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Is formal dining holding its own?


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First, anyplace that forces a male to wear ties is out.

 

Second, anyplace that feels like a Cathedral and forces hushed tones is out.

 

Third, anyplace the accepts reservations appears to be on the way out. (Especially if you must make them more than a week in advance).

 

Fourth, anyplace where "Hannah the Wine Person" is dangling a tastevin around the neck is out.

 

Fifth, anyplace where the food gets lost in the dish (read nouvelle) is out.

 

Sixth, anyplace without a small-plate tasting menu is on its way out.

 

Seventh, anyplace that favors tables over backless bar stools is on its way out.

 

Eighth, anyplace that has a printed menu is questionable at best.

 

Ninth, anyplace where the kitchen is hidden or you're not offered a tour is meaningless.

 

Tenth, anyplace where the chef actually cooks is obsolete.

 

Eleveneth, anyplace that only has round china is definitely out.

 

Twelfth, anyplace that calls the person behind the bar a bartender (as opposed to mixologist) is obsolete.

 

Thirteenth, anyplace that still has a MD is way, way out.

 

Fourteenth, anyplace that makes a Caesar Salad tableside is so last year.

 

Fifteenth, anyplace where women don't out-number men doesn't have SE's business.

 

Sixteenth, anyplace that seats more than 20 people is going, going, gone.

 

Seventeenth, anyplace that has more than four people over 50 eating at the same time is 25 years passed its prime.

 

Eigthteenth, anyplace not located on a side street is out.

 

Nineteenth, anyplace that doesn't have its own pastry chef who is about to open their own establishment is passe.

 

Twentieth, anyplace that's been open more than five years is a landmark serving food from the days of yore.

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QUOTE 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

First, anyplace that forces a male to wear ties is out.   Second, anyplace that feels like a Cathedral and forces hushed tones is out.   Third, anyplace the accepts reservations appears to be on

Just because something is a ten-course New Nordic tasting menu, that doesn't make it fine dining. You still have to see how good the ingredients are and the kitchen work is. It could still be ambitiou

Given the current state of the market, any restauranteur would be crazy to open a formal dining restaurant right at this moment. To the extent that formal dining isn't out, it's certainly not going to increase over the next two years.

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Given the current state of the market, any restauranteur would be crazy to open a formal dining restaurant right at this moment. To the extent that formal dining isn't out, it's certainly not going to increase over the next two years.

Well, a crazy guy named Drew Nieporent is doing it at Corton, and another crazy guy named David Bouley is in the process of moving his flagship to a newly-built space—without, as far as I understand, dumbing it down. Nieporent...Bouley: a couple of guys who don't know what they're doing.

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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 didn't know you were defining it in such a way that Danny Meyer places are excluded. Broadly speaking, The Modern (Dining Room) is in the same genre as Country: formal service, lots of carts and accoutrements, and the minimum you can spend is the $85 prix fixe. Alto is broadly similar: $88 for four courses (though à la carte is offered too), as is Del Posto.

 

I didn't know that restaurants in posh hotels were excluded, either. Country is such a restaurant, by the way, as is Gordon Ramsay. A co-worker tried recently to get into GR on one week's notice, and found it fully booked. Cru, another restaurant that appeared on Bruni's watch, has actually gotten fancier: you can no longer order à la carte, as you could when it opened. Eleven Madison Park, though it pre-dates Bruni, has done the same: the à la carte menu formerly offered is available no longer. Picholine, I believe, is another restaurant that re-did itself, and at least arguably became more elegant.

 

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.

ADNY was replaced by Adour, which is less formal than its predecessor, but still much more similar to the places I've mentioned than any casual place. Montrachet is shortly to be replaced with Corton, which is widely understood to be in the same category.

 

The additions of Alto, Cru, Del Posto, Gilt, Gordon Ramsay, L'Atelier de JoRu, and Per Se make up for, if not exceed, the number that have been lost in this genre. Those aren't the only ones, either. One could add "borderline" cases like Asiate, Eighty One — both certainly more on the formal side than casual — and probably others I'm not remembering at the moment.

 

For now, I'm not arguing about who is dining at these places—only that they exist and are successful, however that success is achieved.

 

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

I am not disagreeing that the variety of dining options has increased. What I'm denying is that the top end has declined. The addition of casual restaurants does not mean that the formal ones have gone away. If Boulud closed Daniel and Café Boulud and turned them into steakhouses, that would be significant. Opening new places while keeping the old ones is not.

 

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

That's always easy to say when you're unburdened by the actual data.

 

A stratum of "foodies," perhaps best exemplified by the likes of Jim Leff, have always been skeptical of these places and seldom patronized them. But I wouldn't describe a market as being in "total collapse" just because I don't patronize it myself. I would only describe it that way if it was, in fact, collapsing.

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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.

That's always easy to say when you're unburdened by the actual data.

 

A stratum of "foodies," perhaps best exemplified by the likes of Jim Leff, have always been skeptical of these places and seldom patronized them. But I wouldn't describe a market as being in "total collapse" just because I don't patronize it myself. I would only describe it that way if it was, in fact, collapsing.

 

"actual data"?

 

Do you have any data on the percentage of diners at Bouley that reside in nyc? on how that percentage has evolved over time? on the percentage of money spent in those places vs the total market? on the quality of the food being delivered in terms of food cost, labor cost, training cost?

 

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Also, I wonder if we're all talking about the same thing when we talk about "formal dining" here?

 

We'll have to see about Corton, to be sure -- but I never thought of Montrachet as particularly "formal". If anything, it was a sort of harbinger of less formal fine dining.

 

And EMP can tweak their menu format all they want: the room and the style of service there aren't formal.

 

Maybe the way I'm looking at it is wrong, though, inasmuch as I appear to focussing on style rather than substance.

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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.

That's always easy to say when you're unburdened by the actual data.

 

A stratum of "foodies," perhaps best exemplified by the likes of Jim Leff, have always been skeptical of these places and seldom patronized them. But I wouldn't describe a market as being in "total collapse" just because I don't patronize it myself. I would only describe it that way if it was, in fact, collapsing.

 

"actual data"?

 

Do you have any data on the percentage of diners at Bouley that reside in nyc? on how that percentage has evolved over time? on the percentage of money spent in those places vs the total market? on the quality of the food being delivered in terms of food cost, labor cost, training cost?

Oakapple, I'm not sure you know how much Orik eats out at 'high dining' places, both nationally and internationally. He doesn't post on every meal, but lack of data is not something I'd associate with Orik's assessment of fine dining.

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"actual data"?

 

Do you have any data on the percentage of diners at Bouley that reside in nyc? on how that percentage has evolved over time? on the percentage of money spent in those places vs the total market? on the quality of the food being delivered in terms of food cost, labor cost, training cost?

The only data anyone has brought to bear is whether the restaurant(s) exist or not. These places exist; of that I am certain. If they exist, but are nevertheless "collapsing" by some measure, no actual data has been offered.

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Isn't this a function of supply and demand?

 

There's obviously a market for formal dining, but just as obviously, it's smaller now than it was twenty years ago. Ergo, some places either changed or closed. But the ones that remain will probably do well because that demographic base will now be divided among fewer establishments.

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