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Is formal dining holding its own?

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Perhaps the confusion arises because there are new optionsplaces like Momofuku Ssamwhere you get haute European cooking without most of the trappings. But it's a misconception to suggest that places like Ssam have displaced upscale classically luxurious restaurants. They haven't; they've merely supplemented them, providing an option that never existed before.

 

 

Indeed, as far as formal dining goes:

 

 

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(I)n absolute numbers, the genre has at least held steady over the last few years, and I think it's actually expanded a bit.

 

 

Thus oakapple, on the Country thread, responding to what I had innocently thought was my utterly uncontroversial assertion that (at Country) "the solemnity of the room and service, the extravagance of les cloches - nothing could have been more out-of-step with current dining fashions."

 

Oakapple also tendered some examples:

 

 

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There are a number of similarly luxurious places that opened at about the same time as Country, give or take a year: Gilt, The Modern, Alto, Gordon Ramsay, Del Posto, the redone Le Cirque. You could add to that a healthy list of others from earlier dates that are still doing fine.

 

 

The Modern is a Danny Meyer place. It's not really the kind of thing I have in mind when I think of solemn service and waiters in bow-ties. It's been quite a while since I dined at Alto and Gilt, and I have never ventured into Del Posto. I understand the latter has les cloches and trolleys. I don't know how formal Alto remains following recent changes. As for Gilt in its current incarnation - it's a restaurant in a posh hotel. I bet Cafe Pierre, The Carlyle and Peacock Alley still have the trimmings of formality too.

 

Of course Le Cirque still plays the haute game, but... It's worth noting that at its current location, about half the floor space is given over to casual dining with no dress code, and they just opened a wine lounge with a small plates menu. Sirio can smell the coffee.

 

I don't know if anyone wants to volunteer a list of notable casual openings over the last three years - by notable, I guess I mean worth a review or a Diner's Journal comment in the Times. I can more easily list the places we've lost: ADNY of course, Lespinasse, Bayard's, La Caravelle, La Cote Basque, Atelier, Lutece (okay, that was a few years ago now), Danube, The Leopard, Montrachet, March, not to mention Country and San Domenico.

 

And a final observation, hardly original to me: look at the kinds of places Daniel Boulud is opening these days.

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The September that all my high school classmates and I left for college, my mother ran into my classmate Chris's mother in the supermarket.

 

"Is Chris holding his own in college?" my mother asked.

 

"I hope not," Chris's mother replied.

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The things about Del Posto are that (a) it functions more as a parody of formal dining than the thing itself, and (b) I know oakapple doesn't believe I can discern this, but it seems to me to be not attracting a local crowd. In other words, just as Virgil Thomson once correctly observed that the New York Philharmonic is not part of New York intellectual life, I'd say that Del Posto is not really part (or at least not a significant part) of the New York dining scene.*

 

But, look at a Batali restaurant that still very much is: Babbo.

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* I have a lot of friends who have a good deal of money, eat out a lot, and know a lot about food -- but aren't obsessive foodies like us. I know Nathan thinks my friends are too old to count, but I always think of them as good indicators of where the New York dining scene -- or at least a substantial component of it -- is. They sure don't ever go to Del Posto.

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What's a "formal" restaurant that's opened in the last four years and succeeded?

 

Gilt can't count.

 

Alto really can't count.

 

We're still waiting to see about Adour.

 

Per se, I guess. (If that's within the last four years.) But look how few people it seats.

 

I find it interesting to note that my one big complaint about the Humm-era EMP is that it's not formal enough. I think that Danny Meyer knows exactly what he's doing.

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An Adour is a wilful step down in formality from ADNY. Somewhat formal, though, I agree.

 

Ramsay is succeeding well enough, but it's also tiny.

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Would the mods please merge this thread with all the others about this same tired subject? Thanks.

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it's getting more stratified as fewer people go to formal fine dining places. 4-star restaurants may be the only ones that will survive the current trend and economic climate. Robuchon is nixing lunch, EMP brunch and sunday dinner. Cafe Gray, etc. almost everyone is converting to more casual concepts - hell, even casual concepts are turning more casual like Provance/Hundred Acres. you'll see a lot more of this over the summer.

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I think "total collapse" is how I described the state of that genre in nyc at a recent foodie event. No eyebrows were raised.

 

As Sneak points out, the places that have been opening all seem face (mid)west or towards the UK, nothing for local consumption.

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Ramsay is succeeding well enough, but it's also tiny.

 

I would also define Ramsay as outside the New York dining scene.

 

Walking around the dining room the one time I ate there, I heard A LOT of British accents.

 

(ETA -- Oh, Orik already sort of said that.)

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And of course it's half price for visitors from the UK.

 

Quite seriously. The Menu Prestige at his London flagship, 120 British pounds. In New York, at the current exchange rate, 67 quid.

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Would the mods please merge this thread with all the others about this same tired subject? Thanks.

Can this be merged with the CH thread about wearing jeans to the opera?

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