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Is formal dining holding its own?


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I don't want to come across as an apologist for NE USA agricultural products (which are not that great), but does anyone REALLY believe that even the best restaurants were serving anything nearly as good as tristar strawberries 30 or 40 years ago?

 

They weren't.

 

And now, that's what we expect.

 

(NB: I want to reemphasize that I'm not saying that cooking in restaurants has gotten better. It hasn't. [Quite the opposite.] I'm saying that non-protein raw materials have gotten better. WAY better.)

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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 don't want to come across as an apologist for NE USA agricultural products (which are not that great), but does anyone REALLY believe that even the best restaurants were serving anything nearly as good as tristar strawberries 30 or 40 years ago?

 

They weren't.

 

And now, that's what we expect.

 

(NB: I want to reemphasize that I'm not saying that cooking in restaurants has gotten better. It hasn't. [Quite the opposite.] I'm saying that non-protein raw materials have gotten better. WAY better.)

Well no. The cooking in North American restaurants writ large has gotten much better. The question is whether the more ingredient centric new American, Japanese and modern international style restaurants that have replaced a group of Americanized haute cuisine French restaurants at the very highest end has been a net improvement.*

 

*it would be nice to hear when the golden age was. are we talking immediately post-per se, adny (when the top end was still French but ingredient quality was well on its way up) or some earlier period?

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To my mind, Lutece/Le Cote Basque/etc. were better restaurants than we have now. They just didn't care too much about how good their vegetables and fruits were.

Although I think the real Golden Age for high-end cooking in NYC was probably the '90s. More particularly, I think that Lespinasse under Kunz was arguably a better restaurant than had come before and certainly a better restaurant than has come since.

 

Of course, I agree with you that cooking below the top level has, on the whole, gotten WAY better since then.

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To my mind, Lutece/Le Cote Basque/etc. were better restaurants than we have now. They just didn't care too much about how good their vegetables and fruits were.

 

Although I think the real Golden Age for high-end cooking in NYC was probably the '90s. More particularly, I think that Lespinasse under Kunz was arguably a better restaurant than had come before and certainly a better restaurant than has come since.

 

Of course, I agree with you that cooking below the top level has, on the whole, gotten WAY better since then.

You could be right - it's something I'll never know. Certainly, when I look at the holdover peers from that era (Le gren) or when I look at what's on the old menus or when I see a video of what delouvrier was doing and then I hear that the ingredients weren't as good, it's hard to understand that assessment (vs. old videos and menus from l'ambroisie or arpege, which demonstrate not just spectacular cooking but fastidious sourcing practices).* but, the taste is in the memory and the actual experience which I can't know.

 

*that said, any article about kunz at lespanisse makes it obvious that it was a special place.

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Great restaurants in Paris aren't a fair comparison. New York has never approached those.

 

As for Lutece and LCB, you have to remember that there food was much more "comfortable" than at other top-level NYC restaurants. They didn't really serve the kind of food we now expect at elite restaurants. But it was done supremely well.

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Great restaurants in Paris aren't a fair comparison. New York has never approached those.

 

As for Lutece and LCB, you have to remember that there food was much more "comfortable" than at other top-level NYC restaurants. But it was done supremely well.

Sure. Just appreciate that it's hard to appreciate that a four star serving blanquette de veau and variants of what's on Le grenouilles menu with lower quality ingredients makes for better dining than Jean George's, ko, Brooklyn fare and even emp.

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If you want a reference point of French menus from the 1960s-1970s, look at my album. Each is from a place we dined. Many cartes were smuggled out under jackets. The bill of fare in included in some photos. Our targets were mostly 3* places or 2* that were about to get a third. Or places that were well known for a particular dish. We ate very well for 3-4 years of travel. Then graduated to bistros and samplings of regional cuisine as we drove around France. Our route was determined by where to eat.

 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bugattiroyale/albums/72157614783445275

 

I wrote some stories about particular adventures. You may find these amusing.

 

http://aintitalltoofunny.blogspot.com/2011/11/lessons-for-dining-in-france.html

 

http://aintitalltoofunny.blogspot.com/2011/05/time-famed-french-chef-wagged-his.html

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Take the time to run through them in detail. They are a time capsule of high level restaurant cuisine back then. We ate at Lameloise the day their third star was announced. We were at Troisgrois the summer we were going to take Jean's stepson into our NYC apartment for two weeks so he could get a sense of the city. He and his wife made a very nice dinner for our party of six. Sadly, Jean died on holiday whilst his stepson was staying with us. Terrible ending to the story, Mme Point was watching over things at la Pyramide. Robuchon was just getting started in Jamin. Our meal in Greuze was epic. Ducloux was in the kitchen. The chicken with garlic 40 ways was astonishing. Ah those were the days.

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40 ways? Is this like the getting 20 meals out of a single chicken thing that was floating around earlier?

Also, how much of this is a "rising tide lifts all boats" thing? Even if you concede the premise that it would have been an extraordinary lift to source produce well "back in the day", is it still? Presumably it's easier now to buy from greenmarkety sources... like why would a top kitchen source anything else?

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HA!

 

So Peter Hoffman says there was a discontinuity between the "New American" of Quilted Giraffe and Savoy:

 

Your cuisine has stayed fairly steady over the years, though when Savoy opened it was very fresh and fairly revolutionary, in the sense of it being French informed, but not a stuffy, haute cuisine style of French food. It took a notion of home cooking and applied it to a restaurant context.

 

All true. What I would add to that in some ways — and again, it's not like we were the first to do that in any way, but special in our way — was that first of all, it wasn't chasing haute cuisine. I had come to the realization that I really wasn't interested in haute cuisine, or haute cuisine's values.

 

You'd previously worked at the Quilted Giraffe, which really embodied all of that.

 

Yeah, it's back to that thing of cooks going out and dining - it's also where you work. You're always measuring "Who am I?" and "Who am I not?" The experience of learning what I am not is just as important as finding models for what I am, or what we are. Working at the Quilted Giraffe was an experience on so many levels, mostly learning not what I wanted to be; however, there were some really important organizational lessons that I learned there, about how to run things and how to get work done in the kitchen. So I don't want to say, "Oh, my God. How could I be there?" But as an approach to who we were trying to appeal to, and a way of cooking, and how to treat ingredients, most of that was not who I am.

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Also:

 

When you opened here in 1990, who else in New York was cooking that way?

 

I had worked at a restaurant that was cooking Provençal food, La Colombe D'Or, and that's food that was regional cuisine as opposed to haute cuisine, but it was still a Frenchie LeFrench kind of restaurant. Who was cooking then without being pretentious? Maybe nobody. Again, there were other restaurants. I mean, Larry Forgione at An American Place was doing something really important. He was a model. He was developing relationships with farmers before I knew about it, so hats off to him. That was part of my process of saying "I want that. I'm going in that direction," but An American Place and River Café were still very French bound, still bound to haute cuisine.

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