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The Payoff: Nish

This week, Frankie Fiveangels made a winner of both Eater and NYJ, awarding the predicted two stars to Nish. Bruni seemed to love the food—indeed, the tone was more enthusiastic than a few of his three-star reviews have been.

The review trotted out more of Bruni’s trademark assault on traditional fine dining:

To trace the changes in upscale restaurants over the last few decades, you can survey the losers: Lutèce and white linens; servers in tuxedos and diners in ties. You can salute the winners: Nobu and filament bulbs; mix-and-match menus and polyglot cuisines.

Or you can look at a place that doesn’t quite fall into either category, a survivor that hasn’t thrived, now relaxing its guard to restore its vigor. It’s called March, or at least it was for 16 years, until the first week of January, when it was reborn as Nish, which is really March after a stint in whatever the opposite of finishing school would be.

It’s March minus some of the manners and mannerisms, March in (nicely pressed) jeans. It’s also an interesting answer to challenges that currently face fine-dining establishments. How do you present a sophisticated experience in an accessible way? In a dressed-down era, what still qualifies as a relished indulgence, and what’s just a prissy vestige of bygone days?

Do those challenges really exist? I mean, the restaurant business is challenging in general, but is there any good reason to single out fine dining in particular? I mean, look at the successful high-end restaurants that have opened in just the last few years: Per Se, Masa, Asiate, Country, Del Posto, The Modern, Cru, Gordon Ramsay. To those, add a much longer list of those that have been open five, ten, fifteen or more years, and are still thriving: for starters, Jean Georges, Le Bernardin, Daniel, Bouley, Oceana, La Grenouille, Chanterelle, Le Perigord, L’Impero.

The excerpt above is full of Frank’s trademark phrases, betraying his hostility to traditional luxury restaurants, despite the fact that many of them are still doing land-office business: “white linens”; “mannerisms” (like what?); “accessible” (suggesting that many restaurants are not); “prissy” (the cousin of “fussy,” one of his favourite words).

Yes indeed, Lutèce has closed. But so has the Second Avenue Deli. If you are determined to manufacture a story, you can cherry-pick whatever facts seem to support your theory, and ignore those which do not. It is undeniably true that high-end classic French restaurants in the Lutèce mold have become scarce. But fine dining itself has not. In a “dressed-down” era, sometimes people still do want to dress up.

To round out the week, we present the running scorecard. Eater and NYJ both win our two-star bets on Nish at 4–1 odds.

  Eater   NYJ
Bankroll $3   $7
Gain/Loss +$4   +$4
Total +$7   +$11
Won–Lost 3–1   3–1

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