We sometimes give New York Post food critic Steve Cuozzo a pretty hard time for his slightly geriatric restaurant complaints. But every now and again, he delivers a smorgasbord of insight to us kids.
Recently, Cuozzo published an article titled, “The eatery that destroyed ‘French dining’ in New York City,” about Alain Ducasse’s failed Midtown restaurant. It’s a well-reasoned piece loaded with cool insights about just how much dining in New York has changed in the last 20 years.
“The mystique-drenched, wine-soaked temples that once defined Gallic gastronomy in Manhattan — think snooty sommeliers, captains in tuxedos and cream-drenched pheasant and fowls — lost their mojo over time to changing tastes in food and servic,” Cuozzo writes. “But the death rattle for the ritual-heavy style resounded loudest on West 58th Street 17 years ago this summer, and it reverberated around the world.”
Ducasse ,the legendary cook behind some of the world’s highest rated restaurants, took an ostentatious plunge into the New York market back in 2000 with his Essex House restaurant ADNY.
ADNY was over the top (“If people will not accept this price, we will go elsewhere,” Ducasse said at the time) expensive ($160 a person was more than one-third more than any other menu in town back then, according to Cuozzo), and pretty mediocre the critics say.
“’ADNY,’ as it’s stamped with Trumpean pomposity on plates and silverware, is less about “the world’s greatest French chef” than about franchise sprawl,” Cuozzo wrote in his 2000 review. “Globe-girdling Alain Ducasse means to tap Manhattan’s cash gusher while it lasts, and ADNY is the mediocre, often comical result.”
The service was a parody of refinement (a server offered a choice of 20 fancy fountain pens with which to sign the check) and Fortune declared the food “a new circle of hell.”
Cuozzo claims the food did eventually get better, but fine French dining in New York was the worse for ADNY’s failure.
“La Côte Basque and Lespinasse closed in 2003, La Caravelle and Lutèce in 2004,” he writes. “High-end ‘French’ dining today means Le Bernardin, Jean-Georges and Restaurant Daniel — modern, cliché-free establishments richly influenced by Asian and American techniques and ingredients, and new Le Coucou, which channels a more traditional culinary approach but without pretensions.”
But all’s not lost, Cuozzo continues. La Grenouille is still a bastion of French tradition and Ducasse’s Benoit on West 55th Street is “better than ever.” Everywhere else it seems has let down its hair. [NYP]