Entries in Secession (10)


Secession is Done

Last week, we returned to Secession to see how the ill-begotten restaurant was faring under four-star chef Christian Delouvrier. We found it much improved, but alas, mostly empty. Frank Bruni also circled back, finding the food better than it was, but marred by service gaffes. We often disagree with Bruni, but we believe him on matters like stale bread, absent servers, and wine served too warm.

Today, the penny dropped: Secession has closed. It will be replaced “by the end of the year” (meaning sometime in 2010, if we’re lucky) by a Japanese concept called Brushstroke, which David Bouley had intended to open across the street in the old Delphi space. That space, according to the Times, “ran into structural and other problems.”



After a horrific beginning, there are signs that Secession may be turning into a good restaurant.  [Update: So much for that. Less than a week after our visit, Secession has closed.]

This is the place that replaced three-star Danube and promptly crapped out, earning zero stars in this blog and from Frank Bruni of the Times. We’re seldom simpatico with Bruni, but we entirely agreed with him on everything at Secession—even the rude coat-check lady. How on earth did David Bouley believe he could serve a menu with 70 items and get even half of them right?

A few months after Bruni’s review, David Bouley wisely hired Christian Delouvrier to take over the kitchen at Secession. Delouvrier once earned three stars at Maurice in the Parker-Meridian Hotel, three stars at Les Celebrites in the Essex House, four stars at Lespinasse in the St. Regis, and three stars at Alain Ducasse, again in the Essex House. If it’s classic French cuisine that you want, Delouvrier is your man.

The menu at Secession has now been very wisely pared down to less than half its former girth. In our view, it could stand to be pared down even more, but it has taken a huge step in the right direction. We ordered two dishes that Delouvrier himself is responsible for, and we went home happy.

A cold pea and mint soup ($9) was terrific. Duck confit ($21) was exactly what this classic dish should be, but they ought to jettison the cast-iron serving dish, which only gets in the way. The fries are perfect, but those closer to the bottom of the pan got soggy.

It won’t be easy to get the critics back. None of the patrons seemed to be under fifty. The server mentioned that Danyelle Freeman of the Daily News was in last week, but she already posted an irrelevant pre-Delouvrier rave and is unlikely to review it again so soon. Mimi Sheraton was in the house. She is precisely the demographic that this restaurant appeals to, but she doesn’t have a reviewing platform these days.

Secession is a lot better than it was, but getting the recognition it deserves won’t be easy.

Secession (30 Hudson Street at Duane Street, TriBeCa)

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


The Payoff: Secession

Update: Scorecard added to bottom of post…

Today, as expected, Frank Bruni laid a goose-egg on David Bouley’s TriBeCa Titanic, Secession:

Menus this epic and indefinable can certainly work, as long as the majority of dishes are appealing in and of themselves. But when as many are as unremarkable or off key as they were at Secession the production comes across as slapdash, undisciplined…

Not much of what emerged from Secession’s seemingly overburdened kitchen rose far above mediocrity. And there were instances of outright sloppiness.

Bruni’s review exactly channels our own experience, from the cold terrines down to the grumpy coat-check woman. (Yes, she was rude to us too.) How hard is it to find someone to check coats with a smile?

Where does Secession go from here? I think Bouley needs to ditch about three-fourths of the menu, hire a new chef de cuisine, and find a new drill sergeant to run the front-of-house.

Thanks to this week’s rather generous odds, we and Eater both win $5 on our hypothetical $1 bets.

      Eater       NYJ
Bankroll $101.50   $120.67
Gain/Loss +5.00   +5.00
Total $106.50   $125.67
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 47–21   49–19

Rolling the Dice: Secession

Every week, we take our turn with Lady Luck on the BruniBetting odds as posted by Eater. Just for kicks, we track Eater’s bet too, and see who is better at guessing what the unpredictable Bruni will do. We track our sins with an imaginary $1 bet every week.

By popular demand—okay, two or three folks asked for it—Rolling the Dice has returned for the first time since July.

The Line: Tomorrow, we have a doozy, as Frank Bruni tackles the TriBeCa trainwreck, David Bouley’s Secession. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 5-1 √√
One Star: 3-1
Two Stars: 6-1
Three Stars: 60-1
Four Stars: 20,000-1

The Skinny: We didn’t like Secession, and we don’t know anyone who did. Eater already gave ample reasons for predicting the goose-egg, which we’ll amplify. Steve Cuozzo liked it, and Cuozzo is practically the anti-Bruni.

Bruni doesn’t like phoned-in restaurants with consulting chefs on the roster and more than 70 items on the menu. He’s not especially fond of French cuisine, which this mostly is. He takes offense at over-priced mediocrity, and faux luxury.

Alain Ducasse’s Benoit managed to eke out an unenthusiastic one-star review. But Benoit, uneven though it is, at least feels authentic. Secession feels fake, and it will take a lot more than just modest tweaks to fix it. You get the sense that Bouley needs a wake-up call. Our man Bruni is the man to deliver it.

The Bet: For the return of “Rolling the Dice,” we thought hard about bucking the Eater prediction. The trouble is, we just can’t make the one-star case. We’re not saying it can’t happen, but we don’t see it.

We agree with Eater that Frank Bruni will award no stars to Secession.



The State of the Bouley Empire

David Bouley’s growing empire fascinates me. What is it like to build seven restaurants at once? Not seven clones, but seven one-of-a-kind places?

One of the seven, Secession, is an early failure. It got zero stars from Adam Platt this week. If it gets much better than a weak singleton from Frank Bruni, I’ll be surprised.

I walked by the others last night for a brief look-in. Here’s a report:

Bouley Bakery. The bakery has now moved into the old Bouley restaurant. It’s a work in progress, with signs of unfinished construction. David Bouley himself was wandering around inside. They’re selling baked goods and soups, in what appears to be a makeshift space. My understanding is that there will eventually be a wine bar in here, but that part isn’t ready yet.

Upstairs. With the bakery gone, Upstairs has the whole building to itself. I saw four lovely tables on the ground floor with — gasp! — white tablecloths and formal glassware. It actually looks like a pleasant place to dine, certainly not the case when I visited three years ago, and promptly crossed it off my list. There is no longer a menu posted outside, but a sign on the door announces various prix fixe sushi specials, presumably still available on the second floor.

Bouley Restaurant. This is now open in the old Mohawk Atelier building, on a scale of unprecedented luxury. There’s a private dining room on the lower level with a separate entrance. The kitchen features panoramic windows facing the street. If you can’t afford to eat at Bouley, you can press your nose to the glass and watch him (or more likely, his minions) cook for those who can. It’s a gutsy move—a new take on the idea of an “open kitchen.” There’s no menu posted, at the restaurant or online. I’m in no rush to visit until I read a few more reports, but I may stop in for a drink sometime soon.


Reboot at Bouley's Secession

Update: A commenter (below) says that the prix fixe was for two days only, and that the original menu has returned. We have not been by to see if this is so. Besides that, “Restaurant Week” specials typically do not supersede the entire menu of the restaurant.

* * *

In my review of David Bouley’s new restaurant Secession, I suggested that “about half this menu needs to be jettisoned.”

Bouley has done a lot more: he has thrown out practically all of it. As of last night, Secession is serving a $45 prix fixe. I walked by the restaurant this afternoon and had a look.

There are now just 7 appetizers, 6 entrées (all served with a pot of Tuscan fries for the table) and 4 desserts. That compares to last week’s menu, which had more than 25 appetizers and 25 entrées. I didn’t note every item on the new menu, but the available entrées include chicken, Wiener Scnitzel, and Spaghetti Carbonara. The long charcuterie menu has been reduced to just one pâté.

The menu is headed, “A Preview in Collaboration with Zagat.” You can’t make this stuff up.

I don’t suggest for a second that my review had anything to do with it, but there are enough terrible ones out there that Bouley clearly needed to do something—fast. With this more limited menu, he can now focus on the basics, as he should have done in the first place. Calling it “a preview” keeps the critics out,” or at least might persuade them to be gentle.



Note: Secession has closed. It will be replaced with a Japanese concept called Brushstroke, supposedly by the end of 2009 (but don’t hold your breath).

David Bouley has been a busy guy. He has something like seven restaurant projects going right now. We’re not talking about seven stable, business-as-usual restaurants, but seven in a state of flux. And we’re not talking about seven clones, but seven very different concepts. The obvious question is whether he can keep so many balls in the air, or if some of them—indeed, perhaps all—are going to land with an embarrassing thud.

So far, we have the answer for one of these: Secession, which just opened, replacing Danube. THUD. There is plenty of time to right the ship, but Secession needs a lot of work. With his next project, the new flagship Bouley, set to open next week, when will he have time to fix Secession, which right now is beyond mediocre?

It is not merely flawed execution—though there is plenty of that—but an absurd concept. The menu has practically as many options as a diner. It is more than any restaurant could expect to do well. And as one food board participant noted, they are almost sure to be always running out of things. If there’s to be any semblence of consistency, about half this menu needs to be jettisoned.

Perhaps they are heading in that direction. Last night, there were marginally fewer items offered than on the menu that I posted a couple of weeks ago. But it is still far too much, with something like 25 entrées and an equal number of appetizers in multiple categories. I mean, spaghetti carbonara and shrimp kebabs? They seem to be just phoned in. The menu, printed on a huge broadsheet, is also unwieldy to handle at the small tables.

The prices, at least, aren’t exorbitant. Almost all of the appetizers are below $15, and most of the entrées are $25 or less. Steaks range from $21 (skirt steak) to $32 (sirloin), but if they’re aged prime, as the menu says, that’s a pretty good deal. Nearly all of the wines are below $100, with many good choices below $50.

The brasserie menu and befuddled service are at war with the surroundings. Danube’s faux Klimt interior has been retained, which was a wise move, as this is still one of the most gorgeous rooms in town. It still feels like it should be a three-star restaurant, though it most certainly isn’t. Chairs and banquettes are comfortable, but our table wobbled. About halfway through, the server came by and stuck a piece of cardboard under one of the legs.


The charcuterie section of the menu offers nine homemade terrines, pâtés and boudins (sausages), all $11. We ordered two of those, and then waited. And waited. It made no sense, as these items are obviously pre-made. There was bread service, but it was stale. This was hard to figure, as the bread just next door, at Bouley, has always been excellent.

The boudin noir, or blood sausage (above left), comes with six different garnishes, but this isn’t clear on the menu, and our server was at a loss to explain it. Apparently they were out of one garnish, and had substituted another. Or something. For all that, it was pretty good. The Terrine du Chef (above right) had a flat, dull taste, and came out too cold, as if it had been in the fridge all day. The accompanying bread was again stale.


One of the more unusual menu items is Baby Goat; they were out of it, but didn’t bother to tell us this when the menus were handed out. I was offered Baby Lamb instead ($25; above left). It was presented in a cast-iron skillet, but I thought they’d serve it out onto a plate. Instead, they just left it for me to eat directly from the skillet, which was a bit wobbly. The kitchen did a respectable job with the lamb, but the potatoes underneath it were greasy and stuck to the pan.

I had asked the server to recommend a side dish. He suggested the mac ’n’ cheese, or technically “Grandmother’s Pasta and Cheesse Gratin” ($9; above center). Perhaps a better name is “supermarket pasta elbows.” They were too watery and not cheesy enough.

My girlfriend had the Skirt Steak ($21; above right). Apparently it was supposed to come with sauce, but the server forgot it; we did too, till we re-checked the menu afterwards. The steak itself was tender and nicely seasoned, but the accompanying schmear of what looked like mashed potatoes wasn’t any good at all. It also came with fries, which were soggy and limp. A runner asked what was wrong with them, and we told him. “I’ll tell the manager,” he said. Instead, our waiter came back and said, “Sorry about the fries.” At another table, the fries weren’t delivered till after everyone had finished their entrées.

Earlier in the evening, we’d had drinks at the bar, which they offered to transfer to our dinner tab. When the bill arrived, they weren’t on it. I’d like to think they were making up for the fries, but I doubt it. Surely, in that case, a manager would have come over and said something. I think they’re just discombobulated. We pointed out the apparent error. The server just said, “Forget about it.”

The dinner crowd was an eclectic mix. For the first part of the evening, the average age of the room was definitely over 50, but it got younger as time went on. The staff can’t decide what atmosphere they want in the dining room. Lighting levels were adjusted three times during the course of our meal. The full menu is also available at the bar. It has several comfortable tables, and a number of people seemed to be dining there by choice. It was standing-room-only by the time we left.

The dining room was never full, though it got close by the time we left, a bit after 8:00 p.m. Curiously, we were seated right next to a party of six, even though the restaurant was nearly empty when we arrived. About half-way through our meal, another party of two was seated right next to us, though there were a good dozen other two-tops with no one else around. Spreading people out when the dining room is empty is a pretty basic service concept, not yet mastered here.

There’s no reason Secession couldn’t be a great restaurant, but it isn’t right now. Too many basic things misfire. The staff is too confused. David Bouley needs to cut down the menu to about half of its currrent length, and the front-of-house needs a serious kick in the shins.

If there’s any silver lining, it’s that the prices are low, and that encourages a re-visit. If I hear that things have improved, I’ll drop by again one evening and dine at the bar.

Secession (30 Hudson Street at Duane Street, TriBeCa)

Food: Uneven
Service: Uneven
Ambiance: ***
Overall: Uneven (no stars)


Secession: The Menu

Secession opened this week. It’s the successor to the late lamented Danube, David Bouley’s tribute to Austrian cuisine that closed two months ago. The faux Klimmt décor survives, and it gives the restaurant its name. You might think that “secession” refers to the American Civil War, but it’s actually an Austrian art movement, of which Klimmt was a part.

The cuisine here is mostly that of a French brasserie, with a nod to Austria (Wiener Schnitzel remains from the Danube days), and another nod to Italy via consulting chef Cesare Casella. It says on the door, “Breakfast Lunch Dinner.” (You can only barely see that in the photo on the left.) Breakfast and lunch haven’t started yet.

I worry about the sprawling menu, which seems to offer a bit of everything. The charcuterie could be impressive, but it’s not available till October 13th. As one poster noted on Mouthfuls, “they offer six different preparations of boudin noir alone. How much boudin noir are they planning to sell?”

Our reservation is a week from Friday. In the meantime, we offer you the menu (click on the image for a larger version):


State of the Bouley Union

bouleyunion02a.jpg bouleyunion02b.jpg
Restaurant Bouley (left); In case you were wondering… (right)

David Bouley, chef/owner of three successful TriBeCa restaurants, is throwing his whole restaurant empire into a state of turmoil.

The flagship, Bouley, will be moving into new quarters in the old Mohawk building, a block away. His bakery, now located across the street, will move into the old restaurant space. That will create room for the restaurant Upstairs to expand into all three floors of that building. (I wonder if they’ll still call it “Upstairs”?)


Bouley’s Austrian-themed restaurant, Danube, will close, to be replaced by Secession, a French brasserie. Lastly, he’ll be creating a three-story Japanese restaurant, Brushstroke, in the space formerly occupied by Delphi, which had been the oldest restaurant in TriBeCa. The place closed last year after it couldn’t agree to a new lease with its landlord.

These changes are supposed to happen in the course of this year. Mind you, all of these restaurants, existing and to be, are literally within one block of the current Bouley space. If David Bouley is a control freak, he won’t have to go far to check up on any of his projects.

So how is the state of the Bouley union? Let’s begin with the flagship, Bouley. I was able to get a nice wide-angle shot (above), because there are no cars outside. This is one of the Community Board’s major complaints about the place. Notice the sign outside, “No Double Parking.” At the moment, there’s no single parking there either.

bouleyunion01a.jpg bouleyunion01b.jpg
Restaurant Upstairs (left); At Danube, “Do you think someone’s going to blog about us?” (right)

Business is brisk at Upstairs (above left). This was the first night of the year that the outdoor tables were in use. Over at Danube (above right), a gaggle of employees loitered outside.

bouleyunion03a.jpg bouleyunion03b.jpg bouleyunion03c.jpg
The old Delphi space will house the new restaurant Brushstroke, and apparently, Luxury Lofts up above

The space that will be Brushstrokes still looks like the vacant hulk that was Delphi. It isn’t a very appealing sight. Note the sign for “Luxury Lofts” next door. Doesn’t look very luxurious, does it?

This restaurant has not had an easy gestation. In February, a committee of Community Board 1 twice voted to deny Brushstroke a liquor license, based on years of complaints about the way Bouley runs his restaurants. Bouley put on a charm offensive with the full Community Board, and miraculously, they voted in favor of recommending a liquor license. (They almost never override the committee vote.)

Here it gets creepy. The very next day, the Buildings Department issued a Stop Work Order at the Delphi site “after finding that a floor joist had been removed without providing shoring.” That seems almost too coincidental. Could it be that someone in the area who had opposed the liquor license filed an anonymous tip?

bouleyunion04a.jpg bouleyunion04b.jpg
There’s no work being done here, after the Dept. of Buildings found unsafe conditions

It looks like this restaurant still has a long way to go. I don’t think we’ll see Brushstroke before 2009.




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.