Entries in Brasserie LCB (4)


How Dumb Can Ozersky Get?

Josh Ozersky, editor of The Feedbag, is often called on as expert du jour when the press need a quote and don’t know whom else to ask. But unless the topic is burgers, barbecue or steaks, he doesn’t really speak expertly.

The latest example comes in today’s New York Daily News article, “Recession forces ritzy restaurants such as Café des Artistes to close doors.” The reporters, Leah Chernikoff and Edgar Sandoval, don’t exactly cover themselves in glory. The story purports to be about “ritzy” restaurants killed by the recession, but several of those listed don’t fit that description. Elettaria wasn’t ritzy at all. LCB Brasserie closed before the economic downturn, and the restaurant that replaced it (Benoit) was practically the same genre. La Goulue closed due to a lease issue; its owner insists it will re-open nearby.

The reporters say that “512 [NYC] resetaurants have closed this past year.” But the vast majority, as in about 95%, aren’t “ritzy.” As far as I can tell, “ritzy” restaurants (however one defines that term) are closing in roughly the same percentage as the fraction of the market they occupy. No more, no less. Take a tour through Eater.com’s posts tagged “The Shutter,” and tell me how many of them are “ritzy” in the same sense as Café des Artistes. It’s a tiny number.

Café des Artistes closed, as far as I could tell, because the owner was 85, and as he was going to have to retire eventually, now was as good a time as any. [ETA: Oh, that and a greedy union.]

One doesn’t expect much nuance from Daily News staff writers, but from Ozersky one expects better:

The great fine-dining fuddy-duddy restaurants were already on the wane before the recession hit… Overwrought and overstaffed, they were lingering in their own twilight. Now the meteor has hit, and these places have all gone under… The old white tablecloth dinosaurs have been supplanted by friskier mammals.”

It’s usually a safe bet that when people use words like “fuddy-duddy” and “dinosaur,” it’s shorthand for “restaurants I don’t understand.” Now, I am not suggesting that the loss of Café des Artistes is any great culinary loss: my last meal there was a disaster. But it filled a legitimate niche, and some of the remaining examples of the genre are still very good, for what they are (Le Périgord, for instance).

If Ozersky’s point is that the narrow genre that Café des Artiste occupied (Classic Old French) is shrinking, that has been true for decades—not so much due to the recession, but because their clientele is aging and is not being replaced. But to Daily News readers, when “white tablecloth” and “dinosaur” are put in the same sentence, there is no distinction between Café des Artistes (which Ozersky hated) and Marea (which he loves). Both have white tablecloths and elegant service. And I’ll betcha Marea has far more staff than CdA did.

What, exactly, makes Café des Artistes “overwrought,” and not Le Bernardin? Obviously the latter restaurant is far better (and still thriving), but its style of service is much farther over the top than CdA ever was. If the word “overwrought” applies to the service at any restaurant, on what principled distinction could Ozersky apply it to CdA and not Le Bernardin? Or is it really just a lazy term used to disparage a genre he never appreciated?


Ducasse’s Benoit to Open


This has been a busy year for Alain Ducasse, with two new restaurants opening in New York, to say nothing of his ever-growing worldwide empire.

First up was Adour, which we weren’t fond of, but was fêted with three stars by both Adam Platt and Frank Bruni. For the verdict Ducasse really cares about — Michelin — we’ll have to wait till October.

benoit_opening.jpgMeanwhile, Benoit opens on April 21 in the former Brasserie LCB space, which before that was La Côte Basque. As usual, Ducasse didn’t stint on the décor. Per the Times:

To furnish Benoit, Mr. Ducasse haunted the Paris flea markets buying stuff, including an 1866 decorative ceiling painted on glass, and fixtures from a former Banque de France. A 19th-century herbal pharmacy from Bordeaux was reassembled on the second floor.

He also kept a few decorative elements from La Côte Basque. “I hoped to transfer the ambience of Benoit, not make an exact reproduction,” Mr. Ducasse said, adding that Benoit in New York cost more to build than his other new Manhattan restaurant, Adour, in the St. Regis a block away.

La Côte Basque’s former chef–owner, Jean-Jacques Rachou, told the Times that he thinks “New York is now regretting the disappearance of the classic food.”

Classics, indeed, are what dominates the menu at Benoit. Ducasse said, “Dishes like these have a history, and I have a list of 100 of them that I hope to put on the menu sooner or later. I call it my mental terroir.” The opening menu, though, runs the risk of putting the audience to sleep, with a $44 chicken for two as the signature item. I’ll be rooting for Ducasse to open up his cookbook sooner, rather than later.

I took an envious look inside last night. The restaurant was clearly open and serving “friends & family.” I am neither, and so I left Benoit for another day.


France Makes a Comeback

barboulud_outside2.jpg brasseriecognac_outside1.jpg

In today’s Times, Florence Fabricant reports that traditional French restaurants are making a comeback (“There’ll Always Be a France, Especially in New York”).


  • Daniel Boulud has just opened Bar Boulud, with a classic French bistro and charcuterie menu.
  • Later this month, Alain Ducasse will open Benoit in the former La Côte Basque space. Ducasse already opened another French restaurant this year, Adour, in the former Lespinasse space.
  • Next Monday, Brasserie Cognac opens in West Midtown. Rita Jammet, who owned La Caravelle, is on hand as a consultant.
  • Keith McNally, who owns perhaps the most successful casual French restaurant in New York, Balthazar, is converting Minetta Tavern (in Greenwich Village) into a French bistro.
  • Later this year, David Bouley will convert his three-star Austrian Danube into a French brasserie, Secession. Bouley is also moving his eponymous flagship French-inspired restaurant to a new space about a block away from its current location.

benoit_opening.jpgWhat’s notable is not merely that these restaurants have a nod to the French tradition, but that many of them are overtly traditional, serving the old standards (lobster thermidor, cassoulet, duck à l’orange) that were considered dinosaurs a short while ago.

Bouley told Fabricant, “I see traditional food coming back. It’s also newly popular in France, and it’s great to see. I have an emotional connection to that food, to my grandmother’s cooking: some of my family comes from Arras and Tours. And I love the tradition — braising rabbits and boning fish tableside, but in a relaxed atmosphere.”

These new restaurants lack the “jacket-and-tie mandatory” atmosphere of their “Le” and “La” predecessors, but in many other ways they’re throwbacks.

I, for one, am delighted. It’s not that these restaurants are uniformly excellent. I love some of them (Le Périgord, Le Veau d’Or) and have been underwhelmed at others (La Grenouille, Adour). It’s just fascinating to see that restauranteurs are giving New Yorkers something different by giving them something traditional.

Frank Bruni, who usually finds French food so dull, is going to have to brush up on Escoffier.


LCB Brasserie Rachou

Note: The Department of Health closed LCB Brasserie in March 2007, after it failed an inspection with 80 violations. Initially, there was a sign in the window that it was “closed for minor alterations.” But after a couple of months, owner Jean-Jacques Rachou decided to cash out and retire. Alain Ducasse bought the space, which has re-opened as Benoit, a clone of one of Ducasse’s Paris restaurants.


LCB Brasserie Rachou is an odd hybrid between the four-star destination that La Côte Basque once was, and the informal brasserie that it now aspires to be. The serving staff (many of whom pre-date the flood) are attentive and très correctement. The china and flatware would be at home in any three- or four-star restaurant. The patrons are all monsieur et madame. Every dish is served with a silver half-moon cover, which is removed with the obligatory voila!

I ordered a cassoulet, while my mother ordered rack of lamb. Both of us were delighted. (I would note that the lamb came with four chops, which is generous as compared to the three I was served at Gotham Bar & Grill.) To accompany, we ordered a $35 cabernet that I reckon would have been $50 in many restaurants. In a restaurant of this calibre, $35 for almost any bottle is a steal.

Most entrées are over $25, and many are over $30, making LCB Brasserie a bit pricey for a two-star restaurant, but for traditional French favorites it still offers an experience that has become scarce in Manhattan. I would happily return.

LCB Brasserie Rachou (60 W. 55th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves., West Midtown)

Food: **
Service: ***
Ambiance: **
Overall: **