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High End Dining in NYC


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Welcome Arthur -- I've been waiting over 3 years for you to join us on eG, and I am glad you finally did.

In the last three years, many of NYC's iconic fine dining institutions have shuttered their doors or made major changes to stay afloat -- Lespinasse, Le Caravelle, Lutece, and Russian Tea room all have closed. La Cote Basque was downsized and made more casual, Bouley was demoted by Frank Bruni from its 4 star position and as a result has become more casual, and soon Le Cirque is moving and is to be significantly downsized. These are probably the most noted examples, but there are quite a few others.

Do you think this is part due to anti-French sentiment related to the War and slow business recovery from the aftereffects of 9/11, or is there some other pattern in the dining habits of New Yorkers -- perhaps more of a desire for casual and innovative dining -- that is bringing this about? We've gotten a number of new high-end places that haven't quite replaced these past icons such as Cafe Gray and Per Se, and of course Masa (which is Japanese so its really not comparable) but those are the only few that really stick out. Many of the new upscale restaurants are quite casual in nature.

I'm eager to get your perspective on this.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Welcome Arthur -- I've been waiting over 3 years for you to join us on eG, and I am glad you finally did.

In the last three years, many of NYC's iconic fine dining institutions have shuttered their doors or made major changes to stay afloat -- Lespinasse, Le Caravelle, Lutece, and Russian Tea room all have closed.  La Cote Basque was downsized and made more casual, Bouley was demoted by Frank Bruni from its 4 star position and as a result has become more casual, and soon Le Cirque is moving and is to be significantly downsized. These are probably the most noted examples, but there are quite a few others.

Do you think this is part due to anti-French sentiment related to the War and slow business recovery from the aftereffects of 9/11, or is there some other pattern in the dining habits of New Yorkers -- perhaps more of a desire for casual and innovative dining -- that is bringing this about? We've gotten a number of new high-end places that haven't quite replaced these past icons such as Cafe Gray and Per Se, and of course Masa (which is Japanese so its really not comparable) but those are the only few that really stick out. Many of the new upscale restaurants are quite casual in nature.

I'm eager to get your perspective on this.

So, Jason, when was the last time YOU went to La Caravelle. Or La Cote Basque. (By the way, I would not put Lespinasse in the same "iconic" league as those. It was fairly new, a hotel restaurant. Never in step with the city and you have to walk through a hotel lobby to get there -- not what New Yorkers like to do. Anyway, I don't the closing of these places has anything to do with antii-French feelings. We have not lost our taste for steak frites, or high-style food. I think it was just inevitable. They are old restaurants. Young people -- including you, Jason -- don't want to eat in starchy old French restaurants, even when their chefs try to contemporary -- as they tried to be a La Caravelle. I think it is no more or less a life cycle story. When writing New York City Food, I saw the patterns. It is rare for a restaurant to last as long as those did. We are definitely into more casual times -- La Cote Basque's idea -- I should say Jean-Jacques Rachou's idea, was to make La Cote Basque more casual, to catch a younger diner. He is off the mark, unfortunately. The new brasserie is as stiff as the old restaurant, as expensive, and drawing the same old (very old) crowd. Look to places like Spice Market as a more viable restaurant model for these times.

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