The theme is the all-day French brasserie, in the style that Keith McNally nailed at Balthazar and a bunch of other places. If McNally has proven anything, it’s that this type of restaurant can print money, if it’s done right.
So far, printing money is Lafayette’s major accomplishment. It reproduces the genre faithfully, and reasonably well by New York standards. If it can remain this good, after the critics have finished with it, Lafayette could even be essential. Of course, it could also become a mediocre tourist spot, like McNally’s Pastis. All options are open.
It’s hard not to be wistful at the thought of talent squandered. Carmellini at Café Boulud was one of the best three-star chefs in town, and his success at A Voce showed that it was no fluke. When he opened Locanda Verde, you could at least understand why he aimed low: the city was still recovering from the financial crisis. Despite that, Locanda Verde turned into a terrific place—as it still is—despite its modest aims.
But the financial crisis is no more. Michelin-starred tasting menus are sprouting up all over town, like spring ramps. Not that that’s the only way to aim high; but it is one of the ways. Carmellini no longer has to aim low. Apparently, he wants to. Whether Lafayette turns into another mediocrity, like The Dutch, or becomes a solid (if uninspired) asset, like Locanda Verde, remains to be seen.