Chefs have a curious attitude towards people that review their restaurants. We hate 'em, but we need 'em. I tend to read restaurant reviews with the same fervor that some read the obituaries in The Times (UK). You can learn a lot from reading restaurant reviews, especially between the lines. It's a great way to see how trends are evolving and devolving.
Restaurants rise and fall upon reviews, as well as word of mouth. And word of mouth is oftimes fueled by reviews. A good review can bring in customers, and a great review can set a chef up for life, depending on the restaurant.
A so-so review can cost you your job, or those under you; again, depending on the restaurant. A bad review can shut you down in 24 hours.
And then there are reviews like this.
The New York Times
No Trouble Drawing a Crowd
By FRANK BRUNI
Published: June 11, 2008
BECAUSE our 8:30 p.m. table at Ago wasn’t ready by 8:51, we were still at the bar when the great wave of white wine crashed over it.
I’m talking about the “Poseidon Adventure” of wine spills. Shelley Winters could have done the backstroke in it. I’m not sure how the bartender set it in motion, and neither was he. He kept marveling at its fury and aftermath: my friend’s wine-splashed chin, her wine-soaked skirt, her wine-sopped entirety.
He apologized perhaps 639 times, and I wouldn’t recount the incident if that were the whole of it. Spills happen.
The following shouldn’t.
What follows is one of the most devastating reviews for a high end restaurant I've read in years. This review will be legendary in the biz when the dust settles. It is a review that should be tattooed on the forehead of every culinary school student and college hospitality major preparing to enter the lists.
It's also a review that gives hints of a disturbing trend in the culinary profession, a trend that I believe is becoming endemic: The emergence of culinary arrogance as the rule and not the exception in the restaurant biz, brought on by the whole "rock star" glitterati aspect of the struggle to become a high profile chef. I intend to explore this issue in more detail in another post.
But getting back to the review at hand. The number of things wrong with the dinner described are immense. Just one hit after another. This isn't really a review, actually. It's more like the Mongol hordes riding through your restaurant, raping, pillaging and finally burning the place to the the ground and scattering the ashes to the four winds. That's how bad this review is.
This restaurant isn’t in the hospitality business. It’s in the attitude business, projecting an aloofness that permeated all of my meals there, nights of wine and poses for swingers on the make, cougars on the prowl and anyone else who values a sort of facile fabulousness over competent service or a breaded veal Milanese with any discernible meat.
The one I had one night was pounded so thin that the breading on top met the breading on the bottom without pausing for much of anything in between. A vegan could have made peace with it.
Some of the other food passed muster. The best of the pizzas from Ago’s wood-fired brick oven had blistered, smoky crusts and thin sheets of decent Parmesan. An appetizer of burrata was suitably creamy, and a juicy T-bone — cooked, like the pizzas, in the brick oven — satisfied the steak lover in me.
But this restaurant in the new Greenwich Hotel in TriBeCa doesn’t concentrate its energies on quality or consistency. It’s content to be a deafening “hot spot,” which is how it’s identified in the headline atop its inaugural press release, and when you’ve got the heat and the crowd is standing-room-only, why sweat the raw artichoke salad? The paltry artichoke was hard to find among all the frisée, and Shelley could have done the freestyle in the dressing.
Ago’s principal owners include the chef Agostino Sciandri — the restaurant, pronounced AH-go, is named after him — and the actor Robert DeNiro, who treated TriBeCa much better with Nobu. They teamed on an initial Ago in West Hollywood, another in South Beach and yet another in Las Vegas. New York is getting their sloppy fourths, emphasis on sloppy.
(And, emphasis mine...)
Sweet jebus. Mr. Bruni, in a few well written paragraphs, basically says that anyone going to Ago is a poser, riding the latest, hip place to be seen until it has to be whipped across the finish line to collapse in a steaming heap. Ok, the pizza is good and so is the steak, but any monkey in a toque can pull that off. Oh, yeah, and by the way, ROBERT FREAKIN' DENIRO owns the place that is the target of my FA-18 air strike.
And then there is the chimera that's served one of the reviewers party. Priceless, and absolutely catastrophic.
Read the whole thing to savor the horror.
(cross posted at Daily Pundit)