Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Where to get the haute-cuisine experience, cheap


Fat Guy
 Share

Recommended Posts

The clientele for these places is not people who are sick of traditional three and four stars; it's people who like three/four stars so much that they want to be able to enjoy the most significant part of the experience on a much more regular basis.
Most of the people claiming the existence of a New Paradigm do go to conventional high-end restaurants on a fairly regular basis. I mean, just read the reviews of where Sneakeater, Nathan, and Fat Guy are dining — it's a very wide spectrum. I mean, if you limited yourself to the purported New Paradigm restaurants, you'd probably get bored quickly, because there just aren't that many of them.

eGullet posters, of course, are a highly atypical bunch. We spend much more of our time at fine restaurants than 99% of the population. The same, I suspect, is true of Frank Bruni's friends. He has managed to self-select companions who have similar interests to himself. We all do that.

So the trend that Bruni claims to have identified is probably limited to a group that couldn't even fill a movie theater, which in relation to the population of New York, is insignificant.

...you end up that these "Paradigm" restaurants are serving food that is more vital and exciting than many of the three/four stars.
I suspect this is an exaggeration. For instance, if Bouley and Bouley Upstairs were both free, would Bouley Upstairs really be more exciting? I don't think so. What I interpret people to be saying, is that Upstairs gets you a long way towards what the flagship restaurant is doing — but not all the way — at a fraction of the price.
I'd also point out that NY has for some time had a sort of predecessor to these restaurants in the wonderful tradition of most three stars saving the bar to serve their full menu to walk-ins.

That's part of the reason I don't think the purported Paradigm is at all new. It's just a baby-step away from the bar dining or casual front-room dining that many of the three and four-star places have offered for years. Edited by oakapple (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

In addition to eating so-called haute food in the dining rooms of haute restaurants I've also had the opportunity to eat pleanty of it in the kitchens where it's being made and not off of French porcelain or with fourteen different pieces of silverware, (indeed sometimes with no silverware at all) never with wine.  The cooks who are on the forefront of this trend (Yumcha comes to mind.  RIP) have experiences of this day in and day out and additionally have little desire for the ties and sirs and sliverplating, linen and in general the celebration of wealth that in the past has inevitably accompanied the experience of eating highly creative food.  It could be a marker of the way in which the chef has risen in visibility that his experience and vision of the food is coming to be more represented in the way in which the food is presented to the diner.  For my money, I'm really intersted in the ideas that are flying around in the kitchen at a restaurant like Per Se but much less so in the part of the bill that pays for the real estate, the interior design, the army of servers and all the finery of service.  In short, what I think Chang and others are trying to do--FG I think you're the one who invoked postmodernism--is dissemble the gastrolinguistic divide between his experience and the diner's.  I am all for this as a zeitgeist and hope it catches on like wildfire.

Great post.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

For instance, if Bouley and Bouley Upstairs were both free, would Bouley Upstairs really be more exciting? I don't think so. What I interpret people to be saying, is that Upstairs gets you a long way towards what the flagship restaurant is doing — but not all the way — at a fraction of the price.

If Bouley and Bouley Upstairs were both free, I would still be more excited about Upstairs, at least in some ways on a daily basis, because of the lack of any dress code, the more casual atmosphere, the more casual service, the faster pace of a meal, etc.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

One thing I find more exciting about the Upstairs menu than the Bouley menu is that (and this is also true of Momo-Ssam) it cuts across stylistic boundaries. Haute dishes coexist with home-style dishes. There's nobody saying, oh, we can't serve a hamburger, or rice cakes with pork sausage, because that's too rustic. All these things can coexist at a restaurant where the only standard for inclusion is that something be delicious.

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)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

OK, question: why do we find this aspect of Bouley Upstairs and Momo-Ssam exciting, while I at least find the stylistic disparity between the main menu and the dessert menu at Varietal troubling?

Possible answers:

1. Because there's also a significant qualitative difference between the two menu segments at Varietal.

2. Because Varietal is otherwise a much more traditional-seeming, less casual, place.

3. Because of what I keep referring to as the "improvasitory" quality of the "New Paradigm" restaurants. Maybe someone else can do a better job of explaining what I mean by that. I'm finding it hard.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

If Bouley and Bouley Upstairs were both free, I would still be more excited about Upstairs, at least in some ways on a daily basis, because of the lack of any dress code, the more casual atmosphere, the more casual service, the faster pace of a meal, etc.

Okay, we'll make it harder. Suppose that Bouley is free, has no dress code, you can walk in at any time, the waiters are in blue jeans, you can order as much or as little as you want. On a food qua food basis, Upstairs is still more exciting?
Link to comment
Share on other sites

To an extent, for the reason explained by FG.

(BTW, "casual" service, as I meant it, doesn't mean that the waiters are in jeans. It means that the waiters aren't giving you the full-court press you expect and indeed demand in a place like Bouley.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

To an extent, for the reason explained by FG.

The rub is in those words, "to an extent." As far as I can tell, you're not saying, "Bouley Upstairs is better than Bouley." You're saying, "It's nice to know that, when the mood strikes you, and you don't want to get dressed up, make a reservation, spend a lot of money, or have an hours-long meal, a restaurant like Bouley Upstairs is there for me."

What's interesting about Bouley Upstairs, is that it wouldn't exist without Bouley itself. The casual trappings Upstairs spring directly from the need to establish a clear difference from the flagship restaurant across the street. If David Bouley could operate only one restaurant, my guess is it wouldn't be Bouley Upstairs.

The Bar Room also has this attribute. If Danny Meyer and Gabriel Kreuther could have only one restaurant in that space, it wouldn't be the Bar Room. But given that there are two, the Bar Room has to be casual, to distinguish itself from the formal dining room. Otherwise, they'd have two of the same thing, which makes no sense.

Same deal with Nougatine vs. Jean Georges, the London Bar vs. Gordon Ramsay, the Tavern Room vs. GT, the Bread Bar vs. Tabla, Del Posto vs. Enoteca, and the similar bifurcated menus at Daniel, Gilt, Aquavit, Le Cirque, BLT Fish, and probably other places I'm not thinking of. Some of these are more "haute" than others, but clearly the Bar Room and Upstairs aren't all that unusual.

That leaves Momofuku Ssam Bar as an isolated phenomenon, the only restaurant in The Paradigm that serves a full meal, and whose existence doesn't depend on an affiliated formal establishment. I would be more inclined to think we have a "breakthrough" if two or three more like Momofuku Ssam Bar appear on the scene.

Edited by oakapple (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am the only person who wasn't wowed by Bouley Upstairs?

I am a Bouley fan of sorts. My favorite meal of all time (1994) was an absurdly late dinner at the original Bouley (ahhh- the apples) . Close second on the list was an unexpected and unplanned lunch at Bouley Bakery (Want to stop and get a sandwich and some soup? Why not. (what did we know??) Low expectations and one of the best meals I have ever had!)

After reading all the press (and truthfully after several disappointing followups at BB) we were off to Bouley Upstairs. D. Bouley was not to be found. The stock simmering on the display stove seemed a bit contrived. It was hot. Then it was freezing! Depending on where you sit the HVAC system may torment you.

Twenty one dollars for lobster is a good price - BUT only half a small lobster tail? The is about $3.50 as far as cost of goods sold. You decide if that is a good value.

I had a decidedly "non-haute cuisine" beet salad (come on - beets are glorious and colorful - it is easy to make they jump off the plate - these were just cut up and thrown together). "Seasonal and local" (despite being trumpeted on his website) were not on display on the menu. Corn/fresh peas/fava beans in December??? That is fine but please don't spout the local thing.

I know - it may be a different animal when DB is in the house. But for us - for one night - it was an expensive (wine list and cocktail list is dear), not very haute (and, more to the point, not very good) experience.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Seemed worth reposting, from the "Montrachet" thread:

If Montrachet intends to reopen and draw a crowd, their team should be at Bouley Upstairs taking notes as we speak.  If the restaurant was on the Upper East Side it might have been thriving still (Aureole anyone?), but the Tribeca cognoscenti have moved on.  Not many people in that crowd want an old school fine dining experience, with all the baggage that goes along with it.  The new Montrachet could be a hit, if they can bring the food up to current standards in an environment that appeals to the new generation.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1. well, I think oakapple is on to something in that if a new Paradigm is emerging (which I think, certainly hope, it is)...that Ssam Bar is the first unquestionable prototype of the category. (cases could be made for Chubo, Degustation and Knife & Fork...but they simply haven't excited people to the same extent.) I think we will see more of them.

2. of course the Paradigm emerged from the bar-dining scene at haute restaurants. that's how paradigms start..they don't spring up ex nihilo.

3. the number of people interested in the Paradigm would fill up a lot of movie theaters...its the same people that have been dining at the bar at Babbo, Gotham, etc. for years (at least those who chose that method of dining by choice)...and now fill up these new restaurants every night.

4. if they charged the same prices I probably would find Bouley "better" than Bouley Upstairs. but that's hardly relevant. the point of the new Paradigm is that it's serving three and four star dishes in a casual and cheaper environment. no one's claiming that they can achieve quite the consistency and level of Per Se, Jean Georges or Alinea.....not without the massive kitchen staff, etc. of those restaurants. but they can achieve 90% of that quality at 40% of the price. that's what's exciting. It's haute cuisine made accessible (sort of).

Edited by Nathan (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

If Bouley and Bouley Upstairs were both free, I would still be more excited about Upstairs, at least in some ways on a daily basis, because of the lack of any dress code, the more casual atmosphere, the more casual service, the faster pace of a meal, etc.

Okay, we'll make it harder. Suppose that Bouley is free, has no dress code, you can walk in at any time, the waiters are in blue jeans, you can order as much or as little as you want. On a food qua food basis, Upstairs is still more exciting?

Having thought it over:

1. If Bouley-level food were served in Bouley Upstairs surroundings with Bouley Upstairs service, I'd probably think the same thing I think about EMP: that the service and (to a lesser extent with EMP) the ambiance are inappropriate to the food. The food at the New Paradigm places is slightly scaled-down, at least on the whole, and also "mixed", bas as well as haute.

2. As Nathan points out, you COULDN'T have Bouley-level food at a place like Bouley Upstairs. You probably couldn't even have Upstairs-level service for food like they serve at Bouley -- the more elaborate food requires a higher technical level of service. And probably, they couldn't permit you to order as little of that Bouley-level food as you want. (Maybe this is why Atelier Robuchon is so expensive.)

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

3.  the number of people interested in the Paradigm would fill up a lot of movie theaters...its the same people that have been dining at the bar at Babbo, Gotham, etc. for years (at least those who chose that method of dining by choice)...and now fill up these new restaurants every night.

That suggests that the Paradigm isn't new. If you add bar dining at Babbo and Gotham to the mix, then I basically agree with everything you've been saying. It's just not that new.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

3.  the number of people interested in the Paradigm would fill up a lot of movie theaters...its the same people that have been dining at the bar at Babbo, Gotham, etc. for years (at least those who chose that method of dining by choice)...and now fill up these new restaurants every night.

That suggests that the Paradigm isn't new. If you add bar dining at Babbo and Gotham to the mix, then I basically agree with everything you've been saying. It's just not that new.

what's new is that whole restaurants are being created around the concept...by young, ambitious chefs...yes, the desire for this type of dining has been around for a while...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Tonight I decided to try the sequence Momo-Ssam - Degustation - Upstairs. Amazingly, I was able to get seated at all three without delay.

What I saw (and tasted) tonight strengthened my belief that we're seeing a new phenomenon. No, it's not completely revolutionary and unrelated to everything that came before it. But it's tangible.

I think saying that Upstairs is just like the Tavern at Gramercy Tavern really misses the point on a few levels. For one thing, the Tavern and most of the other "front rooms" are serving what I'd consider old-school rustic bistro fare. There isn't an haute-cuisine experience available at most of those places, so they're not relevant to the inquiry. For another thing, the issue of ownership, while interesting, is only relevant insofar as it affects the dining experience. Upstairs simply doesn't feel like Bouley's front room. It feels like its own thing. And for still another thing, there's the scene: there is, for example, a significant stylistic audience overlap among Momo-Ssam, Upstairs and Room4Dessert. Indeed, if you talk to the servers at each of those places, you'll find that they consider themselves to be part of a community -- mention to your Momo-Ssam server that you're going to Room4Dessert and you'll be told, or at least I was the other night, "Say hi to Will and the gang for us."

Whether Degustation fits the pattern is an open question. I think the food, while quite good, is weaker and less haute than what's available at Momo-Ssam, Upstairs and certainly the Bar Room at the Modern. Visiting Degustation between Momo-Ssam and Upstairs really emphasized that it's operating at a lower level (I'd actually rather eat at Jack's Luxury Oyster Bar than at Degustation). And the Degustation crowd is older and more sedate -- it's much more like the Bar Room crowd than the Momo-Ssam/Upstairs crowd.

I think if you look at it as a dartboard, with The Paradigm as the bullseye, you'll find a tight cluster of darts around the bullseye representing Momo-Ssam (inner bull), Upstairs and Room4Dessert (outer bull). Then you have other darts that are in the triple or double rings. That's where I'd put Degustation and the Bar Room.

For what it's worth, the fried Brussels sprouts at Momo-Ssam are a revelation, and the custard with truffle and escargots is probably one of the two best dishes on the menu (the other being the uni with tapioca and whipped tofu) in the normal price range (I haven't tried the two $100+ items). The best thing I tasted at Degustation was the "tortilla" -- it's the only dish I had that was full on the haute level. Steer clear of the overpriced plancha items -- they're utterly unremarkable. Upstairs, on two visits, the scallops are the best I've seen at any restaurant this season.

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)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You may not have had the rib-eye. We had an unaged steak. They've since added a much more expensive aged steak, which might be what FG is referring to.

The unaged steak was so great that I'm almost frightened to try the aged steak.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You may not have had the rib-eye.  We had an unaged steak.  They've since added a much more expensive aged steak, which might be what FG is referring to.

The unaged steak was so great that I'm almost frightened to try the aged steak.

whoops! you're right.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

how often do these places change their menu ? i've been to Momo Ssam but don't remember some of the dishes discussed at all that would definitely have made an impression - fried brussel sprouts for example.

Momo Ssam didn't strike me at all as 'haute cuisine' - but i do think there may be a case for a more upscale/ homestyle marriage models popping up. Although in my mind this is just the same as the old school bistro idea, good food, good ingredients with perhaps a little more imagination - but seems to be the basic trend in food, period.

To me the trend makes sense and I think it will definitely continue as people who have the love and the conceptual know-how of food co-exist, but not the pocketbook or the style of the per-se, alinea etc..

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Momo-Ssam's menu evolves for various reasons: seasons, chef's inspiration, etc. The brussels sprouts are seasonal. According to the guy I spoke to there, they were cooking a similar dish this summer with cauliflower. The big evolution in the menu, however, came when the restaurant started serving its full menu for the entire dinner service. Prior to that, only the more rustic ssam/wrap menu was available prior to 10:30pm.

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)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

how often do these places change their menu ?  i've been to Momo Ssam but don't remember some of the dishes discussed at all that would definitely have made an impression - fried brussel sprouts for example. 

Momo Ssam didn't strike me at all as 'haute cuisine' - but i do think there may be a case for a more upscale/ homestyle marriage models popping up.  Although in my mind this is just the same as the old school bistro idea,  good food, good ingredients with perhaps a little more imagination - but seems to be the basic trend in food, period. 

To me the trend makes sense and I think it will definitely continue as people who have the love and the conceptual know-how of food co-exist, but not the pocketbook or the style of the per-se, alinea etc..

have you been there since January? That's when it really started....

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...