I had my first taste of the famed Magnolia Grill recently and was full of expectation as I'd noticed it had been named the 11th best restaurant in the entire United States by Gourmet Magazine last year. I'm afraid there is a kind of geographical affirmative action at work here. I have no doubt that there are fifty better restaurants in New York alone.
My main complaint is that the food was terribly busy. There were so many flavors and accents thrown together (Southern, Asian, Indian, French) that they could not possibly be balanced in an elegant and seamless way. A stunning simplicity is the hallmark of all really good food in my experience. The much-lauded desserts were good, but not nearly as good as the desserts at Il Palio in Chapel Hill, and nothing remarkable by the standards of New York. The best of them was a distinctly interesting chevre-filled crepe.
My far less serious complaint is that the room was rather crowded, noisy, and hot, and not particularly pretty.
In MG's favor, the price was moderate, much less than you would pay for a comparably renowned meal elsewhere.
The bottom line: I wouldn't mind returning, but I would not make a special point of it. In an unfortunate way, Magnolia Grill is the victim of its own hype. A nice meal became a disappointment because our expectations had been set far too high.
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