Some notes from a dinner at La Grenouille last night:
This restaurant is clearly coasting: on its past glory, its reputation as one of the most romantic spots in the city, and a core clientele with an average age of 70 years old.
- An amuse bouche of butternut squash soup was completely devoid of taste. Not even worth finishing.
- Had the Salad Landaise as an appetizer, composed of haricot verts, frisee, fois gras, and a poached quail egg served in an artichoke heart. Presentation was sad it looked like something you would see at a hotel banquet hall trying to serve 1000 conference attendees for lunch. The frisee was limp, haricot verts cold and soggy, and the quail egg in desperate need of salt. The saving grace was the fois gras quenelles of foie gras mousse with black pepper and what tasted like a splash of Cognac.
- My companion had the lobster ravioli which she said was quite decent, served in a wine cream sauce. But ordering this dish entailed a supplemental charge of $7.75 on top of the already steep $87.50 cost for a 3-course prix fixe.
- My entrée was the house special frogs legs. Not bad, a good amount of legs sautéed in garlicky butter Provencal-style. But again, as with anything else really worth ordering on the menu, this dish entailed a supplemental charge of $10.75.
- My companion had one of the specials for the evening. Two lamb chops cooked medium rare, and reasonably well-seasoned. But the cuts were a bit small, and the potato gratin and flageolet beans on the side barely edible. The potatoes were cold and tasted like they could have come out of a Lipton box. And the flageolet beans had the consistency and color of baked beans (with baked beans having more flavor).
- We opted not to pay a supplemental charge of $8.75 for the dessert soufflés, and were glad we didnt after seeing a neighboring tables order. It looked like a nice dessert when first brought out of the kitchen, but the inside seemed too wet and mushy.
- A cheese plate for dessert was sad. It looked like something you would get on business class on an airplane and tasted like it too. Without a description from the waiter, I only assumed it was a slice each of Brie, Camembert and Roquefort. Eating this cheese, it felt like somebody had their fingers pinched over my nose the flavors were numb.
- My companions chocolate tort was truly uninspiring. A puck of dry chocolate cake with a molten chocolate center, it was more hotel banquet fare.
- The petit fours should not even have been served. They were shameful.
- The flowers are nice, but the noise level is a bit high and the room is quite cramped. Our table had a small lamp for a centerpiece and the wire was hanging awkwardly down the center of the table.
- The service is tired and routine. Many of the older waiters obviously dont care anymore. They slap dishes down in front of you without a word or a smile. Plates take a while to be cleared, bread service is sporadic, and the delay between our appetizer and entrée was noticeable and mildly irritating. Our captain was nice enough, but he couldnt carry the entire evening.
- We had a 9:00pm seating, and the crowd in the dining room seems to be clearly segmented between two demographics. As we sat down, the first wave of diners were just finishing up. These seemed to be people that the restaurant knew, much older in age and probably regular guests. Since it was a Saturday night, there was also a smattering of special occasion tables thrown in the mix. Around 10:00pm, you had the second wave: mostly tourists who did not plan far enough ahead to secure a more reasonable time.
As with LCB, Lutece and the other old guard French restaurants of NY, La Grenouille must one day disappear as well. The prices theyre charging are exorbitant for what they offer. The bill came to $360 for two before tip for a $100 bottle of wine. Last month, we dined at The Modern for $100 less with much better and more interesting food, much more refined service and a better bottle of wine. I understand this is a slightly flawed comparison after all, La Grenouille is doing a different type of cuisine targeted at a different crowd. But I think a relationship between price and value should still apply. For example, whats with all the supplemental charges on the menu, if not to simply gouge people who are there for what are presumably the restaurants most popular dishes?
And finally, this experience reinforces my feeling on the introduction of the NY Michelin Guide its definitely a good thing. Consider that Michelin did not give La Grenouille a single star, to the surprise of some. On the other hand, the NY Times has it down for three stars, and Zagats gives it a 26 rating for food. But I think Michelin has it right and the Times rating is stale. Competition is good.