Entries in Times Review (74)


Sushi Nakazawa is a Welcomed, New Breed of Four Star Restaurant

[daniel krieger for the ny times] daisuke nakazawaPete Wells reviewed Le Bernardin in May this year and gave the restaurant four stars. It was the first time in his two year tenure the critic doled out such an accolade. Not surprising, considering the city only had six restaurants of this caliber at the time. The others being Per Se, Eleven Madison Park, Del Posto, Jean-Georges, and Daniel. But Wells took away Daniel's fourth star in July this year. With today's review though, a shining four star number of Sushi Nakazawa in the West Village, the number is back up to six.

Daisuke Nakazawa, the chef, worked for eleven years at Sukiyabashi Jiro, the restaurant that got it's own documentary in 2011 that everyone still (rightfully so) talks about. Jiro Dreams of Sushi is about a 10-seat sushi counter buried in a Tokyo train station that has drawn people from all over the world. A meal there costs about $300/person and lasts less than an hour, but the strict pursuit of perfection and immaculate execution there is priceless (it seems, we haven't eaten there. Yet...)

Sushi Nakazawa opened on Commerce Street in the West Village in August, months after Alessandro Borgognone, the restaurants owner, found Daisuke Nakazawa on Facebook and invited him to open a restaurant in New York City.

"The moment-to-moment joys of eating one mouthful of sushi after another can merge into a blur of fish bliss," Wells writes. "But almost everything Mr. Nakazawa cups in his hands and places in front of you is an event on its own. A piece of his sushi grabs control of your senses, and when it’s gone, you wish you could have it again." Wells also writes about Nakazawa's approach, "Everything is gently pressed over rice, in the two-century-old Edo style of sushi that Mr. Nakazawa respects and refines. Sashimi is not served, and there are no hot dishes from the kitchen."

Sushi Nakazawa is the city's first four star restaurant that's not a juggarnaut in terms of size and space. That means rent, among other costs, is significantly lower. The city's other restaurants of a shared caliber are 100+ seaters with tremendous rents and other variables that result in a high price for the consumer. You can eat at Sushi Nakazawa for $120 if you don't want to sit at the counter. If you do sit there and watch Nakazawa in action it's only $30 more. Either way, the meal is about 20 courses. The menu is different than the ones at the city's other four star restaurants, which might be the biggest factor in cost, but it's also much cheaper. A meal at Eleven Madison Park is $225. Jean-Georges, $198. Per Se, $295. Consider other restaurants that serve similar fare, (Brooklyn Fare charges $255, Neta $225), and the price is one on a long list of reasons to eat at Sushi Nakazawa. [NYTimes]

Sukiyabashi Jiro
Sukiyabashi Jiro

Sukiyabashi Jiro



Big Stars and Brooklyn

Since his early days in New York kitchens, Atlas in 2000 and Papillon in 2001, Paul Liebrandt has had a by-any-means-necessary attitude in his quest for perfection. Having shared our thoughts on The Elm (and the N.Y. State of Restaurant Minds) back in July, we were curious to know what Pete Wells would think of the chef's latest venture. Today, he awards the restaurant two stars.

"The Elm, in other words," the critic writes, "would be just like a hundred other restaurants if not for Mr. Liebrandt. He has ratcheted down the complexity and the number of surprises in his cooking," Wells says, comparing Liebrandt's cooking in Williamsburg to Tribeca, where the chef left his most recent post at Corton this summer. "This could have dumbed down the cuisine, but it has focused its pleasures instead."

"A dish called Flavors of Bouillabaisse, in quotation marks, sounds ominous," Wells writes, before concluding, "It is lovely. Mr. Liebrandt has kept it in seafood-stew form but rearranged the emphasis." And in the Summer Garden, with an array of vegetables, the critic notes some were "raw, some were pickled, some were roasted, some were braised; all tasted extremely fresh and delicious."

Wells touches on the restaurant's price point. He writes, "But while you can find a couple of sleepwalkers on nearly any menu, you’d be lucky to find just one dish as good as Flavors of Bouillabaisse. The Elm has at least a half-dozen that equal or surpass it, and none of them is more than $30." More than $30? The times they are a-changin'. How long ago was it when entrees in and around Williamsburg weren't more than $20? Then again, when was the last time a Michelin starred chef thought it a solid career move to leave Manhattan for Brooklyn? It's a move that seems enticing to more and more chefs and restaurateurs. Eater notes Tom Colicchio is opening some version of his Craft empire in Downtown Brooklyn, Hill Country hopes to open their location in the same neighborhood by year's end, and Grand Central Oyster Bar will soon be in Park Slope.

Despite the pair of stars, Liebrandt's new project in the King & Grove Hotel is closer to Corton and Manhattan fine dining than it is what we've dubbed the two-star template – the current trend of sophisticated food served cheaply in casual, whimsical, and oft slightly boisterous environs. Then again, Liebrandt has worked against the grain from the moment he donned an apron. Maybe he's a trendsetter. His presence in Brooklyn certainly reveals the borough's changing landscape and, with The Elm, he's taken a giant leap towards proving it can sustain a highly-refined and well-curated vision.


Midtown Dining With Giorgio Armani

[john lei for the ny times]We missed Frank Bruni's 2009 blog post about Armani Ristorante and it seems that was our chance to hear about the restaurant. But places like Luksus, Estela, Piora, and Khe-Yo are all too new to review, and since another #NYFashWeek has come and gone, Pete Wells sheds some light on the swank Midtown eatery in the Armani store that opened just after the '08 market crash.

"The mood in the city was humbled, downsized, frightened," Wells writes of the gloom that washed over the city (country) in the fall of 2008, "and here was an expensive restaurant reached by a private elevator from the street or, better, a sinuous white ramp that twisted past two floors of gowns and luxury leather goods like a floating catwalk."

The expensive part rears its ugly head in the $11 price tag for bottled water and the $35 average entree price. But Wells enjoyed most of what he ate, namely branzino with salsa verde, langoustines with green apple, black risotto with speck-wrapped cuttlefish, and bone-in veal chop Milanese. Baby octopus, spaghetti with tuna belly, and tagliolini with mushrooms, truffles and langoustines not so much. Of the latter, the critic writes, "Removing one accessory, Coco Chanel-style, would have focused the flavors and helped lower the ridiculous $38 price tag."

Sandro Romano, the chef responsible for the good, the bad, and the ugly, hails from the Modern, where he worked for seven years as chef de cuisine before teaming up with Giorgio Armani. "While the prices aren’t quite so out of step with the times," Wells concludes, "nobody would describe Armani Ristorante as of the moment." But for the gentlemen that sit with uncanny leans and the women that walk with weighty purses, a two-star dining experience awaits on the third floor at 717 Fifth Avenue.

Midtown is tough. Although Armani Ristorante was awarded two stars, it doesn't fit what we've been calling the two-star template. Armani Ristorante's location, elegant room, and pricey menu go against the casual approach that thrives downtown and defines the two-star template. Given the competition and plethora of two-star restaurants to have opened of late that actually are of the times, we don't think Well's positive review will turn Armani Ristorante into a midtown juggernaut, especially not when recently reviewed Betony operates around the corner with a shining third star. [NYTimes]


Betony and the Midtown Artery

[daniel krieger for the ny times]If you're a chef or restaurateur and you're after three stars from the New York Times, your best bet is to head north of 42nd Street. There has been recent talk of a downtown discovery, but certain restaurateurs aren't into the casual approach that thrives below 14th Street. Take Eamon Rockey and Bryce Shuman, the General Manager and Executive Chef, respectively, of Midtown newcomer Betony. The restaurant opened on West 57th Street earlier this year and, today, Pete Wells awards it three stars.

Shuman, Rockey, and Luke Wohlers (the restaurant's wine director) are all veterans of Eleven Madison Park. "As you’d imagine," Wells writes, "The two restaurants bear a family resemblance." This appears in many guises, notably service, in what Wells calls "E.M.P. ESP” – when servers know what you need before you do. And the food? Wells finds, "Traces of Mr. Humm’s style, minus the party tricks, show up in Mr. Shuman’s cooking, especially in the way that the signs of hard work have been tucked out of sight." The critic loves nearly everything he at in his visits to Betony and comments briefly on the decor. "But what would most help that dining room right now is a crowd," he writes. "Betony deserves it."

The guys behind Betony could have modeled their restaurant after the two-star template and opened a refined-yet-casual concept anywhere. The fact that they chose West 57th Street was a sign that they were taking a different approach. Midtown spaces are bigger and rents are higher. It results in a smaller margine of error and the need to raise menu prices. Part of the reason downtown has seen an explosing in smart, well-executed, delicious, and affordable food comes down to rent. The difference between $17,000/month and $37,000/month isn't just twenty grand, but maybe be the difference in a $17 fish entree and a $37 fish entree.

That's not to say Wells hasn't awarded downtown restaurants three stars (Kyo Ya, Carbone, Atera), just that the difference between a three star restaurant downtown and one uptown is itself significant. An artery runs through midtown dining and beats to the rhythm of a particular aesthetic. There's a slower pace, sprawling and grandiose rooms, and a certain elegance that comes with dining north of 42nd Street. Not everywhere of course, but restaurants that could flirt with three stars, or Times recognition in any sense, are at a caliber all their own compared to restaurants downtown with the same three star rating. [NYTimes]


Violet, You're Turning Violet, Violet

[elizabeth d. herman for the ny times]The world has turned a watchful eye to food and the people who cook it. Now more than ever, food cultures thrive like mother starters and chefs/restaurateurs with solo projects are a dying breed. The guys from Battersby are expanding, Alex Stupak cooks some of the city's best Mexican in two different neighborhoods, and while Danny Bowien's business model thrives on two coasts, chefs like Mario Batali and Michael White seem to be chasing world domination. As chefs grow their restaurant empires, and grow them they will, it gives New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells plenty to eat, but might come at the cost of a diluted vision.

Wells took the forth star away from Daniel recently and hinted that it was due, in large part, to the idea that Daniel Boulud might be spreading himself thin. With a global empire that includes seven restaurants in New York, Boulud's task to maintain perfection at Daniel, his flagship, is exponentially more difficult with so many cooks in the kitchen.

The same might be said of today's review, in which Wells files on Costata, Michael White's return to 206 Spring Street where he started cooking in New York more than a decade ago. Costata, like the Elm and the Marrow, seemed to us as a concept that was chasing three New York Times stars. The Marrow fell two short, we patiently await Wells' thoughts on the Elm, and find Costata coming up one star shy.

"All those Foreigner and Stone Temple Pilots songs aren’t helping to set the mood," Wells writes, even though the loud rock thing worked for Babbo in 2004 when Frank Bruni awarded the restaurant three stars. Wells isn't a fan of the decor, a facet of the restaurant Adam Platt focused on for 80% of his short-winded review of Costata recently. Wells comments on "flame-shaped light bulbs programmed to flicker on and off." To Costata's defense, there's little else you can do without an open flame permit. But enough about that. On to the food.

Wells loves the pasta, "For a minute, we’re wondering if he’s laying it on a bit thick, showering shredded fontina over the oxtail ragù with cavatelli," he writes. "Then we take another bite and decide that when somebody makes pasta as wonderful as this, there are some questions you just don’t ask."

Pointing to a couple of the entrees, the critic writes, "Some of these dishes have a coarseness that wasn’t there when we first met," referring to White's time spent at Convivio and Alto before imploding with his Altamarea Group. Since the group's inception, Michael White's (exceptional) cooking and ensuing success has spawned projects in Hong Kong, London, New Jersey and New York, where he has opened six restaurants, three of which this year alone.

Few do it better than Michael White, and when a chef of his calibar falls short of the third star, it solidifies what we wrote about two weeks ago – two is the new three – and brings us to this question: If Costata were a standalone concept, or even White's second or third restaurant, would the likelihood of a three-star review be higher? [NYTimes]


Licked Plates and One Star for MP Taverna

[brian harkin for the ny times]Michael Psilakis has been in New York cooking the food inspired by his Greek roots for years. For a while he did it in Manhattan at Onera and Anthos. Both restaurants closed. Psilakis created an excellent, casual, neighborhood Greek den in Kefi, but that restaurant was forced to close back in February after a pipe busted. In today's Times review, Pete Wells heads to MP Taverna in Astoria, Psilakis' newest venture, and finds that the restaurant "offers a second-generation, melting-pot vision of an America where Greek flavors have been woven into the fabric of American cooking so thoroughly that they’re taken for granted."

Wells makes mention of the beverage options. He writes, "Unlike a diner, though, MP Taverna turns over the back of its menu to a list of about six dozen wines by the half glass, full glass, half bottle and full bottle, and about as many beers, nearly all from craft breweries." Despite the abundance of unique, indigenous grape varietals in Greece, stong beverage programs rarely make their way into Greek restaurants – particularly those in Astoria. The well-curated selection at MP Taverna is a big part of what makes the restaurant relevant. It's also another reason to make the trek to Queens.

As for the food, "The only delicate thing about the restaurant’s abundant, lusty plates," Wells writes, "is the prices: $8.50 for the cod, $11 for the octopus and $15 for the dumplings, a main course that I couldn’t finish, though I wanted to." The critic enjoys most of the fare, but finds some flaws in its execution. "Those who remember his earlier odes to Greece — sung elegantly at Anthos, soulfully at Onera — may wish more of his old finesse had survived the trip from Manhattan to Queens." Wells awards one star. [NYTimes]

Max Falkowitz recently reviewed MP Taverna at Serious Eats. He summed the restaurant up thusly, "it's not your average Astoria Greek joint. The food's more nuanced and careful, the booze is way better, and the prices are accordingly higher. But it still feels as genuine and casual as its mom and pop neighbors, respecting its elders while shaking up expectations." Falkowitz licked his plate clean. [SENY]


Two Star Success for ABC Cocina

[benjamin petit for the ny times] dan kluger"For his next trick, Jean-Georges will open a Spanish-inspired, small plates restaurant." These were the words we started tossing around last summer after we caught wind that Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Dan Kluger would be opening a restaurant in the former Pipa space inside the ABC Carpet & Home building. Now that ABC Cocina is open, and has been for three months, Pete Wells has filed a review.

"There’s an alchemy at work at ABC Cocina," he writes, "The kind that can turn the last thing you’d want to order into the first thing you’ll ask for next time around. For me, it was the vegetables with brown rice, which I expected would taste like a tea made by steeping the yellowed pages of the “Moosewood Cookbook” in warm kombucha and straining it through Pigpen’s bandanna. It was, in fact, one of the freshest, cleanest vegetable dishes I’ve tasted all summer."

The success with which Vongerichten and Kluger coax flavors from farm fresh produce is no surprise – their scope of vegetable prowess has been on display at ABC Kitchen since 2010. A few things miss the mark at Cocina, but the restaurant is run by chefs that have a focused and learned approach to cooking – one they have built into a restaurant that New Yorkers are excited to eat at. ABC Cocina is another in the growing canvas of two-star restaurants opening in the city. More on that here. [NYTimes]


Our Inevitably Eroding Food Landscape

evan sung for the ny times"Every taste seems to transport you to another world, while every gesture of the staff convinces you that you live in the privileged center of this one. Daniel, which turned 20 this year, can make you feel that way." So writes Pete Wells at the start of his review this week. It reads with the same magnitude of the Le Bernardin review the critic filed in May last year, but Wells gave that restaurant the same four stars it already had. This week, Daniel has a different fate.

A lot is being said of the way Wells went about the review. "One night I had a reservation 15 minutes apart from a colleague who wasn’t likely to be recognized, as I repeatedly was," the critic explains. "We both ordered the six-course $195 tasting menu. (A three-course prix fixe dinner is $116.) Our meals were virtually identical. Our experiences were not."

But the New York Times restaurant review is irrefutably one of the most relevant pieces of food world commentary. And given the current state of food culture (how long would it take to come up with an accurate count of food-based reality TV shows and/or chefs who have more than one restaurant and/or people that don't take pictures of their food before they eat it), if a restaurant is privy to the fact that the Times critic is dining with them, there is little to be done to dampen the flame his/her mere presence ignites. That's not to say anything what so ever should be done differently for him/her, but seating the critic in the best server's section, folding napkins, refilling water, having the executive chef or proprietor cook the critic's food etc. are actions every restaurant will take should the circumstance arise.

"Daniel built its fame on Mr. Boulud’s exquisite refinements on French peasant food," Wells writes. "Over the years, the refinements have multiplied while the peasant food has been sent away to his many spinoff bistros." Wells gives Daniel three stars. The dagger that took away the coveted fourth is justified, as the critic notes partial treatment, and it suggests success (chefs expanding their empire) comes at a price (their flagship suffers)."

With three stars from Wells, Daniel joins the likes of Carbone, Ichimura at Brushstroke, Atera, The Nomad, Dining Room at the Modern, Kyo Ya, and Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria. It leaves Le Bernardin, Jean Georges, Per Se, Eleven Madison Park, and Del Posto as the city's surviving four-star restaurants. [NYTimes]