Did anyone see the AMAZING HBO doc on Le Cirque? It was awesome. Several people have told me it reminds them how important “the food” really is, in the sense that to many, we have moved away from "the food" being the raison d’être of the business. They cite the proliferation of eater-tainment restaurants (Rainforest Café, anyone?), celebrity chefs with no real food skills (Rachel, The Neelys, Ted Allen, and so on), and showy, expensive restaurants with no backbone (Bellanotte, r.Normans, etc. in this market) as confirmation that we have left the building when it comes to creating and respecting great cuisine.
I think they are mistakenly paying homage to the false gods of the puritan food contrarians. Many folks long for a time when it was all about the food, and I am here to tell them, it never was. I understand where they come from; I eat out primarily for food, but the biz is called the hospitality industry for a reason, and since the first cave man dragged a haunch onto the fire, there has been a show biz vibe in the food world. Who doesn’t like a celeb-filled room or a showy display of ostentatious décor from time to time? My feeling is that as long as the food is good, all else can be forgiven. I think that the Le Cirque doc reminds us that you can have it all, and when it all comes together, there is no place I would rather be than in a restaurant in its heyday. If you have no idea what Le Cirque is all about but love to eat, TiVo the next airing of this slick production.
Re: The Year That Was . . .
I was only here for a few weeks of it; I spent more than forty weeks on the road. Usually, I like to chime in with a list of local food highlights from the past twelve months, but this year I barely scratched the surface of the new restaurant offerings in town. That said, I can tell you that several of the best eateries that opened in the last twelve to fourteen months are rumored to be closing in January.
I am on vacation with my family but bumped into Stephen Hanson, founder and owner of B.R. Guest, the restaurant company that owns many of the country’s most popular eateries in NYC, Vegas, Chicago, etc. He told me that he is planning on closing several restaurants in Q1 of 2009 and that his business, one of the most well-run companies in the world (in terms of staying nimble and aggressively getting customers in the door), is down almost 15 percent in some cases. He is a pragmatic man. If a restaurant is forecasted to make money in 2009, he keeps it open. If it is down 15 percent, basically all of the profit margin, he closes it. Several owners have told me that here in Minnesota, they are losing almost 22 percent of their volume in Q4 2008 and project bigger drop-offs in Q1 2009. That means you gotta’ close. I have been sworn to secrecy, but I am sure anyone with a brain could think of five or six places that are running on fumes as it is and won’t make it past February. Hanson told me that the places that are going to make it are the ones offering great beverage programs and inexpensive fare . . . so my fave eatery of 2009, Barrio, will still be going strong.
I, for one, cannot wait for 2008 to be over. What a shi**y year—by anyone’s measuring stick. Here’s to 2009.