'll serve the suckling pig he served at Lespinasse. From the little I know about him, he seems like a very exciting chef.

JJ Goode

Co-author of Serious Barbecue, which is in stores now!

www.jjgoode.com

"For those of you following along, JJ is one of these hummingbird-metabolism types. He weighs something like eleven pounds but he can eat more than me and Jason put together..." -Fat Guy

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After all the smoke clears, Kunz's restaurant may turn out to be the most interesting of all. I personally believe he is the most talented chef in America, something people are likely to start remembering once he's again producing food instead of books.

By the way, I don't recall suckling pig ever being served by Gray Kunz at Lespinasse. Not that I or any other living person except Kunz has sampled every one of his dishes, but I associate the suckling pig dish (with Tarbais bean cassoulet) with Christian Delouvrier's regime at Lespinasse.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I think less was focuesd on Cafe grey, because there items were being butlere passed all over the building, and they did not serve out of their restaurant the way the other venues did. There food was not as interesting, although the tuna tartare was great as were the winter fruit beignets. Other items did not stand out. They were probably more limited as they were producing for a greater number of people.

I agree on previous posts about this restaurant, although I must admit I am a die hard Keller fan.

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Having been to a ton of these events, Ellensk, I'm sure your analysis is correct. Nonetheless, it never ceases to amaze me how cognitively nonsensical people can be about this sort of thing: Who gives a crap what canapes are served at a media or opening party? It has precious little to do with what the restaurant will be serving.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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By the way, I don't recall suckling pig ever being served by Gray Kunz at Lespinasse. Not that I or any other living person except Kunz has sampled every one of his dishes, but I associate the suckling pig dish (with Tarbais bean cassoulet) with Christian Delouvrier's regime at Lespinasse.

One of the many articles on the Time Warner building and its restaurants mentioned that Kunz would serve at Cafe Gray a dish similar to one he had served at Lespinasee. Now that I think of it, maybe it was a short rib dish. Either way, I now want some suckling pig...

aha: "and some classics, like the braised short ribs and mushroom fricassee he did at Lespinasse..." - from the now unlinkable Times article by Florence Fabricant.

JJ Goode

Co-author of Serious Barbecue, which is in stores now!

www.jjgoode.com

"For those of you following along, JJ is one of these hummingbird-metabolism types. He weighs something like eleven pounds but he can eat more than me and Jason put together..." -Fat Guy

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The braised short ribs (which don't sound like much but the technique is fairly advanced) and the herbed risotto with wild mushroom fricassee were two of his signatures at Lespinasse. I've never heard of the mushroom fricassee served as a dish per se (sorry), though.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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What is "relative affordability" in this context?  :huh:

Relative to the Asayoshi, Per se, Rare, etc., Cafe Gray is affordable -- the average dinner there, from what I've read, will cost half as much as the other places (or one-fourth as much as Asayoshi). And he's a very exciting chef.

So not only is it relatively affordable, it's a relative bargain. :wink:

JJ Goode

Co-author of Serious Barbecue, which is in stores now!

www.jjgoode.com

"For those of you following along, JJ is one of these hummingbird-metabolism types. He weighs something like eleven pounds but he can eat more than me and Jason put together..." -Fat Guy

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What is "relative affordability" in this context?  :huh:

Relative to the Asayoshi, Per se, Rare, etc., Cafe Gray is affordable -- the average dinner there, from what I've read, will cost half as much as the other places (or one-fourth as much as Asayoshi).

Does that mean $100 a head instead of $200, or is it worse than that?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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What is "relative affordability" in this context?  :huh:

Relative to the Asayoshi, Per se, Rare, etc., Cafe Gray is affordable -- the average dinner there, from what I've read, will cost half as much as the other places (or one-fourth as much as Asayoshi).

Does that mean $100 a head instead of $200, or is it worse than that?

Something like that. That's why it's only relatively affordable.

JJ Goode

Co-author of Serious Barbecue, which is in stores now!

www.jjgoode.com

"For those of you following along, JJ is one of these hummingbird-metabolism types. He weighs something like eleven pounds but he can eat more than me and Jason put together..." -Fat Guy

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The braised short ribs (which don't sound like much but the technique is fairly advanced) and the herbed risotto with wild mushroom fricassee were two of his signatures at Lespinasse.

IIRC, both are on the menu posted in front of the restaurant. Unforunately, there were no prices listed.

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  • 1 month later...

This morning as part of the research for my book I paid a visit to the Cafe Gray space, which is reported to be approximately 5 weeks from opening, in order to tour the kitchen with the chef, his team, and kitchen designer Jimi Yui.

The kitchens (there is a behind-the-scenes production kitchen and a very visible service kitchen that runs the entire length of the dining room) are essentially ready and have been utilized for at least one event. The remaining work is minor, on the order of moving a few faucets, adding sound insulation (critical in an open kitchen) to some of the metal carts and doors, closing up the ceiling, and hanging the lights.

The dining room is still a construction site. The infrastructure is in place but there is much to be done.

Cafe Gray is scheduled to be open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I saw some draft menus and they included a combination of Kunz signatures (the herbed risotto with wild mushroom fricassee; the braised short ribs with creamy grits and Meaux mustard sauce) as well as plenty of new stuff. The breakfast and lunch items are more casual, and there is also a bar menu.

There are slated to be 120 seats in the dining room. There's also a chef's table at one end of the kitchen and a private dining room at the other end. When standing in the dining room, one looks through the kitchen and out onto Central Park and Columbus Circle. The view is similar to the one at Per Se one flight up (the restaurants are not exactly aligned in the building but parts of them overlap), save for the private room which has a really sweet view because it's positioned where the building bends so you can see the whole of Central Park -- all the way north and east.

This is how the kitchen looks right now. The first photo was taken from where the private dining room will be, and the second was taken from one end of the main dining room.

i4880.jpg

i4881.jpg

The dining room as viewed from the kitchen:

i4882.jpg

Chef Kunz and the team inspect the kitchen:

i4883.jpg

i4884.jpg

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Wow, that looks like one sweet kitchen to work in.

"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

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Cafe Gray is scheduled to be open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

There are slated to be 120 seats in the dining room.

No matter how distinguished the chef, I'm afraid that we're facing the typical NY equation.

too many meals + too many diners = inconsistent results

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No matter how distinguished the chef, I'm afraid that we're facing the typical NY equation.

too many meals + too many diners = inconsistent results

There's no question a forty seat dining room is going to serve different food than one with room for 120 diners, but if Kunz plans on serving the kind of food that can be served consistently to that crowd, you should get consistent food. My understanding was that this was not meant to be the high end place that Per Se is meant to be or that Lespinasse was.

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too many meals + too many diners = inconsistent results

It's not possible to know in advance how the kitchen will handle the traffic, but it does appear that the selection and placement of every piece of kitchen equipment, the production of every dish, the style of service, and all the other pieces of the puzzle have been conceived from the ground up as able to be replicated accurately on a 120-seat-dining-room, 3-turns-a-night scale.

The restaurant is by no means huge. It's certainly smaller than Daniel, and even smaller relative to the world's most consistent restaurant, McDonald's. So I don't see it as having "too many" of anything. But it's a heck of a lot bigger than Lespinasse. It will be interesting to watch it come to life.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The kitchen looks good. Thanks, Steve and Ellen.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

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Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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It's not possible to know in advance how the kitchen will handle the traffic, but it does appear that the selection and placement of every piece of kitchen equipment, the production of every dish, the style of service, and all the other pieces of the puzzle have been conceived from the ground up as able to be replicated accurately on a 120-seat-dining-room, 3-turns-a-night scale.

It does appear that the physical implementation of the kitchen is a very good start. My concern relates more to the kitchen staff: skills, organization, management. Dealing with the stresses and strains of having to produce too many meals with too few people. I don't believe that Kunz was considered to be a great kitchen leader or manager when he was at Lespinasse.

Kunz is a major chef, and I hope that this restaurant format will provide the opportunity for him to do something interesting.

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It's definitely going to be a new challenge for him. At Lespinasse he had carte blanche to create, without needing to be concerned (at least in the original conception of the restaurant) about the resources needed to get it done. At Cafe Gray, he needs to fit his culinary creativity into an unforgiving, challenging, and in some aspects unprecedented (the whole Time Warner situation is a huge factor here) business model.

It would be unrealistic, however, to write off Kunz's five years of deals-gone-bad experience. You can see the life-lessons in his face, and you can hear them in his voice. When I used to talk to Kunz at Lespinasse -- rarely, just a few hurried words at a time, on account of his well-know shyness -- I could have sworn he and I were the same age (he is in fact 14 years older than I; he's 48 right now, I believe). These days he still has that trademark baby-face but his bearing is elder statesmanlike. I think we're going to see a very different Gray Kunz when Cafe Gray opens.

I'm still not buying into this theory of "too many meals," though. Marcus, what are the operational limitations you're envisioning for Cafe Gray? Assuming the place is properly conceived and everything is in its place, a 120-seat restaurant simply isn't a big deal. For example, the choice to feature short ribs as a signature dish seems pretty safe from a consistency standpoint: provided you have the equipment, time, and training, it makes no difference at all if you braise 10, 100, or 1000 portions during prep. The dish is cooked in the back kitchen long before service. The line cooks, when serving the dish, don't need to do very much -- they bring a portion to temperature and they do whatever they have to do to adjust and add the sauce and garnishes. It wouldn't be much of a challenge to design a restaurant that could serve 1000 portions of that dish per night in a very consistent manner. Yet all of Kunz's little twists on the formula (the way several ribs are butchered to give the appearance of one big rib, the cooking under weight/pressure, the saucing) yield what scores of seasoned veteran diners have declared the definitive short rib dish of all time. Now, you'll be able to sidle up at the Cafe Gray bar and get that dish any time, and at lunchtime you can get a sandwich version -- basically the same meat preparation but done panini-style. I find that prospect appealing.

Of course, when you get into cooking scallops and Dover sole, you need a really solid line cook who can hit the right level of doneness every time. And that gets harder and harder to do as the numbers go up and the ability to supervise every dish goes down. But one hopes and imagines Kunz will know the limits of his crew and will start with a conservative menu that operates within those limits, and then he'll go from there. Gray Kunz is nothing if not careful and precise. For all the talk of Thomas Keller being such a perfectionist, I think anybody who has seen Gray Kunz at work in a kitchen will testify that he's the human equivalent of a Swiss watch.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The kitchen looks nice but I hope there is a back kitchen and pastry area as well. For a 120 seater - It looks on the small side.

Gordon, as I mentioned above, "there is a behind-the-scenes production kitchen and a very visible service kitchen that runs the entire length of the dining room." The production kitchen has all the stock pots, deck ovens, walk-ins, etc. Also the dishwashing area and the pastry kitchen. There's quite a bit more room and equipment in the Cafe Gray kitchens than most any chef would think is necessary for a 120-seat restaurant.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I'm still not buying into this theory of "too many meals," though. Marcus, what are the operational limitations you're envisioning for Cafe Gray? Assuming the place is properly conceived and everything is in its place, a 120-seat restaurant simply isn't a big deal.

I don't want to get carried away with speculation, the facts should be on the table fairly soon. I would love to see Cafe Gray turn out to be a wonderfully consistent restaurant with great food. Lespinasse at its best was the finest restaurant in NY, perhaps ever. There are, as you say, some excellent dishes that can be produced easily and others that are much more difficult. Kunz's perfectionism may turn out to be a positive or it may drive him crazy, with negative results.

My scepticism comes from being a native New Yorker, with many, many, decades of dining in this city. In my experience, NYC restaurants at all levels are the most inconsistent of any great dining city in the world. This has become such a pervasive fact of life here, that critics largely ignore it. A 120 restaurant open 7 days with 3 dinner seatings is common in NY, it may be no big deal, but in my view it has yet to be done successfully to produce excellence with consistency. Gramercy Tavern achieves some consistency by dumbing down the preparations, and is ultimately boring. Daniel, your example, is incredibly inconsistent for a restaurant at its level, and appears to practice favoritism, a form of triage, in the kitchen in order to satisfy its most important customers.

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