“Who wants caviar at a time like this?” I do and so do most of the civilized world.
With all due respect to my friend Adam Platt, who raised the issue in New York magazine and on GrubStreet.com, I would add: We want caviar, truffles and foie gras now more than ever. If we are what we eat, then should we not long for the best that the earth and the oceans have to offer?
People on Caviar Russe, a restaurant on Madison Avenue in Midtown, are not sweating over any alleged aversion: They are about to open a store on the ground floor that sells nothing but caviar and rename the place the “Caviar Russe Building.”
Still, Platt stated that “fine dining” based on luxury ingredients, high comfort and traditional service faces “irrelevance”. The “old gourmet model” has never seemed so “out of touch”, he wrote when the pandemic overturned the restaurant industry, and customers are reportedly looking for a new kind of dining experience built around “three-star tacos, burgers and bowls with the ramen.”
He correctly remarked that “bloviating critics” like himself have predicted the death of luxury for decades, only to look stupid every time. No wonder every new such statement sounds more bitter than the last.
Fine dining can mean different things, but most people understand it as eating any kind of good and usually expensive food, professionally served in a room that provides an opportunity to hear and be heard without screaming across the table.
As critic Alan Richman eloquently put it in the Robb report a few years ago, good food is more than “a demonstration of wealth and privilege. . . It is an expression of culture, the most enlightened and elegant form of nutrition ever conceived. Without it, we will slowly retreat to the cavemen’s eating habits, squat in front of a campfire and gnaw at a bar. ”
It often also means the T-word, also known as tablecloths, which many in young, progressive circles lament, as if they signify not just confinement but neo-colonialism — even if they could really just fear a room with lots of older customers.
The Woke mob prefers a non-hierarchical, “communal” environment, where the menus honor obscure, original cuisines without “appropriating” them, and where dishwashers earn just as much as head chefs. (Platt, we should clarify, is not part of that mob, but is independently cranky.)
Oddly enough, Hollywood, one of America’s most left-leaning institutions, has always celebrated restaurants where customers ate and drank in comfort and enjoyed customs and rituals that many today regard as neo-fascist.
Rick’s Café in “Casablanca”, Ernies (from San Francisco) in “Vertigo” and The Four Seasons and “21” in “Mad Men” were all frames for crucial scenes. When I see the lavish and orderly places that are routinely depicted on the screen, I often look at why there are not more of them in reality.
Another critic, the well-attended John Mariani, took to Facebook to ridicule Plat’s contempt for the Wagyu rules for beef and men in jackets. Mariani pointed out that Manhattan’s most sought-after restaurants today are of the kind Platt expects to go down in history — such as Le Bernardin, Le Pavillon, and La Grenouille. I would add The Grill, steakhouses like Porter House and Peter Luger, elegant Italians Marea and Il Gattopardo, seafood palaces like Avra and Oceans and scattered $ 300-a-head omakase bars.
Platt, however, was hardly alone. New Yorker food writer Helen Rosner’s scornful closure of three-Michelin-starred Le Bernardin as a “plutocratic canteen” last year formulated in a nutshell the bizarre perceptions of many food writers.
Even some chefs are on board with the madness. Food & Wine magazine cited several in December last year that predicted “decline and likely death” of both “mid-fine” and more “expensive” restaurants.
A few chefs actually made it their mission to dismantle the dining traditions we loved. Momofuku founder David Chang, whose hypocrisy is past satirization, fought for a “populist” dining experience (e.g., painful seating in backless chairs). Meanwhile, he launched Momofuku Ko, one of the most elitist companies in history — where a meal cost more than in French haute cuisine places, and reservations were nearly impossible to obtain.
Fine dining was declared dead after 9/11, during the Wall Street crash in 2007, after the New York Times downgraded Per Se from four to two stars in 2016, and again since the Times last week dropped a stink bomb on all-vegans, 285 dollars pr. Main Eleven Madison Park.
Off-based doomcasts recall guarantees from football’s ‘experts’ that Tom Brady, who won his seventh Super Bowl at the age of 43, would soon “fall off a cliff” – a claim they have been making since about the day he first picked up a football.
Time will eventually catch up with Tom. But sorry, Adam, the clock never runs out on caviar, truffles, tablecloths and all the joys of eating that make life worth living.