Entries in Jean-Georges Vongerichten (30)


Perry St. revisited

Note: Click here for a more recent review of Perry St.

I enjoyed my last visit to Perry St. in February, notwithstanding that I felt like death warmed over that day (no fault of the restaurant’s). I went again last night. It was a very light crowd, with much of the clientele probably being out of town for the July 4 holiday.

We found the seating pattern mysterious. Twice, the host seated a couple at the table right next to us, despite acres of free two-tops elsewhere in the restaurant. (The first time, the couple objected, and were moved.)

My friend and I ordered identically: the homemade fried mozzarella to start ($12), followed by the herb-crusted rack of lamb ($36). Both were excellent, and indeed I broke my usual rule, and had dessert. It was a coconut/caramel/banana mix with whipped cream on top, which is a can’t miss combination in my book. Like last time, the bread rolls were so hard they could be used as doorstops.

As before, the menu is brief, with about 8 appetizers and an equal number of entrees listed. The wine list, too, is brief for a restaurant serving this type of food. Although we both chose the expensive lamb entree, there are plenty of choices in the $20-30 range. For the quality, Perry St. is reasonably priced.

Perry St. (176 Perry Street at West Street, West Village)

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


Perry St.

Note: Click here for a more recent visit to Perry St.

I visited Perry St. with two friends a couple of weeks ago.

Perry St.’s very existence speaks volumes about the evolution of this part of town. Twenty years ago, the idea of a fine dining destination on West Street would have been madness. This part of town had evolved to serve the shipping industry, with factories and warehouses girdling Manhattan to serve piers on the Hudson River. The shipping trade eventually found more commodious digs, leaving the West Side Highway derelict—useless for any purpose except as a transportation artery. It’s hard to think of another metropolis that had so thoroughly squandered its coastline.

But West Street is gradually making a comeback, and the two luxurious Richard Meier-designed apartment buildings in the Far West Village are part of the area’s long-overdue return to respectability. Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who owns Perry St., lives in the same building as the restaurant itself. One must doubt how often Vongerichten darkens its door now that a three-star review from the Times has been secured, but its proximity to the place where he sleeps probably offers an incentive for him to stop by a bit more often than he visits the other restaurants in his far-flung empire.

Perry St. is cool, quiet, and elegant. There are some nods to informality (e.g., the paper placemats and the lack of tablecloths), but it is still one of the more refined dining experiences you can have in this part of town. The lounge and bar area are both large and extremely comfortable, and they serve the full menu. The dining room posts a panoramic view of the Hudson River and the New Jersey skyline. It is an especially attractive view at sundown.

My review comes with a significant caveat. Earlier in the day of my visit, I came down with a high fever. I had already cancelled my dinner with these friends on an earlier occasion, so I was determined to keep the date. However, I was frankly miserable, for reasons having nothing to do with the food or the service.

I tried the chicken soup ($10.50), which Ed Levine praised in a recent Times article:

In the best chicken soups, the meat is added at the end of the cooking process. At Perry St., the sous-chef, Paul Eschbach, actually cooks the chicken sous vide (by vacuum-sealing it in a plastic pouch and cooking it in a water bath) separately with dill, butter, salt and pepper, and then puts it in the soup at the last second.

The chicken broth was actually added tableside. The soup bowl contained an array of fresh vegetables (carrots, radishes, greens), and the server poured the broth on top of that. The soup was fresh and tangy.

At Perry St., the menu is spare: just eight appetizers and eight entrees are offered. Our server advised that only two of the entrees have been on the menu since the place opened. One of those is the crunchy rabbit ($31), which Frank Bruni had liked, so I gave it a try. It looked like a wrap sandwich, but was warm with a crisp breading on the exterior with a splash of avocado puree on the side. Here too, a broth was added tableside. I finished only half of it, due to my fever. Two different staff members asked if there was any problem with it. There wasn’t; I just wasn’t up to finishing.

My only significant complaint is the bread service. There is wonderful, fresh butter at the table, but the bread rolls tasted like they were baked eighteen hours ago. At its price point, Perry St. needs to do a better job with the bread.

We didn’t drink (except that I had a cocktail to start). The total was about $150 for three, before tip.

Perry St (176 Perry Street at West Street, Far West Village)

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


Au Revoir V Steakhouse

V Steakhouse, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s high temple of Niman Ranch beef at the Time-Warner Center, is closing tomorrow. Vongerichten told the Times, “We were not doing enough business to make it pay for the rent.”

The restaurant’s business model was dubious from the start. Charging almost $70 for steaks available elsewhere for $40, V Steakhouse had to be almost impossibly good; it was merely average. Service was excellent, and V’s appetizers were well above the typical steakhouse fare, but a thirty-dollar premium for the entrées just wasn’t going to cut it.

Frank Bruni’s one-star review for the Times may have seemed unduly harsh at the time, but Bruni was prescient when he complained of “Elaborate Dishes, Assembly Required.” I was not impressed with V Steakhouse, particularly at its outrageous price point.

The original concept of Time-Warner’s “Restaurant Collection” was to create five restaurants under one roof that would all contend for three or four stars from the Times. Two of them in fact achieved the top rating: Per Se and Masa. Café Gray is apparently successful, despite a two-star spanking from Bruni. But Vongerichten has now failed, and the fifth tenant, Charlie Trotter, never materialized, due to escalating construction costs.

Kenneth Himmel, who operates the mall for Related Urban Development, says he’s now looking for a different kind of restaurant to fill the space. He told the Times, “It has to be a bistro or brasserie, a kind of neighborhood place. We have to get food and beverage that people can eat every day and not just for special occasions into this building.”

V Steakhouse’s quasi-bordello space now goes to the scrap heap.



Note: Vong closed in November 2009. The space became a branch of Wolfgang’s Steakhouse.


In late 2005, a friend and I enjoyed the tasting menu at Vong ($65) with paired wines ($45). The selections on our tasting menu were as follows:

Crab spring roll, tamarind sauce
Prawn satay, sweet & sour chili sauce
Lobster & daikon roll, rosemary ginger sauce
Duck rolls, plumb sauce
Raw tuna and vegetables, namprik vinaigrette
Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco, Valdobbladine

This was a large plate of appetizers, mostly looking like sushi rolls or dim sum. There were four of each item (two apiece), except for the duck rolls (one apiece). We were also each presented with a sauce dish with four compartments, one for each appetizer except the duck rolls, which already had the plum sauce inside. The sauces contrasted beautifully, and all of these items were immaculately prepared. We were delighted with this hefty start to the meal, and it was difficult to wrap our minds around the fact that four more courses were to come.

Rudi Wlest Rhein River Riesling 2004, Rheinhessen

This was a wonderful soup. I didn’t taste much chicken, but the coconut and shitakes were plainly evident.

Jeanne Marie Viognier 2004, California

This course was less successful. The bass was rather dull, and we were given far too much of the watery cabbage, which added nothing to the dish.

Mas du Boislauzon Cotes du Rhone Villages 2003, Rhone

This was about as good as venison gets. It didn’t taste gamey at all. Two slices were prepared rare, with a wonderful crunchy char on the skin.

Domaine la Tour Vielle Reserva Banyuls, Banyuls

Is it any surprise that a Jean-Georges Vongerichten tasting menu would end with a chocolate cake? I’m not a big chocolate fan, but this was a dessert no one could pass up. It had a warm exterior and a molten center. Superb.

Overall, the fish was the only course of the five that misfired. The cuisine had Vongerichten’s fingerprints all over it, although one wonders how much time he devotes to Vong any more. (Pierre Schutz is the credited chef de cuisine.) The paired wines were generally well chosen, but I found that after three whites in a row, my tongue was a bit deadened to the red that came with the meat course.

Service was attentive and precise. My only complaint was that our server spoke with such a heavy accent that we could not grasp his explanations of the courses as they were presented. After a while, we just gave up on him. (Thankfully, we were presented with a card listing the menu and the wines, which we kept with us all evening.)

My companion and I felt that the courses came a shade too quickly. At more than two hours, no one would say we were rushed out of the restaurant. Yet, I sometimes had up to half-a-glass of wine remaining when the next glass was presented. Tasting menu courses tend to be small, and you don’t want to be chugging the wine afterwards.

By the time we left, the restaurant was full, and the noise level loud. Much as we had enjoyed our evening, we were more than ready to give our tender ears a rest.

Update:  Eight months after I posted this review, Frank Bruni of the Times issued a rare two-step demotion, downgrading Vong from three stars to one. It seemed a bit punitive to me, but perhaps some readers will dispute the continuing validity of my three-star rating.

Vong (200 East 54th Street at Third Avenue, in the Lipstick Building, East Midtown)

Food: ***
Service: ***
Ambiance: **½
Overall: ***



Last January, a friend took me out to JoJo for a belated birthday dinner. This restaurant was Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s flagship, before he opened the four-star temple Jean Georges. (JoJo is Vongerichten’s childhood nickname.) Now that Vongerichten has a restaurant in every neighborhood, I suspect he seldom visits JoJo. I found it remarkably uninteresting on that first visit, but it was just interesting enough to merit a return engagement for the right occasion. Last night, I decided to give it another try.

JoJo is located in a remodeled Upper East Side townhouse. There is a tiny bar up front, with tables on both the first and second floors. We were seated upstairs, which is a considerably more romantic and intimate space than downstairs, where I was last time. When we arrived at 6:30, there was just one other couple in the back room. My friend whispered, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could ditch the other couple? We could imagine that this was the private dining salon of our elegant New York townhouse, and all of these servers were here to wait on us alone.” We wondered why the fireplace wasn’t lit on such a cold evening (perhaps it is not a usable fireplace).

To start, she ordered the Peekytoe Crab Salad ($13), and I the Pumpkin Ravioli ($12), which was superb, especially at such a low price point. For the mains, she had the salmon ($24) and I the duck ($26). I had a taste of the salmon and found it bland, although my companion was satisfied. The duck was excellent: four thick breast medallions with a crisp crust and tender flesh; and a pastry filled with shredded leg meat confit. Several fingerling potatoes added to the lovely geometry of the presentation, but nothing to the taste. For dessert, she concluded with the molten chocolate cake ($10), and I had the cheesecake (also $10), which was again wonderful.

Service throughout the evening was attentive and efficient, although I felt that both the appetizers and the entrées came a tad too quickly. However, the restaurant was not full, and at no point did I get the impression that we were being rushed out of the restaurant. We lingered for a long time over our desserts, and in total we were there for around 2½ hours.

On the strength of this second visit, I retract my “remarkably uninteresting” verdict. JoJo is highly competent, and the upstairs seating areas are most charming. With plenty of appetizers in the low-teens and entrées in the mid-twenties, JoJo is one of the better restaurants at its price point. Still, there is a certain lack of sustained inspiration that one expects to find in three-star dining.

Of course, we are in the Frank Bruni era. When The Red Cat attracts two stars, it’s difficult to argue that JoJo isn’t worth the three stars it currently carries at the Times. In a less grade-inflated era, I would award two.

JoJo (160 E 64th St, just east of Lexington Ave, Upper East Side)

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


V Steakhouse

Note: V Steakhouse closed in December 2005. My final thoughts are here. The space is now occupied by Porter House New York.


V Steakhouse is part of the much-ballyhooed “restaurant collection” at the Time-Warner Center. With Masa ($300 prix fixe) and Per Se ($125-150 prix fixe) as neighbors, V Steakhouse with its $66 steaks starts to look like bargain-basement dining. Actually, you can order the chicken entrée at V for $19, and dine at the world’s most expensive food court without spending a monthly rent payment. But it’s no accident that V is called a steakhouse, and it’s as a steakhouse that it must succeed or fail.

The Time-Warner restaurant collection was designed to be three and four-star restaurants, one and all. The nominal chef of the eponymous V, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, was none too pleased to get just one star from the Times’s Frank Bruni. Bruni’s review seemed an anomaly (three stars from the Post’s Steve Cuozzo; a rave in Newsday) till New York Magazine came along with a review titled Steak, Not Well Done.

Vongerichten told New York Magazine, “Eighteen years in New York, and I never had a one-star review; I don’t even know how to do a one-star restaurant. The hardest part is the staff. Nobody wants to work in a one-star place.” Maybe it would help if they sometimes saw the boss. As Vongerichten has over half-a-dozen restaurants in New York alone, to say nothing of his global empire, you can rest assured he’s seldom there.

I had a business dinner at V Steakhouse last night. The décor has been much written about. You love it or you hate it. It reminded me of the interior of the Metropolitan Opera House, with its plush velvet reds and shimmering chandeliers. To that, V adds a grove of gold-painted aluminum trees. To some, it resembles an upscale whorehouse. I found it charming, and so did my companions, who are from Boston.

They pamper you at V. Jean-Georges may not know how to do three-star steak, but he certainly knows how to deliver three-star service. It is a large dining room, but the tables are generously spaced. By the end of our evening, it was about 90% full, but not at all noisy. Most of the tables had parties of four or more. There are hardly any two-seaters at V.

One of my companions had a foie gras appetizer, which he loved, while two of us shared steak tartare, which was wonderful. However, a steakhouse must be judged mainly on the quality of its steaks, and V fails to deliver the goods. My porterhouse was unevenly charred, had an unacceptably high fat and gristle content, and offered a flimsy and under-sized filet on the smaller side of the cut. It was done correctly to the medium-rare temperature I had ordered, but it was otherwise a porterhouse no restaurant of this purported calibre should serve. The other porterhouse at our table was a bit better, but we quickly agreed: this was not a $66 steak. At half that price, I would have considered myself over-charged.

I went to the men’s room, and a couple of guys asked me about my steak. I shared my experience. “Mine sucked,” one fellow said. “So did mine,” said another. To be fair, I should report that my other table companion ordered the Waygu, which he said was the best steak he’d ever had in his life. Undoubtedly V has the equipment to put out great steak on occasion, but they must be accepting whatever wildly inconsistent inventory appears on their loading dock every morning.

V has an ample selection of side dishes. I ordered the “fripps,” which are like large potato chips prepared in a tempura batter. These are superb, but it’s a problem when they utterly out-class the steak. A selection of complimentary sauces came with our meal. These added a little spice to an otherwise humdrum steak, but in my view the best steaks shouldn’t need them.

For dessert, I ordered the berry cheesecake. Like so many of the V desserts, the kitchen hasn’t assembled the pieces. You have a small slice of cheesecake, and a berry goo in an accompanying glass, which you’re encouraged to sip through a straw. How this is supposed to be superior to a traditional cheesecake utterly eludes me. Try the assorted cheese platter instead.

The NY Times doesn’t give separate ratings for service, décor, and food. But if it did, I’d say that three stars is appropriate for the first two categories, but that one star is awfully generous for the third. The kitchen desperately needs a wake-up call.

V Steakhouse (Fourth Floor, Time-Warner Center, Columbus Circle)

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


Jean-Georges Vongerichten's '66'

Note: 66 closed in 2007. Matsugen, a Japanese soba restaurant, is its replacement.

A vendor took me out to dinner at 66 on Monday night. That meant I wasn’t paying. We had a fun night out, but I wouldn’t rush back to spend my own money there — not because there’s anything wrong with 66, but because there’s plenty of other fun places I haven’t tried yet. My feeling now about 66 is, “been there, done that.”

66 is Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s riff on Chinese cooking. Neither the menu nor the wine list is long, but this is not a complaint. Vongerichten has narrowed the stereotype Chinese menu down to the things his kitchen can execute well. Aside from a dessicated plate of overcooked spareribs, every dish was fresh, tasty, and inviting.

The menu is divided into appetizers, dim sum, rice/noodles, and entrees of vegetables, fish and meat. The apps top out at about $14, although most are under $10. The entrees top out around $26, although most are around $20-22. As at Spice Market, plates are brought out when ready. Our server assured us that all of the dishes are designed for sharing (which wasn’t always true), and encouraged us to do so—which we did.

There’s a tasting menu for $66 (get it?), which our server advised was “personally selected by Jean-Georges” (no surname required). Three of us were willing to go that route, but one of our party was skittish about trusting the famous chef’s judgment, so we created a more conservative tasting menu of our own. Our server advised ordering one app, one dim sum, and one entree/vegetable course per person, which turned out to be an ample amount of food, and indeed perhaps a tad too much.

I can’t find a menu for 66 online, and I can’t remember everything we ordered, but I’ll run through a few of the highlights. The two standout appetizers were cubes of pork belly and shrimp prepared two ways. We ordered four different kinds of dumplings, of which I remember three: foie gras, mushroom, and lobster. All were excellent, and you’re not going to find them on the typical Chinese menu.

We ordered a fish entree, which I believe was a grilled sole. It was an undivided fillet, and it quickly crumbled into bitty pieces when we tried to divide it among the four of us. It was a wonderful dish, but hard to split among a large group. The traditional duck with scallions and pancakes was more successful in this regard. Here, Vongerichten was just replicating a Chinese standard (albeit with happy results), without putting his own stamp on it. A plate of mixed vegetables (including the inescapable snow peas) and a sweet & sour chicken dish completed the main courses.

The cocktail menu included a concoction called Mother of Pearl, with rum and coconut milk, which was so wonderful I ordered a second. After dinner, I ordered a 14-year-old Oban (single malt scotch), which was very reasonably priced at around $15, and included about twice as much as you normally get in a restaurant portion. Our meal concluded with chocolate fortune cookies—once again, Jean-Georges is winking at us.

The Richard Meier décor has been much written about. It is spare, sleek, and doesn’t at all resemble your typical Chinese restaurant. The entrance on Church Street (between Leonard and Worth Streets) is so subtle you could easily miss it. My hosts had no trouble getting a 6:30 reservation, and when we left about two hours later 66 was not yet full.

66 (66 Church Street between Leonard & Worth Streets, TriBeCa)

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


(The Mercer) Kitchen

I was invited to lunch yesterday at (The Mercer) Kitchen, one of the ubiquitous Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s many properties. (Its proper name is written out with parentheses around “The Mercer.”) The restaurant occupies part of the ground floor and basement of a hotel at the corner of Mercer & Prince Streets, in SoHo. It’s an impressive space. The ground floor is a bar, with comfortable chairs and small cocktail tables generously spaced. In the back of this area are floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, suggesting a library.

The restaurant proper is downstairs. Part of it is in the vault space below the sidewalk. Look up from your table, and you see (and sometimes hear) people walking over the grillework up above. There is glass in the interstices of the grille, but keep reading: evidently the seal isn’t quite perfect. Near the back are several long communal tables — evidently a staple of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s restaurants. These tables look on an open kitchen — yet another JGV staple. The décor is dark and sleek.

I ordered from the $20 prix fixe lunch menu. An appetizer of Wild Mushroom Bruschetta with Prosciutto failed to impress. I am the world’s worst cook, so when my reaction to a dish is, “I could easily do that,” it’s not a good sign. It seemed to be no more than mushrooms and ham on slightly soggy rye toast.

Things improved as we moved to the main course: Roast Duck Breast with Bok Choy, Ramps and Rhubarb. The rhubarb, a pale pink sauce framing thin duck slices, was what made the dish.

Dessert — Gianduja Parfait with Coconut Soup — was heavenly. One of my lunch companions speaks seven languages, and he explained that gianduja is a hazelnut chocolate. I wonder why the restaurant couldn’t tell us that on the menu. Is “gianduja” a common word? I don’t think so.

In the middle of the meal, we noticed a flurry of activity around the tables near us. It turned out the staff were hanging umbrellas on the sprinkler pipes just below the grillework that separates the restaurant from the sidewalk above. By the time they were done, the entire front section of the restaurant was ringed with a protective cocoon of upsidedown umbrellas, resembling the famous scene from Mary Poppins. What a bizarre sight! Rain was forecast, but none fell before we left, so I didn’t get to see what that was like.

It was a satisfactory meal, but I won’t be dying to go back.

(The Mercer) Kitchen (99 Prince Street at Mercer Street, SoHo)

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


Mad for Meatpacking

It’ll tell you how hopelessly un-hip I am, that, until yesterday, I had never been to the Meatpacking District since it became anything other than a neighborhood where wholesale meats are sold. The area is bounded roughly by Gansevoort St on the south, 14th St on the north, and Ninth and Tenth avenues. I say “roughly,” because like any hip neighborhood its boundaries are stretching. My Manhattan street atlas limits the district to the two square blocks bounded by Little West 12th, 14th, and Ninth and Tenth Avenues. But nowadays, even places on 15th St have Meatpacking aspirations.

A lot of the district’s hip nightclubs hadn’t opened their doors when my friend and I walked by in the late afternoon, but we were able to get a look in many of the restaurants. After a long walk from the Financial District, we were ready for a short break. Zitoune (46 Gansevoort St) snootily refused us an outdoor table when we ordered soft drinks, claiming a $10 minimum outside. We tried Macelleria next door, where they happily accepted our order for soft drinks and biscotti (ironically, we spent more than $10 anyway). The whole time, Zitoune never did use the outdoor table they denied us.

There’s a large triangular space where Gansevoort, Little West 12th, Ninth Ave, and Greenwich St converge at odd angles. At one of the outdoor tables at Zitoune, Macelleria, or nearby Pastis (9 Ninth Ave) you get a panoramic view of the Meatpacking crowd’s comings and goings. The intersection seems to demand a life-size statue of Mr. Gansevoort (or whoever/whatever that street was named for). If we were in Europe, it would have one.

I wanted to see what Spice Market (403 W. 13th St.), Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s latest hit, was about. From the outside, you’d barely know it’s a restaurant. Inside, the $5 million decor overwhelms the senses. It seems no one opens a destination restaurant in New York these days on the strength of the food alone. We peeked in around 6pm, as the place was just beginning to fill up, and the staff didn’t mind terribly that we were there only to gawk.

We were particularly intrigued by the sensuous private rooms at the back of the downstairs bar, where you pass through curtains of gauze into a world of your own. I wonder how those creamy white luxuroious sofa pillows will look after red wine is spilled on them a few times, but for now they look inviting. Whether or not Spice Market deserves the three stars the Times awarded, as eye candy it amazes.

Many other restaurants caught our eye, but we were struck by the friendly reception we received at Vento (intersection of 9th Ave and 14th St), which doesn’t even open to the public until April 19th. The staff are just practicing for now, and the tables were all set for a friends-and-family dinner. The flatiron-shaped building, dating from the Civil War, is all the decor Vento needs.



The New York Times hasn’t had a full-time restaurant critic since William Grimes stepped down from the post at the end of last year. As Grimes is still with the Times, working on other assignments, you’d think the paper could have persuaded him to stay in the chair a few months longer until a permanent successor could be named, but for whatever reason that wasn’t possible. Evidently Grimes couldn’t take eating out 10-12 times a week (and the rumored $150k+ expense account that goes with it) for a day longer. Marian Burros filled in for a while, and for the last couple of months it has been Amanda Hesser. Hesser is a fine writer, but she has made a mess of things, and no doubt the Times will heave a sigh of relief when a permanent successor to Mr. Grimes takes over.

Hesser got herself in trouble with a glowing, almost fawning, 3-star review of Spice Market (403 West 13th Street at 9th Avenue), the Jean-Georges Vongerichten-Gray Kunz homage to Asian street food that’s the latest rage in the trendy meatpacking district. Well, it turns out that JGV wrote a glowing jacket blurb for Hesser’s book Cooking for Mr. Latte. It is safe to say that Hesser benefited enormously from such a high-profile endorsement, and her review looks like a quid pro quo.

Bear in mind that, according to the Times, there are just five 4-star restaurants in New York City, and all of those are temples of French haute cuisine. A 3-star review of a place that sells “street food” is thus highly unusual, if not unprecedented. Coming from the Times, such a review instantly puts Spice Market at the top of the pile. To add insult to injury, Hesser failed to mention JGV’s partner, Gray Kunz, and she praised the desserts while failing to credit the pastry chef. The review mentioned Vongerichten’s name eleven times.

The embarrassed Times says it stands by the review (how could it do otherwise?) but had to issue a correction:

A restaurant review in the Dining section last Wednesday about Spice Market, on West 13th Street in Manhattan, awarded it three stars. The writer was Amanda Hesser, The Times’s interim restaurant critic. Last May, before her assignment to that post, Ms. Hesser published a book, “Cooking for Mr. Latte,” that was praised in a jacket blurb by the restaurateur Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who later opened Spice Market. He wrote: “Amanda Hesser’s charming personality shines as the reader experiences the life and loves of a New York City gourmet. `Cooking for Mr. Latte’ is perfectly seasoned with sensuality and superb recipes.” The review should have disclosed that background.

Reviews of Spice Market have been mixed, which only adds to the perception—whether justified or not—that Hesser had no business awarding it three stars. (Although Hesser’s lack of disclosure may raise eyebrows, the rating is defensible. Andrea Strong praises Spice Market just as highly as Hesser did, sans conflict-of-interest. So does Hal Rubenstein in the April 19th issue of New York.)

Hesser’s problems didn’t start or end there. On February 24, she reviewed Asiate, awarding just one star. Now, from all I’ve read Asiate is an extraordinary restaurant that isn’t yet clicking on all cylinders. Nevertheless, to award just one star is practically an insult, and nothing in the review itself seemed to justify such a hard slap. She ends the review with this bon mot:

There is also the view. You sit atop an urban canyon, as the sheer cliffs of Midtown drop off into the park. From this height, the traffic below seems to glide and swirl without an ounce of contention. The pressures of city life ease a little. And for that alone, I might order a glass of sake, stay for the gougères, then feign illness and steal across Columbus Circle to Jean Georges for a meal that never disappoints.

Once again, a bouquet for Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

When not praising her favorite restauranteur, Hesser has been stripping restaurants of stars previously won. On March 17 Montrachet was demoted from three stars to two, while today Compass got the shove from two stars to one, despite the installation of a new highly regarded chef, Katy Sparks.

This passage of her Compass review showed another lapse in judgment:

A renovation is planned, and I hope it includes the service, which vacillates between comically inept and smothering. One night, I asked the waiter if he could describe the venison entree. “It’s awesome!” he said. Later, when we were having dessert, the waiter popped open a half-bottle of Bruno Paillard Champagne and began pouring.

“What did we do to deserve this?” I asked.

“It’s nothing,” he said. “I forgot to serve it to another table, and I didn’t feel like taking it back to the bar. So here you go.”

It’s pretty well known that the Times does not permit its critics to accept free food or drinks. Does Ms. Hesser really believe that the waiter was unaware whom he was serving, or the lame excuse he offered for giving her a drink she neither ordered nor paid for? Obviously the restaurant’s largesse did them no good in this instance, but why did Ms. Hesser accept it, in clear contravention of her paper’s stated policy?

And if a “renovation” is planned, why review Compass now? Given that the Times cannot re-review a restaurant very often, would it not have made considerably more sense to wait until after the rehab was complete?

Between keeping up with new openings, and cleaning up the mess Ms. Hesser has made in her brief tenure, the Times’s new restaurant critic will have his or her hands full. (Update: The Times has now announced that Frank Bruni, presently the NYT’s Rome bureau chief, will become the new restaurant critic. His first review will appear June 9th.)

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