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The Rise of Casual "Fine Dining"

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I simply haven't dined there enough to accuse J-G of inconsistency.

 

I will note that this was my first dinner at J-G in 6 or 7 years, although I have had many lunches there in between. And I would say that my overall impression of the restaurant is that it has slowly slid downhill in quality. And here, I am talking mostly about the food, although I would say that the server assigned to our table this last time seemed particularly misplaced. I know he was trying to be personable, but his attempts at humor were, at best, insincere, and at times, downright atonal.

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The median dish of my lunch was probably two star level with some hitting three - the uni, the foie - and some sub one - the risotto.

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You're also not saying mutually exclusive things. Like it's entirely possible that Orik and UE find JG unimpressive, but that for its style and level of formality, JG remains an underappreciated option here, in the New York context.

 

Certainly I never think to go eat at JG, though it is a bit more expensive than Chevalier was, even at Adrian's quoted price. But of course it's fancier, too.

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I'd like to mildly disagree with some of the above.

 

Not with the assertion that there's too much PR and hype. Who could disagree with that?

But it seems to me that the logical upshot of that is that now more than ever, we actually DO know about pretty much every notable mainstream restaurant opening. (As usual in these discussions, I'm not talking about ethnic holes-in-the-wall, which are their own thing.) The PR people (and their servants at Eater) make sure of that. Indeed, contrary to what Lex implies above, the problem with Eater isn't that it writes about too few restaurants. It's that it writes about too many. Anyplace with a PR agent with a pulse gets a breathless write-up.

 

What's needed is, as Rich says, a filter: a reliable source to sort all these places out. MFF used to be one, but for reasons that have been debated lately it no longer really is.

 

But in terms of discovering places, let me ask Lex and everyone who's agreeing with him: when was the last time Mouthfuls alerted you to a new mainstream restaurant in New York City you hadn't already heard of? Not that it told you that one of the myriad places you'd already read about somewhere was actually worth going to, but told you about a new mainstream place whose opening had escaped you? I can't remember such a case.

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Now maybe Lex will say, he's not talking about new places. He's talking about old standbys (which used to be the heart of the "Best Mouthfuls" lists). Outside those lists, though, was MFF ever really so good on those?

 

I do think that taion somewhat confused the point he was making by referring to the "Best Mouthfuls" lists. Traditionally, they didn't include contemporary neighborhood restaurants (mainly because there didn't used to be any that were worth mentioning, much less visiting). Rather, as I just said, they mainly focused on the standbys. I think it may be taion's point that the elevation of the mid-level has created a state of affairs where many pertinent neighborhoods now do have contemporary restaurants that are worth eating in but not traveling to (i.e., "Best Mouthfuls" candidates). But that didn't come out as clearly as it could have, I think.

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And, if that's what taion really meant, then amusingly he and Lex are in full agreement. Cuz Lex has always said that, as far as he's concerned, what "New Brooklyn Cuisine" really meant was "good neighborhood restaurants".

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I do think that taion somewhat confused the point he was making by referring to the "Best Mouthfuls" lists. Traditionally, they didn't include contemporary neighborhood restaurants (mainly because there didn't used to be any that were worth mentioning, much less visiting). Rather, as I just said, they mainly focused on the standbys.

 

Yes, that's it. Injecting the "MF Best" list into a thread on Casual Fine Dining was a case of apples and oranges. (I spent 2 minutes trying to think of a clever metaphor and gave up.)

 

Of course there should never have been any confusion. The first line in that thread, the very first line, made it clear what the thread was about.

 

 

MANHATTAN MOUTHFULS

 

What this is not

 

This is not a listing of mid- to up-scale destination restaurants; the kind of restaurants where you call ahead for a reservation and/or make a special journey. Nor is this an encyclopaedic list of places for casual eats, drinks and food shopping.

 

 

That seems pretty clear. If for some reason it wasn't the names of some of the restaurants on that list should have been a tip off.

 

Here are some of the entries from the Midtown Central/Theater District section.

 

 

Best upscale, expensive burger (foie gras in the center of the patty, black truffles extra) at the communal dining tables in the "bar" at dB Bistro Moderne (full menu offered). For regular burgers: The Bar at Keens Steakhouse; the Burger Joint at the Parker Meridien (in the smaller-patty and skinny fries style); the bar at Cafe Centro; opinions are divided on Island Burger and Shakes (but the shakes are recommended). P.J. Clarke's offers a burger in a historic bar setting (Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend drank here); good burger and sweet potato fries at Delta Grill. Best pre-theater family restaurant: Virgil's BBQ (see Thirsty too). Best Chinese: Szechuan Gourmet or Wu Liang Ye (two locations). Note also the Chinese garment worker buffets, Ying Du/38th Street Restaurant and Bakery, and also the one right across the street.

 

 

Burgers. BBQ. Szechuan. Chinese garment worker buffets. It's really very clear.

 

And now back to the discussion of actual casual fine dining places.

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I do think that taion somewhat confused the point he was making by referring to the "Best Mouthfuls" lists. Traditionally, they didn't include contemporary neighborhood restaurants (mainly because there didn't used to be any that were worth mentioning, much less visiting). Rather, as I just said, they mainly focused on the standbys. I think it may be taion's point that the elevation of the mid-level has created a state of affairs where many pertinent neighborhoods now do have contemporary restaurants that are worth eating in but not traveling to (i.e., "Best Mouthfuls" candidates). But that didn't come out as clearly as it could have, I think.

I agree with this.

 

For me, an updated list with restaurants like those in the "Best Mouthfuls" list wouldn't be useful, because many neighborhoods now have better options – these new options, though, are not just better versions of the old standbys, but largely belong to this new-ish casual fine dining genre.

 

Where this relates to the old "Best Mouthfuls" list is, I think, well illustrated by The Gander. The Gander is not a destination restaurant at all – it wouldn't make sense to make a trip to The Gander from beyond the immediate neighborhood. You wouldn't call ahead or make a journey to eat at The Gander.

 

But I certainly agree that it's qualitatively quite different from the places on the "Best Mouthfuls" list in terms of ambition/&c. It's just... that's not special any more – not enough to make a place a discussion-worthy destination restaurant.

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To clarify:

  • The ultimate purpose of the "Best Mouthfuls" list was to give recommendations for above-average places to eat, if you were already in a neighborhood
  • Historically (pre-2006), that role was filled mostly by old standby restaurants that largely stood apart from the fine dining restaurant scene
  • Now (late 2016), that role of "place to drop in for an above-average meal if you're in the neighborhood" is filled by casual fine dining restaurants; these restaurants are broadly part of the same conversation in which fine dining restaurants also participate

Some implications:

  • The kinds of places that are on the old "Best Mouthfuls" list are of more limited use now, since there are usually better (though more expensive) options in any given neighborhood
  • Unlike the places on the old "Best Mouthfuls" list, the current crop of above-average neighborhood places are easy to find out about; Eater, Infatuation, &c. are all over them – correspondingly a list of this kind of restaurant would not be of particular use

And lastly:

  • Because this mid-level has gotten so much better, and your typical above-average neighborhood restaurant has some real culinary ambition these days, the bar for a restaurant being discussion-worthy is now higher, which reduces how much we have to talk about

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I did read the original Adrian post in the same way that Orik, I think, did: namely JG being offered as a useful restaurant which should be in the regular rotation.

 

There is the lunch, if you can spare a couple of hours and want to dress up. Otherwise it's a special occasion place of course, and although it's much better than Daniel, it's not a "real" Michelin two star.

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To be clear, I thought Adrian's point was, why whine about Chevalier and (more to the point) Juni when you can eat at Jean Georges?

But that's easy. Chevalier was no more expensive than Le Coucou.

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No. The menu with the egg and turbot is 218, and the spend is nothing like what you imagine it to be. All I'm saying is you're basing your idea of jg dinner on not having eaten there. It's really a somewhat underperforming 2 stars with hospitality for the rich and famous, and not anything else you imagine it to be.

Sadly, I cannot disagree.

 

I had dinner here with friends a month ago, and "underperforming 2 stars" is not an unfair indictment.

Yes, I meant to say that not posting doesn't necessarily mean not using.

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i don't mean it's a drop in place - no place of that ambition and formality is. It's a useful twice a year or yearly place. You will have to reserve, of course.

 

It's a true Michelin two star unless you want to take the position that the only star worthy restaurants in NYC are the 2s, 3s and like Blanca and del posto. That kind of gets you to the same place though.

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Well that all seems to be correct.

 

@Sneak, I'm not sure MF's strength ever lay in uncovering unknown mainstream restaurants (exceptions? Maybe The Simone?), but in letting people know whether new openings were any good, months ahead of the Times review.

 

The abundance of online reviews, and the stylistic and geographical diffusion of "mainstream" restaurants, has reduced this utility.

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I just don't think it's as good as two stars in Europe, but I can't demonstrate that.

 

On your first point: exactly. And given that several places fall into the yearly/twice yearly category--and are less than 20 years old--I'm not surprised I haven't gone to JG in a few years (without checking, I believe I've been to Del Posto, Ko (thrice), Blanca, and Atera more recently).

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