If one needed confirmation that Amateur Hour has ended at the Times dining section, it has arrived. With today’s three-star review of La Grenouille, Sam Sifton showed that he understands the restaurant’s place in history, the cuisine it has mastered, and why that is important. He was not, in the least way, demeaning or condescending, as his predecessor surely would have been:
The decline of great French cooking in New York has been a subject of discussion among the food-obsessed for decades, since at least the closing of Le Pavillon in 1971. In the last decade the talk has turned funereal, with the demise of Lutèce, La Caravelle, La Côte Basque, Lespinasse.
Brasserie cooking survives in New York, even flourishes under old mirrors and subway tile. We will always have steak frites.
But the quiet opulence of the traditional haute cuisine that was first brought to New York by Henri Soulé for the World’s Fair in 1939 and which flourished at his Pavillon and other restaurants in the years that followed? The whole marvelous Tom Wolfe scene of it: blanquette de veau and Beaumes-de-Venise, and ladies in finery beside gentlemen in soft cashmere jackets and rolled silk ties? C’est fini!
A series of recent meals at La Grenouille suggests that isn’t so. Not so long as Charles Masson, who has run it since 1975, greets his customers at the door, quiet and French and welcoming. Not so long as people can take a seat on a scarlet banquette at his restaurant, sit beneath a spray of flowers and eat sumptuous food out of Escoffier.
We have no idea if La Grenouille deserves to be a three-star restaurant. What we can say is that this is how a review of such a place ought to be written.
We and Eater both win $3 on our hypothetical one dollar bets.
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Life-to-date, New York Journal is 75–31 (71%).