The question the Gobbler gets asked more than any other is “What’s hot?” And for a several months now, the Gobbler has answered, with tedious regularity, “Nothing.” People are still clawing their way into Waverly Inn, and if you enjoy offal products done up in an elegant, Asian-fusion style, Momofuku Ssäm Bar is the place for you. But the grandiose cycle of openings which began with the arrival of Masa and Per Se at the Time Warner Center four years ago and reached a crescendo early last year with the giant Meat District extravaganzas like Buddakan and Del Posto has more or less petered out. Sure, there have a been a few tepid revivals (the Russian Tea Room), and bigfoot out-of-town chefs like Joël Robuchon and Gordon Ramsay have opened franchise outlets. There are plenty of restaurants in town, and plenty of them are busy. But this most recent boom may have run its course. Here are some possible reasons why.
The end of an era. The great super-chefs are moving on. Jean-Georges is pondering closing restaurants these days, not opening them, and Batali’s beaming visage has lately been replaced on the Food Network by the low-rent cheeriness of Rachael Ray.
The end of haute cuisine. The French model that produced the last generation of super-chefs is dead. “If you’re under the age of 35 and paying your own money,” says a chef the Gobbler knows, “do you want to sit down at La Grenouille? I don’t think so.”
The city costs too damn much. With rents up and liquor licenses hard to come by, the stakes in the restaurant roulette game have never been higher. And the higher the stakes, the higher the barriers to entry.
And art doesn’t pay. With costs so high, restaurateurs demand formulaic, steak-and-potatoes formats. Except for Wylie Dufresne, there are no experimental chefs in New York these days. Where are they? Chicago.
Pork belly is the new foie gras. Stuffiness is out. Casual bar dining on designer Haute Barnyard products is in. The Gobbler hates to say it, but when it comes to culinary innovation, there’s only so much you can do with a pork belly.
The Vegas effect. New York may still be the nominal center of the restaurant world. But the money’s in Vegas. Talented chefs aren’t going uptown anymore. They either go to Vegas or they stay in their own neighborhood and cook what they want to eat.
The law of the jungle. In the world of restaurants, as in the world of nature, excessive growth is followed by raging forest fires. After a fallow period, the forest will bloom again. — Adam Platt