Today, Sam Sifton drops the expected one-spot on San Domenico:
They really are trying down there at SD26, the old lion Tony May and his indefatigable daughter Marisa, the two of them working the dining room of their fancy new restaurant as if all that happened to their old one, San Domenico, was a face-lift. . . .
But what’s happened here is much more than simply a face-lift. The sedate and elegant San Domenico, which opened in 1988, has been kicked to the curb. SD26 is the restaurant equivalent of a second wife: younger, considerably more nervous, dressed in a way that might raise eyebrows in the social circles the original restaurant was opened to serve. . . .
Then there’s the long walk back through the bar to the street, past slightly stunned old regulars from San Domenico and gastro-tourists wondering what all the fuss was about. Emerging onto 26th Street, the overwhelming feeling a diner is left with is one of exhaustion, the sense that at SD26 we are a long, long way from the kind of restaurant Mr. May has stood for in New York City. It’s a restaurant to make anyone feel old.
You have to feel bad for Tony and Marisa May. They invested $7 million in this place—reportedly their own money—in the sincere view that this was what today’s diners wanted. But in chasing the latest fashions, they weren’t true to themselves. This isn’t the restaurant that the old San Domenico regulars wanted. And it isn’t the restaurants that the younger, edgier clientele wanted.
As Steve Cuozzo points out in today’s Post, recent upscale hits like Corton and Marea, and the dressing up of Eleven Madison Park, have proven that sophisticated diners will flock to places that present serious food in an adult setting. That’s not the only path to success, but it’s the only path that Tony May had ever known.
There are ways of subtly updating the original concept without entirely abandoning it. “Renovation of the original mission may have been a smarter course,” says Sifton.
Eater predicted two stars, and loses a dollar on our hypothetical bets. We win $4 at 4–1 odds.
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Life-to-date, New York Journal is 73–29 (72%).