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Bux

ADNY (Alain Ducasse @ Essex House)

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It's not a question of Ducasse's food being subtle, or of unmet expectations, or of a flawed media campaign, or of the occasional error in cooking, or of Americans liking their shellfish cooked to higher temperatures than Europeans prefer. The treatment that Ducasse has received in the United States has been far more insidious.

ADNY, which so many educated gourmets will tell you is the best restaurant in the United States, has received the most negative press of any restaurant I know of, ever. Such sector-wide cognitive dissonance can't be explained away as an isolated glitch in the system.

What we're seeing is a persistent acting out of a cultural crisis in the food media. The craft of restaurant reviewing is at an all-time low, with nary a critic in sight who has the stature to act as a credible arbiter of taste. Where we had Ruth Reichl, Gael Greene, and David Rosengarten, we now have Frank Bruni, Adam Platt, and Jay Cheshes. This new generation of critics is ill equipped to offer reviews that transcend the kinds of meal-reports that you could find on any number of websites.

There's a political dimension as well: the reactions to ADNY have been xenophobic and specifically Francophobic. There are also elements of trendy reverse snobbism (on account of Ducasse's unapologetic luxury) and even trendier anti-corporate rhetoric (the relentless hounding of Ducasse for operating multiple restaurants).

No one of these factors is enough to turn the food press against you. You can be French so long as you embrace American dining habits. You can be expensive so long as you figure out ways not to appear too elite and corporate. You can commit a multitude of sins if you're Thomas Keller. But Ducasse is uncompromising, and people hate him for it -- especially because he's the top dog.

Luckily, there have since the beginning been a few strong voices arguing on Ducasse's behalf. And over the past 5 years there have been a number of happy conversions. But the ressentiment against Ducasse is still not-so-subtly pervasive. And I'm sure we'll see a resurgence now that, with Delouvrier's arrival, there's reason to re-review the 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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Luckily, there have since the beginning been a few strong voices arguing on Ducasse's behalf. And over the past 5 years there have been a number of happy conversions. But the ressentiment against Ducasse is still not-so-subtly pervasive. And I'm sure we'll see a resurgence now that, with Delouvrier's arrival, there's reason to re-review the restaurant.

Unlike the original round of reviews, ADNY has been getting mostly favorable press. Both of the two local critics who've reviewed it lately (Steve Cuozzo and Bob Lape) have awarded four stars. I suspect Frank Bruni will weigh in shortly, but anything less than four stars would just prove Bruni's irrelevance. (Edit: I forgot the decidedly mediocre New York Mag review.)

I am not so sure that the anti-Ducasse sentiment is political, as there's a far simpler explanation: ignorance. There are no other restaurants in America that are attempting to do what Ducasse does, and most of these critics lack the traditional culinary education that their forebears had. What they see is: "$150, three courses." While ADNY is no longer the only restaurant serving a $150 dinner, it's the only one that gives you only just three courses for that amount. A lot of these critics don't get it.


Edited by oakapple (log)

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I agree that there's ignorance involved. But ignorance can't explain the whole pattern or even most of it (It's hard to interpret language like "haute cuisine imperialist" as anything other than political). I'm also not sure I agree with the "mostly favorable press" assessment. The two most significant reviews to date -- Gourmet and New York Magazine -- have both been quite negative, with the Gourmet review almost in the vicious category. And you have to view that not in a vacuum, but against the benchmark of such a high level restaurant. It's not like some one-star brasserie just opened and the reviews have been mixed. Speaking of which, Ducasse's other restaurant, Mix, received similarly harsh treatment. I really don't think it can be said that the collective media animus against Ducasse has dissipated. Lessened a bit, perhaps, but it's still palpable.


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 have not read every last page of this particular strand, but I would like to add my voice to the discussion of ADNY. I have had two meals there in the last 3 years. On both occasions I found that some dishes were entirely remarkable and others fell essentially flat. The high points were as good as things get, but the low points made me wince. Afterwards, I must confess I felt a little betrayed. My exuberance about half the courses was combined with frustration about the others. I might add that my meal at MIX was not special.

I am not here to support the Gourmet review, which I have not read, or to raise my voice in support of the general negativity of the print reaction to ADNY. But because I am fairly confident that my view isn't an entirely unsophisticated one, I trust you all might entertain the notion that there may indeed be some real, rather than imagined, inconsistency at ADNY. Just as I believe that many of you have experienced sublime and consistent meals at ADNY, I cannot believe that conspiratorial animus of a French restaurant or chef, even a restaurant run by a provacative "imperialist" chef, can be in fact existent. To say that all of these reviewers are ignorant seems to stretch credibility in itself.

And, again, don't get me wrong--I want ADNY to work out! I'm going back next week--and only because I have read and trusted many of the things you all have said here! Forget my common sense reaction here--I want to be proven wrong.

Christian.

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Had the review in Gourmet said, "The high points were as good as things get, but the low points made me wince," I might be inclined to agree that it reflected "real, rather than imagined, inconsistency at ADNY." But the review didn't say that or anything like it. Instead, the review portrayed the restaurant as a total failure and had nearly nothing positive to say about the food, which as you know is, when good, as good as food gets. I admire your faith in humanity, but a review like that is hard to explain without reference to an agenda, as is the overall media reaction.


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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Perhaps I am too optimistic about humanity, or rather the objectivity of reviewers. You certainly know more about that, Stephen, than I, and I concede that there are politics at work that I cannot appreciate.

I would still maintain that a restaurant that is as good as it gets at times shouldn't make me wince at others--and that that strange combination of experiences may not be altogether uncommon there, given that it has happened to me twice and apparently to others (including friends not active on this site). That this might be disappointing to true lovers of great food is, I hope, understandable. And that isn't to say that I don't think a great restaurant can ever be 100% consistent. I think you once commented about this very thing, and I agree with you that 100% is unattainable. My favorite restaurant in the city, Per Se, is certainly a case in point, although in my triple experience it rose to the occasion with more consistency than ADNY--and never made me wince.

C.

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and sorry, Steven, for mispelling your name! I'm new around here!!

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that ducasse is uncompromising and people hate him for it as steven noted cannot be understated

I was at the restaurant for the book release party (the book- harvesting excellence hastily put together to coincide with the ADNY opening is a joke compared with the other french volumes- masterworks in my opinion- ducasse is putting out in the Les Editions d'Alain Ducasse)

the same week of the pink paper story called 'the man who fell to earth' (ny post?) or something close to that written seemingly to endear him to nyc dining public shortly after the fallout just after opening

even in the midst of all that he seemed well insulated (noticebly confused as well) and after a few good reviews following months later it seems the backlash repeated and has continued over the last couple of years

back then during a tour of the kitchen I'll never forget the pale faces of the chef and cooks as well as the resolute nature of the ducasse institution that was in full force- it's tough

the food was excellent and that brioche for the next morning was indeed some of the best I've had in this country

it does seem to be a factor that ducasse is much more an international chef than his 'peers' here and not based in nyc

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I finally had dinner at Ducasse last Friday night with my wife. Since I figure that I would not have the opportunity to dine there more than once in a blue moon I decided to go all out. I had the truffle tasting menu with the wine pairings while my wife had the regular tasting menu with wine pairings. As much as I really wanted to be blown away by the meal, I wasn't. I do have to agree with the sentiment that the high points were quite high and most of the food was outstanding if not transcendant or sublime. The low points, however, were sufficient to undermine the overall quality of the experience, especially for what it cost.

Despite reports from others, I liked the room. While I can't say that it is my favorite room of anywhere I have ever dined, it was perfectly comfortable. The decor was fine.

The service was extremely attentive and professional, but was also the source of my greatest consternation for the evening. I actually felt rushed. I felt as if the first five courses came one on top of another. We had our main course within an hour and a half of being seated. I felt as if we really didn't have time to reflect on our food and enjoy our wines before the next course was at the table. When asked how things were after we were served our final savory course I answered as above. The captain asked why didn't I say something sooner. I replied that I hadn't expected it to be so and didn't expect it to be a pattern. Subsequent to that the pacing slowed considerably into a much more relaxed state. Part of what got me a little bit agitated was that I had already seen several tables turn over. I had been under the impression beforehand that the table was ours for the evening, but as the meal was progressing I was beginning to wonder if that were in fact the case.

I felt my eggs in cocotte, scallop and foie gras ravioli courses were superb. The depth, skill and quality of the kitchen were evident throughout but for a couple of exceptions. Th red shrimp and turbot was an example of a dish with split personality IMO. The shrimp with the most incredible reduction was my favorite element of the evening, however, I still don't understand what the turbot was doing there. Normally turbot is one of my favorite fish and this was a beautiful piece that still had bone on. Unfortunately, though it was IMO a bit overcooked so that it was relatively dry and worse yet it was essentially flavorless, especially beside the shrimp. It still might have worked had there been enough of the reduction with which to bathe the fish. Alas, there wasn't. The other dish that proved disappointing was the pheasant with albuferra sauce. The sauce was deep, complex and sublime, but the generous piece of pheasant breast was uneven as some bites had more flavor than others. In actuality, I thought the pheasant fairly bland as well. A bit more of the sauce might have helped. I must say that if this were a less highly regarded restaurant or had it been less expensive than it was, my criticism of these dishes might not have been as sharp as above. In reality though, despite those misses, I believe the prices for the food can be justified by the obvious care and complexity of the dishes and the obvious quality of the underlying ingredients. Where I have more of a problem with prices, though, is with the wine. The pairings were well chosen, but the only wine of obvious expense was a 1993 Gaja Barolo Sperss and of this I received but a meager pour.

Overall, the meal was of great quality and indeed worth considerable expense (though IMO not what I actually spent).


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Bruni docks them a star, cites broken toilet, snotty sommelier.


"Mine goes off like a rocket." -- Tom Sietsema, Washington Post, Feb. 16.

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Bruni docks them a star, cites broken toilet, snotty sommelier.

It's almost like the NYT has decided this is the restaraunt they are going to love to hate. Every reviewer will now earn their figurative spurs by knocking it down a star.


Tony

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The jig was up for ADNY when Frank had the tiff with the booze guy.

Also not moist enough.


"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

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

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

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Bruni's assessment was very much in line with my own posted above. As great as the restaurant could be, I too found it jarringly uneven.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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It's unfortunate that the review frames itself in terms of agenda-driven issues like "vanity" and price. When a review concludes "But beneath an unfettered pageant is an uneven performance, a wow that wavers, a spell less binding than a restaurant with this much vanity can possibly wish it to be," it casts doubt on everything else that is said therein -- it gives the impression that the verdict is not really about inconsistency. The recounting of the incident with the sommelier is excruciating and petty. The litany of prices is calculated to incite. The charges of vanity are false. And "a wow that wavers"? People who live in glass houses . . .


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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MY two cents....

Not a bad review.

He certainly had a lot of good things to say about the food.

Let's face it, there's been a few besides docsconz that have had their "points" about it.


2317/5000

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But Ted, there are a few people besides DocSconz who have their points about every restaurant in the world. By that standard no restaurant would be able to get four stars -- and certainly not Per Se (given that there were something like 700 courses involved, I probably experienced more inconsistency in one meal at Per Se than everybody on this thread put together has experienced at Ducasse). If you pull together enough people you will find some who have had inconsistent or even bad experiences at every New York four-star restaurant and every European three-star restaurant. Inconsistency as such is not a revelation -- it is in the nature of being. The issue is the tolerable level of inconsistency. What the review describes -- a little bit of miscommunication with a sommelier; an over- or under-cooked piece of meat on occasion -- does not amount to the level of inconsistency that justifies a three-star rating for what is clearly one of the best handful of restaurants in the United States, and one of the two best in New York by a clear margin over the other restaurants that currently define the four-star category.


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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My point is that it seems that more and more people these days won't tolerate those inconsistencies that you or I can pass off as part of life.

Not when they're paying those kind of bucks.

When Per Se get's up to that price point people will pitch a fit.

My observation about people having "points" was based more on seeing certain things mentioned over and over again in a thread, say like the 'Bouley' thread.

I have no axe to grind with those guys.

In fact, at the moment I'm pretty obsessed with all things Ducasse.


2317/5000

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I have never been to AD so on that front I cant offer much, on the other hand I wanted to weigh on on a couple points about the way Bruni constructed his review. Essentially what struck me first off was the way he skewed AD's vanity in decor and presentation. Essentially it seemed as though he was holding AD to a standard that was higher than other four star restaurants do to its appearence and then deducting it down to three stars after missing that expectated lofty standard. I think AD is really in a unique position because it is certainly more gaudy than a restaurant like Per Se and Masa, but does that mean it should be held to a higher standard food wise?

I also strongly agree that no restaurant should be held to a standard of sheer consistent perfection in either food or service. I think sometimes we forget that even at restaurants like AD the chefs are still human and if you dine at a restaurant enough (which Im assuming Bruni did, probably 4+ times) it is going to happen. That said, what is the correct guideline of consistency to hold a restaurant to? I think a lot of it depends on the restaurants peer group. The way I see it Bruni probably has a preconcieved consistancy schema based on dining at other 4 star restaurants. Obviously Bruni thought AD fell short in comparison. It is really difficult to make out the extent of the inconsistency because Bruni does not develop the point as well as perhaps he should, considering it forms the crux of his demotion.


Edited by Benito417 (log)

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Is ADNY as good as some of the European 3 stars? Certainly not. But to say it is on par with Babbo is ridiculous. I don't understand the opulence critique. Has Bruni ever been to Paris?


"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

Flickr Food

"111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321" Bruce Frigard 'Winesonoma' - RIP

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Fat Guy,

You say: "a little bit of miscommunication with a sommelier". I say "rudeness". If the experience was as Bruni describes it, it was either rudeness or arrogance, neither of which IMO is acceptable.

Porkpa

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Yes, but

I was treated with reliable courtesy, as most diners, from my observation, seemed to be.

"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

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

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

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Just a reminder: Let's keep the discussion in this thread on the subject of ADNY, and the review as it directly touches on ADNY. For discussion of the Bruni's reviewing chops and general criticism of the review itself, please take discussion to the "Bruni and Beyond: NYC Reviewing (2005)" thread.


--

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Fat Guy,

You say: "a little bit of miscommunication with a sommelier". I say "rudeness". If the experience was as Bruni describes it, it was either rudeness or arrogance, neither of which IMO is acceptable.

Porkpa

If I were to tell people you were rude in your reply to Fat Guy, it wouldn't make your reply rude, but it might leave those to whom I spoke, believing you were rude. The problem is that we're depending on Bruni's interpretation of his observations as well as his observations. I've been in restaurants where others have seen things I haven't seen and taken offense at what they've seen. In some cases seeing things may be more a matter of projection rather than acuity.

In NY, a sommelier, especially at an American restaurant at just below the four star class, will often be quick to make recommendations of his favorite wines on a personal basis. In Paris, at a Michelin three star restaurant, the sommelier may be more likely to determine the diner's preferences in wine before attempting to recommend a match with the food. It's quite normal for the sommelier to ask if one prefers Bordeaux or Burgundy. The way in which Bruni describes the interaction with the sommelier following his fumbling with his Martini, doesn't suggest he's the ideal man to report on wine service at the restaurant. To top it off, he couldn't even tell us anything about the wine except that he didn't know what he was drinking with his dinner and only enquired about the wine after he was finished eating. My wife had a decidedly non academic interest in wines and doesn't carry around a mental picture of wine geography, but she's curious enough to know the names of what she's drinking and curious enough to ask to see the bottle and read the label at some point in the service. And she will ask to do that. Bruni was a reporter posted in Europe and one who supposedly made a tour of international restaurants prior to coming to NY to take his position at the Times, but I don't get the sense he's at home in Ducasse's restaurant.

"... an intense reduction of red wine, sherry and Xérès vinegars and browned butter," leaves me particularly confused. Is that red wine + sherry + Xérès vinegar, or as the plural form of vinegar suggests, red wine + sherry and Xérès vinegars? In either case, there seems an ignorance of the fact that "sherry" is the English name for the wines of Jerez, Spain and "Xérès" is the French name for the same wines. It's but another indication that Bruni is not the man from whom I want to hear about this restaurant. "This was a fatty paean not merely to gluttony but to all seven deadly sins," may be meant as tongue in cheek, but it's turning me off as a recurrent puritanical theme disguised as a concern for health.

I have no idea if Ducasse at the Essex House is currently operating at the four star level. I haven't been back recently. It's far too expensive to be a regular stop for me. My guess is that Ducasse is probably operating at the level of a Michelin three star restaurant. Few of my three star meals in Paris have been absolutely flawless, and when they are, I'm apt to be bothered by a perceived loss of personality in the food. Two star restaurants are more likely to be perfect in my mind. In fact, I may admit to doing what Bruni is accused of doing -- looking too closely when the restaurant has the top rating -- but somehow, I think I can separate out an objective opinion. I'm not sure Bruni is able to do that here. I'm not at all sure it's not the subjective opinion the Times believes is suitable for its readers, most of whom are highly educated, cosmopolitan and sophisticated, but nevertheless not likely to ever eat at Ducasse anyway.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Fat Guy,

You say: "a little bit of miscommunication with a sommelier". I say "rudeness". If the experience was as Bruni describes it, it was either rudeness or arrogance, neither of which IMO is acceptable.

If I were to tell people you were rude in your reply to Fat Guy, it wouldn't make your reply rude, but it might leave those to whom I spoke, believing you were rude. The problem is that we're depending on Bruni's interpretation of his observations as well as his observations. I've been in restaurants where others have seen things I haven't seen and taken offense at what they've seen. In some cases seeing things may be more a matter of projection rather than acuity.

Bux,

That's why I used the word "if" in "If the experience was as Bruni describes it".

Porkpa

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