Question: ‘Should Fine Dining Die?’

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Photo: Konstantin Sergeyev

Speaking of Food & Wine, a feature in the upcoming issue (not online) poses a question that’s probably been on some minds lately: “Should fine dining die?” Obviously, diners are turning more toward burger joints, pizza parlors, and pop-up cafés, and while some are happy about the “democratization,” author Anya von Bremzen isn’t so sure. Though she confesses to an aversion to the “contrived amuse-gueules-to-petits-fours rigmarole known as fine dining,” she can also appreciate the ethereal lobster bisque at Chicago’s L2O. She says the restaurant, with its refinement, rigor, and setting, amounts to a gesamtkunstwerk — a complete artwork on all fronts.

Von Bremzen seems to think that fine-dining establishments should continue to move away from the elitism and over-codification of the French model and move more toward the Spanish model that Ferran Adrià calls “techno-emotional” (“emphasizing the sense of connection, of diners’ engagement. At its very best, an avant-garde Spanish meal is a piece of whimsical, interactive performance art.”) But rather than going to el Bulli, Von Bremzen asks, “Why not enjoy downsized versions of those same dishes cooked by the chef’s disciple at a convivial tapas bar?” Adrià responds: “Oh yeah? And who supplies them with their ideas?” Meaning, top-end restaurants are invaluable laboratories.

In the end, the piece concludes that “haute cuisine done right” is the answer. Von Bremzen finds just the right amount of “subliminal luxury” (as Drew Nieporent calls it) at Corton: “The banquettes’ perfect curves, the flattering lighting — you can’t get that carefully streamlined version of downtown chic at a Michelin-all-star-Euro-chef franchise. And I’ll certainly miss it the next time I fight for an uncomfortable stool in the sonic blast of a gastropub.” Then again, fine dining isn’t dead yet — after all, what did gastropub owner Ken Friedman do after the Spotted Pig? Well, the Rusty Knot. But after that?