So, investors are being more careful. Demanding management and a viable concept, not just an idea.
Whether this is a temporary phenom, or whether it's a trend? who knows?
A funny thing happened on the way to this rant: It turned into a (sort of) rave. I set out to whine about the dispiriting scarcity of new openings by big-league owners and chefs. But a look back over my past 12 months’ reviews (and those of other critics) revealed a remarkable fact: The Great Recession has been a great editor, scaring off amateurs and out-of-towners who think a restaurant here is as easy to open as a lemonade stand on a suburban cul-de-sac.
There will always be an Ember Room to give us a howl with its mixed-up waiters, creepy-looking elephant and fossilized short ribs. But the days have passed when we could count on a torrent of over-conceptualized, under-researched clunkers like Agua Dulce (which cared more about “pure” water than its food), Varietal (a “wine-driven” spot with the worst wine list in town) and Lonesome Dove (a transplanted Texas beef joint that was all hat, no cattle).
And who can forget the Upper West Side’s short-lived Bloomingdale Road, which served popcorn with “lamb julep”?
An annoyingly high percentage of new places have been too decent to laugh at. Some are even wonderful.
The economic crunch took a gruesome toll. More than a few famous places are struggling through what owners call (although not for attribution) their worst summer ever (and that was before S&P got into the act).
Fewer real restaurants have opened than in any comparable 12-month period (“real” excludes chain steakhouses and food rooms glued onto clubs). Restaurant-news columns are mainly full of pizza, burger, taco and sandwich spots — even food trucks — to make up for the absence of legitimate news. Eater.com’s “plywood reports” have dwindled to near-none thanks to a shortage of joints under construction.
The pickings are getting even slimmer. After a short-lived uptick, leading owners are once again sitting it out. Not only tepid business, but skyrocketing rents in prime areas have deterred even the savviest operators from opening restaurants that aren’t part of something else — like Danny Meyer’s Untitled at the Whitney Museum or Laurent Tourondel’s upcoming American brasserie in the Cassa Hotel.