Entries in Le Caprice (3)


Le Caprice

Note: Ever in search of that ellusive “buzz”, in May 2011 Le Caprice hired a new chef, Ed Carew, a veteran of Gramercy Tavern, Craftbar, and Fiamma, and closed soon after. Sirio, from Le Cirque owner Sirio Maccioni, replaced it.


“I want buzz,” owner Richard Caring told the Times a year ago, just before the opening of his restaurant imported from London, Le Caprice, in the Pierre Hotel.

So Caring said that he would “hold back several [tables] each night,” but never fear: “If they are loyal,” meaning the customers, they might hope to be seated. “Several” turned out to be the whole dining room. In the early months, for the riff-raff like me, 5:30 and 10:30 were the only reservation times offered. Le Caprice dropped down, and eventually off of my list of restaurants to try.

Meanwhile, Caring learned that buzz cannot be manufactured. He was holding those tables for an A-list crowd that never came. Sam Sifton of the Times — who, unlike me, gets paid to keep trying to get into these places — found it perpetually empty, despite assurances that they were fully booked. He awarded no stars.

Nowadays, you can get into Le Caprice whenever you want. At 6:00 p.m. on a Wednesday evening, the only buzz is the sound of crickets chirping in a deserted room. By 8:00 there is a decent crowd, though it is by no means full.

From noon to three, 5:30 to 7, and 10 to close, the set menu is just $29, with three choices for each course, and it is not a bad deal at all. Even the à la carte menu isn’t overly expensive, for a restaurant in a luxury hotel on Fifth Avenue facing Central Park. If I were in the neighborhood again, I would go back. It is certainly far preferable to the disgusting Harry Cipriani down the street.

The Smoked Haddock and Quail Egg Tart (above left) is wonderful — excellent in its own right, and I am not aware of any other Manhattan restaurant that serves it.

Swordfish (above right) tasted like generic hotel food. One of my dinner companions had the Chicken Milanese (below left) with parsley, lemon, and garlic, which he seemed pleased with.

Scandinavian Iced Berries with White Hot Chocolate Sauce (above right) is one of the best desserts I’ve had in a long time, and like the haddock tart, not available anywhere else that I know of.

The room is a real stunner, a perfectly civilized place for a catch-up dinner with old friends. The staff are eager to please, and they generally manage to do so.

Le Caprice (795 Fifth Avenue at 61st Street, Upper East Side)

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


Review Recap: Le Caprice

Today, Sam Sifton delivered the first heavy-duty smackdown of his tenure as New York Times restaurant critic, damning Le Caprice with a rare FAIR rating:

The Manhattan outpost of this elegant St. James’s institution opened off the lobby of the Pierre hotel in the fall. It has a menu straight off the plane: mostly nursery food with colonial accents.

But the crowd that might offset it, that might offer wit to counter the mushy peas and sticky sauce, doesn’t run to British eccentricity and glamorous conflict. Instead, it’s just plain-Jane American wealth. There are business travelers and older residents of the Upper East Side, a few Eurobankers and the odd plastic-surgery victim.

The London restaurant may present a kind of British translation of class-free American culture: a democracy of fame. But the American retranslation of that conceit falls flat. At Le Caprice New York, there’s no lurching about with actors. There’s just a senior vice president having drinks and a salad, then checking the Nikkei before bed.

He also complains about a reservations policy that holds back most of the tables: the restaurant claims to be fully committed, even though it’s nearly empty. We tried to get in several times, and couldn’t. At this point, Le Caprice is off our list.

We don’t feel badly about our inaccurate prediction of two stars. Opinions about this place have been all over the map. This is one of the few times we can recall that New York Journal and Eater made different predictions, and both were wrong. We each lose a dollar on our hypothetical bets.

Eater   NYJ
Bankroll $10.00   $14.00
Gain/Loss –1.00   –1.00
Total $9.00   $13.00
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 7–6

Life-to-date, New York Journal is 77–33 (70%).


Review Preview: Le Caprice

Tomorrow, Sam Sifton reviews British import Le Caprice. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows: Goose Egg: 5–1; One Star: 2–1; Two Stars: 3–1; Three Stars: 20–1; Four Stars: 5,000–1.

We think this one is pretty close to a coin flip between one and two stars. As the restaurant attempts nothing especially adventurous, it needs to execute its menu of classics extremely well. As Eater notes, Sifton already named the haddock tart one of his best dishes of 2009, and Adam Platt (who is no fan of such places) actually liked it.

Those factors, we believe, push Le Caprice more likely into two star territory than one; so that is our bet.