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Bruni and Beyond: NYC Reviewing (2007)


slkinsey
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It is amazing that we're talking two, let alone three stars from the NYTimes. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I think the restaurant would be a significant failure (in terms of prestige and dollars spent) in Ramsay's mind if he didn't get four.

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It is amazing that we're talking two, let alone three stars from the NYTimes.  Perhaps I'm wrong, but I think the restaurant would be a significant failure (in terms of prestige and dollars spent) in Ramsay's mind if he didn't get four.

In terms of ego, three stars would be a bruise, no question about it. Ramsay definitely thinks he's as good as any of the chefs that have four stars in New York, and his restaurant was designed on that assumption.

But I think the economic breakpoint is between two and three stars. Not even Ramsay would have designed a restaurant that had to get four stars to survive — it's just too risky, given that a new four-star restaurant is rarer than a solar eclipse. At three stars, GR would be right in the heartland of many comparably priced places. Even a three-star review from Bruni would have to be pretty enthusiastic, and would therefore be a boon to business.

During Bruni's tenure, I can think of four new restaurants that probably thought of themselves as three-star candidates, but got two: The Modern, Gilt, Alto, and Café Gray. Only at Gilt were there significant repercussions (the chef got fired). Alto retooled the menu quite a bit, but is still ticking. The smackdown didn't seem to have any effect at The Modern or Café Gray.

So regardless of the review, I think GR's long-term fate depends on overall word-of-mouth than on the number of stars Bruni gives out. Obviously a three-star review will help business in the short term, and a four-star review will spark an all-out stampede, but long-term success requires repeat business.

I also think that the Michelin rating for a restaurant like GR will matter more than it does for a lot of other places, given that GR could be expected to draw a lot of international guests, who give more credence to the Michelin ratings than Bruni's.

Edited by oakapple (log)
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You may not know them but they certainly think they know Egullet.

Are we on a Death Watch?

http://www.eater.com/

I don't know if the moderators want this discussed here. Eater's views—right or wrong—are mainly derived from his impressions of the New York forum, so this seems as good a place as any.

I know of only two online communities somewhat similar to the eGullet Forums: Mouthfuls and Chowhound. Mouthfuls is quite similar, and actually uses the same software. As it is much newer, it doesn't have eGullet's extensive archive. In terms of current content, I don't see the case that Mouthfuls is any better.

Chowhound recently got a new user interface, which means it finally emerged from the early 1990s. Although much improved, it's still an inferior UI to what eG and Mouthfuls are using. Despite the obvious improvement, many of the CH old-timers hate it anyway. The clueless moderation policy—with perfectly legitimate posts regularly disappearing on a whim of the anonymous "Chowhound Team" for no good reason—is the one thing that hasn't changed.

So it eludes me why eGullet, among the three, would be Deathwatched. To be fair, Eater has ripped Chowhound plenty of times, though he has never DW'd them.

Edited by oakapple (log)
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this is being discussed on the food media page.

chowhound is in no fear of being DW'd. agreed that their moderators are simply bizarre...even absurd.

edit: the number one issue with mouthfuls is immediately evinced when you type

www.mouthfuls.com into your browser.

Edited by Nathan (log)
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You may not know them but they certainly think they know Egullet.

Are we on a Death Watch?

http://www.eater.com/

I don't know if the moderators want this discussed here. Eater's views—right or wrong—are mainly derived from his impressions of the New York forum, so this seems as good a place as any.

I know of only two online communities somewhat similar to the eGullet Forums: Mouthfuls and Chowhound. Mouthfuls is quite similar, and actually uses the same software. As it is much newer, it doesn't have eGullet's extensive archive. In terms of current content, I don't see the case that Mouthfuls is any better.

Chowhound recently got a new user interface, which means it finally emerged from the early 1990s. Although much improved, it's still an inferior UI to what eG and Mouthfuls are using. Despite the obvious improvement, many of the CH old-timers hate it anyway. The clueless moderation policy—with perfectly legitimate posts regularly disappearing on a whim of the anonymous "Chowhound Team" for no good reason—is the one thing that hasn't changed.

So it eludes me why eGullet, among the three, would be Deathwatched. To be fair, Eater has ripped Chowhound plenty of times, though he has never DW'd them.

But the most damning comment is about ego-centric people. So who of us on the New York board have egos? I sold mine last year when I was a little short of cash, so I guess that rules me out. So where are you egos hiding? Come out eater is watching.

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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[f you don't like cuisine that was created anywhere other than France pre-1965, there are plenty of bistros and old-guard French restaurants out there that will suit your taste. Expecting Michelin-starred establishments to hold with such a trite oeuvre strikes me as simply quixotic.

I got a whole duck at Per Se. It was brought to the table to be presented - and then carved. Served with a lot of other things. Yet I don't think of Per Se as a 1965 restaurant. And I know I couldn't make that dish. Doubt you could either.

And if - as you suggest - people get bored by cooking the same thing - why would Thomas Keller and his chefs want to cook the exact same meal for everyone who comes to the Keller restaurants on a given night? So don't tell me it's about boredom.

Excuse me. I'm not the one objecting to a particular kind of cuisine; you are (namely, modern preparations, or small portions, or non-traditional presentation). I like whole birds just fine, thank you, and am perfectly willing to accept them as grand cuisine. It's the reactionary rejection of tasting portions and the related approach to cooking in your posts to which I was responding.
Mayur Subbarao, aka "Mayur"
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this is being discussed on the food media page.

chowhound is in no fear of being DW'd.  agreed that their moderators are simply bizarre...even absurd.

edit:  the number one issue with mouthfuls is immediately evinced when you type

www.mouthfuls.com into your browser.

Been there, done that. More than once??? :hmmm:

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High-end restaurants here in New York do serve dishes a la carte, but not, in a growing number of instances, without being backed into a corner of having to order a minimum of three courses for a set price and any supplements. This is just another way of slowly tightening the noose. It's a practice that runs counter to what is one of the most admirable and generous ones you often sees in good European restaurants, which is welcoming diners who wish to breeze in and out of a restaurant to have one or two courses. I see all kinds of classy French and Italians do it, and while it is permissable still in some resturants here, I bet it doesn't make the restaurateurs very happy unless, of course, you make the restaurant your second kitchen.

Look, you can take a snapshot of the current dining scene and still find notable examples as Fat Guy does. What concerns me, however, is how gastronomy is trending, and it's certainly not doing so in favor of the serious, experienced and informed restaurant-goer.

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The wait is nearly over. Tomorrow, Frank Bruni reviews Gordon Ramsay at the London. The Eater oddsmakers have established two stars as the most likely outcome (3-1 odds). But Eater is taking the three-star action (6-1 odds) because he thinks Frank likes to surprise us.[...]

How does Eater know what Bruni will review in advance of the review?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I'll eat crow...its two stars, not three.

This one, I thought, was entirely—almost boringly—predictable. Pretty much like the food at GR (or Bruni's view of it).

Let's all say it again: Conventional formality bores him. Gordon Ramsay, meet Scott Conant and Gabriel Kreuther.

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Wonder why he gave it two. Read more like a one. I guess one for food and one for price, wine list and that Colonel Sanders taste.

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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Wonder why he gave it two. Read more like a one.

Not really. You have to remember that when Bruni reviews a famous chef, the review is cloaked in expectations. The subtitle of this review is, "Why GR is not three or four stars." It's a review by subtraction, and the shortcomings are therefore exaggerated. Read closely, and there is actually very little that he does not like. He is merely saying that it doesn't generate the excitement and exhiliration that he thinks a three or four-star restaurant should have.

Read any of Bruni's smackdown reviews of haute restaurants—there's a sizable body of them now—and you'll find a similar pattern. The review goes in with the presumption that the restauranteur was expecting three or four stars. Out comes the machete. The Perry Street and Del Posto reviews show that it is possible for a restaurant to have some food dishes he dislikes, and still get three stars, as long as there are enough highs.

Edited by oakapple (log)
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High-end restaurants here in New York do serve dishes a la carte, but not, in a growing number of instances, without being backed into a corner of having to order a minimum of three courses for a set price and any supplements. This is just another way of slowly tightening the noose. It's a practice that runs counter to what is one of the most admirable and generous ones you often sees in good European restaurants, which is welcoming diners who wish to breeze in and out of a restaurant to have one or two courses. I see all kinds of classy French and Italians do it, and while it is permissable still in some resturants here, I bet it doesn't make the restaurateurs very happy unless, of course, you make the restaurant your second kitchen.

Look, you can take a snapshot of the current dining scene and still find notable examples as Fat Guy does. What concerns me, however, is how gastronomy is trending, and it's certainly not doing so in favor of the serious, experienced and informed restaurant-goer.

Do you really have a problem with the choice of 3 course meal? Which - at many restaurants is a choice of 4 - or sometimes a choice of 3 or 4 or 5 etc.? When I'm going to a high end restaurant - it's not often that I won't eat a starter - a main - and a dessert (I happen to love desserts - perhaps a non-dessert eater wouldn't appreciate the compulsory dessert). Judging from restaurant pricing I've seen lately - you usually don't save any money by ordering strictly a la carte from restaurants that have a la carte menus (sometimes you might save a few dollars - but no big deal - usually you'll spend more money because the a la carte menu will have the most extravagant dishes) - so people who want 2 courses can buy the 3/4 course meal - and skip the courses they don't want. I think the choice of 3/4 courses is a far cry from the compulsory 29 course tasting menu.

And I'm not sure you're right about European restaurants. If you're doing traditional Italian - for example - you're expected to have a starter - a pasta - a main - and a dessert.

The problem in some restaurants may be more a function of serving size than number of courses (I don't like mini bites of courses but I don't want a half pound of pasta - or anything near that - for my pasta course either). Robyn

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I had a conversation last night about the GR review. Its hard not to see GR as having been underrated.

The menu strikes me as being conceptually quite similar to Country, which Bruni gave three stars. I've only eaten at the London Bar at GR (and was underwhelmed) and have not eaten at Country at all, but people I respect find the execution at GR to be at a higher level than Country. To me, the GR review reads like a "This is why this is not a Four Star Restaurant" sort of review...which is fine and almost certainly accurate. What it doesn't read like is a "This is why this is not a Three Star Restaurant" sort of review.

Considering that it's at a gentler price point than Country, it's hard not to read Bruni's text and see how GR didn't deserve three stars....

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I had a conversation last night about the GR review.  Its hard not to see GR as having been underrated.

The menu strikes me as being conceptually quite similar to Country, which Bruni gave three stars.  I've only eaten at the London Bar at GR (and was underwhelmed) and have not eaten at Country at all, but people I respect find the execution at GR to be at a higher level than Country.  To me, the GR review reads like a "This is why this is not a Four Star Restaurant" sort of review...which is fine and almost certainly accurate.  What it doesn't read like is a "This is why this is not a Three Star Restaurant" sort of review.

Considering that it's at a gentler price point than Country, it's hard not to read Bruni's text and see how GR didn't deserve three stars....

This is not a defense of Bruni, since I too believe GR deserved three stars. But if you re-read both the GR and Country reviews, it's clear that he quite simply liked Country better. It may not be much better, but there's no telling whether GR missed the third star by an inch or a mile. When two places are similar, it's not shocking that the critic awards three stars to the one he likes better, and two stars to the other one.

Whether one agrees with it or not, I think the GR review was very much consistent with his other two-star reviews of places that were designed for three or more (The Modern, Alto, Café Gray, Gilt, Le Cirque).

By the way, at the time it opened, Country's price point was very similar to GR's price point today. That Country's prices have gone up is a development Bruni's review did not anticipate.

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By the way, at the time it opened, Country's price point was very similar to GR's price point today. That Country's prices have gone up is a development Bruni's review did not anticipate.

Maybe that review is one of the reasons the price was able to go up. There is a reason why restaurants consider the NYT or Michelin stars to be so important whether they admit it or not - a good position often enables them to charge more, while a disappointing review may preclude raising prices to a more economically viable level and even kill the restaurant.

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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By the way, at the time it opened, Country's price point was very similar to GR's price point today. That Country's prices have gone up is a development Bruni's review did not anticipate.

Maybe that review is one of the reasons the price was able to go up. There is a reason why restaurants consider the NYT or Michelin stars to be so important whether they admit it or not - a good position often enables them to charge more, while a disappointing review may preclude raising prices to a more economically viable level and even kill the restaurant.

I totally agree, Doc. It cannot be an accident that GR is priced below the restaurants that Ramsay considers to be his peers. Had he gotten 3 or 4 stars, there's no doubt the price would have gone up. What happens now depends on whether the dining public agrees that Bruni is right.

By the way, Bruni and I agree on one thing. Both of us liked Country better. It's just that, for me, GR cleared the three-star barrier, and for Frank it didn't.

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As I mentioned in the notable openings thread, I felt the overall experience at GR was stronger than the one I had at Country. From the service, to the pacing, to quality of the food, I feel that GR operates on a higher level, though I will admit that I've only been to each restaurant once. While Country is perhaps marginally more "exciting" than GR, neither are cutting edge restaurants, and, in their shared category, GR better captures that stately elegance of (largely) traditional French cuisine. Bruni is known to dislike overwrought formality, so perhaps this one of the areas where GR fell short. I also feel as though--desite the inherent irationality of this statement--that higher expectations necessitated a lower rating.

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I also feel as though--desite the inherent irationality of this statement--that higher expectations necessitated a lower rating.

It's hard to go into a restaurant like GR without expectations. But the rating should be what it is, without a premium for being in the outer boroughs, or a tougher grading curve because the chef is famous. Would GR's rating be different if it were called "Fred Bloggs"? It shouldn't be.

Over at the BruniBlog, one commenter offered the best defense I've seen for Bruni's rating:

For all of his pedigree and credentials, Chef Ramsay sounds like he delivers a recitation of dishes that would have been popular 10 or 15 years ago, but that are nothing new today.... Why should a chef be rewarded for a lack of innovation? And more to the point, at Chef Ramsay’s purported level, if you are not going to innovate, shouldn’t diners at least leave thinking that [they] had the best (or close to the best) chicken of their lives?
The commenter also notes that no professional critic has been impressed with GR. If Bruni is wrong, he's no more wrong than all the other critics.

In quoting this comment, I am not suggesting that I've retreated from my view that the correct rating is three stars. I am only suggesting that this is the best defense I've seen for the contrary point of view.

Edited by oakapple (log)
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