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Is formal dining holding its own?


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Montrachet was described as a "relaxed atmosphere" by Bryan Miller in 1985 (he spent most of his review discussing the food).

 

But when he said that, it was in relation to the typical state of restaurants in NYC 30 years ago.

 

 

I wouldn't expect anything else. If there were restaurants in NYC 30 years ago which combined formal amenities with some kind of downtown feel, it would definitely be a different downtown feel from 2016.

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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

 

I'm kidding, mostly.

 

Cuozzo's description of "downtown energy... with uptown hallmarks" is exactly on the money. He seems to classify Le Coucou as "formal" but lively in the same sense that I do:

 

Le Coucou, helmed by celebrated young chef Daniel Rose, who gained fame at Spring in Paris, is already one of New York’s liveliest dining arenas. It seethes with energy and laughter, but it’s 100 percent “fine.” There are linen tablecloths, candles, chandeliers, and the 86 seats are spaced so that everyone can hear others at their table. The well-trained floor crew patrols the floor like attentive swans. Menus, drinks, dishes and the bill arrive when they’re supposed to.

But at some level this is just a question of taxonomy. Is it fine dining because of the amenities, or is it casual because of the "downtown energy"?

 

But really it's both. And that's what's (IMO) cool and new.

 

Isn't that what Sneak said was new about Chanterelle decades ago?

 

 

Let's talk about the original Chanterelle. What that place did was take a lot of the starch out of formality, while leaving the structure in place. Little that you expect from a "formal" restaurant was omitted, but everything was softened (if you know what I mean) to be more acceptable to moneyed post-hippy young adults. So service was attentive -- but the servers dressed casually. Decor was simple rather than ornate -- but still elegant. The room was absolutely quiet. It didn't have more "energy" than a traditional fine-dining place; it just had younger accents, if you know what I mean.

 

Le Coucou, OTOH, at least the two times I was there, felt like a party.

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But at some level this is just a question of taxonomy. Is it fine dining because of the amenities, or is it casual because of the "downtown energy"?

 

But really it's both. And that's what's (IMO) cool and new.

Isn't that what Sneak said was new about Chanterelle decades ago?

 

I wonder about Montrachet and Bouley too. Not to mention WD-50.

 

Restaurants change.

 

WD~50 never became "formal" the way The Modern is formal, but it moved steadily in that direction, over the years I visited.

 

Bouley today (the version that is about to close) is more formal than Bouley in its previous location, and just might be more formal than the original Bouley (in the space now occupied by Scalini Fedeli), which I never visited.

 

Chanterelle at Harrison street was definitely formal by today's standards, or even those of 10 years ago, but I gather its original location was a lot less so.

 

I only experienced Montrachet towards the end of its run. We would call it "formal" today, but I always got the sense that when it opened it was thought of as casual. I don't know if it changed, the market changed, or both.

 

 

I would say that the original Bouley was also less formal than the current (for a very short time to come) Bouley (which I think is one of the most formal restaurants in New York).

 

When Montrachet opened, it was definitely thought of as casual. Remember, its selling point was the $25 prix fixe -- which was cheap for that kind of food even in mid-'80s dollars.

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An old geezer like you could miss it. That's why Sneak has to help out here. :)

 

I'd say there was definitely a hip vibe. For the time and place: think of the artist-designed menus.

 

Maybe but it wasn't as if Andy Warhol was the designer. Even though I'm 40 years Sneak's elder, my memory doesn't have the hip vibe fever I caught at Odeon and Artie's Warehouse.

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I recall the evening I went to dinner at what was then considered the best Italian place in Manhattan. I wore a jacket, but no tie. They did not have any more ties in the coat check room, so I had the wear an ascot they found.

 

From then on, I always kept a navy blue tie in the car. Still keep one in the office - just in case the ascot police arrive.

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So let me try to say this clearly: it's one thing to combine "formality" with a "hip downtown vibe", as I'd say the original Chanterelle did.

 

It's another thing to be "formal" and also have a high energy level and play alt rock and retro-pop/electronica music (and be the kind of room where a man could be absolutely comfortable in shorts). My position is that it's not only another thing, but impossible. But maybe I'm hanging onto an outdated definition of "formal".

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