Review by Ryan Sutton
Dec. 12 (Bloomberg) –- Michel Richard, the French chef behind the now-closed Citronelle, one of Washington’s priciest restaurants, has finally set up shop in New York. And true to form, he’s given us one of Manhattan’s most expensive eateries. So here are 18 things you need to know before you go there and accidentally spend $700. Or more.
1. The Gallery at Villard Michel Richard serves the type of fancy, fussy food one expects from a restaurant with an eleven-syllable name. So while new wave spots like Blanca, Atelier Crenn and Atera explore luxury through vegetables, offal or avant-gardism, The Gallery finds extravagance through foie gras, Dover sole and tableside saucing by men in fancy suits.
2. The Gallery serves what might be New York’s most expensive four-course menu, at $150. Add the supplemental cheese service and you’ll spend more than a five-course lunch at Per Se, one of America’s best restaurants. The Gallery is not one of America’s best restaurants, not after my meal there last week.
3. There’s also an eight-course menu for $185. So after wine pairings, tax and tip for two, that meal will run you $747. Ouch. But if the price is steep, the menu’s length is a modest one in our culinary era where 18- to 30-course tastings are becoming increasingly common at the high end.
4. The location is The New York Palace hotel, where an overnight stay for two this Friday will cost you about $404 -- cheaper than your fully-loaded dinner date. The Gallery itself is in the same landmark space that used to house Le Cirque 2000, as well as Gilt, whose last chef served food that was almost as uneventful as Richard’s.
5. Villard has a lower-cost bistro next to The Gallery. And by lower-cost I mean the hamburger is $26, the (very good) lobster burger is $34, and the punishingly leaden seafood pasta is $34. Call it a spendy New York riff on Richard’s Central in Washington, where the burger is just $18.
6. I didn’t see a single female waiter, back waiter or busser at The Gallery. That’s because there aren’t any, a spokesperson for the restaurant told me. The Gallery staff is all male.
7. The bartender wields gold-plated jiggers. And he makes a mean daiquiri. He uses a fine agricole rum, imparting the libation with a pleasant medicinal sting. Cost: $19. He also makes a forgettable calvados and peach tipple for $24. I state these numbers as a public service because the Gallery’s website only prints cocktail descriptions, not prices. Shady.
8. The Gallery also doesn’t publish an online wines-by-the-bottle list, and the website’s by-the-glass list is stripped of all prices. Good luck budgeting your meal in advance. Maybe budgeting isn’t a word these people are concerned about. For those who care, glass pours run $12-$69, while Champagne starts at $26, a higher entry-level price than at the three-Michelin-starred Daniel. Bold.
9. Caviar is perhaps The Gallery’s only game-changing dish. The soft osetra anoints an eggshell filled with scallops scrambled to resemble the texture of eggs, which they do, while gently heating the roe, intensifying its maritime tang. Perfect.
10. Avoid white truffles. Traditionally, they’re shaved tableside, exposing you (and surrounding diners) to the pricey perfume at its prime. Instead, The Gallery shaved our $95 order in the kitchen -- something to hide? What’s worse, Richard serves the truffles atop a “fettuccine” of steamed and buttered onions. The one-note vegetables don’t so much evoke haute gastronomy as they do an effort to accommodate pleasure-hating, gluten-free herbivores.
11. Vegetable eaters can enjoy a four-course option for $140. It includes an excellent eggplant and tomato terrine, which boasts as much complexity as one made out of pork shoulder. That’s the good news. The bad news is that one of the four courses is the lousy onion fettuccine.
12. Michel Richard is famous for his sense of whimsy. He transforms a Nicoise salad into a savory Napoleon, improving upon the original with vertical layers of crispy tuiles and succulent raw tuna. He also turns foie gras into a livery creme brulee, a dish that’s less tasty when you realize it’s available at Jean-Georges, a better restaurant, for less.
13. Sometimes the whimsy doesn’t work. Richard presents a caviar tin filled with what appears to be beluga roe. Take a bite. It’s Israeli couscous, colored with squid ink and studded with tiny bits of lobster. Surrounding the tin is what I like to call furniture-store ice -- clear plastic cubes. They’re not meant for eating. You expected luxury, and what you get instead is the gluey texture and bland flavor of a wartime MRE.
14. The Gallery might have the worst lighting of any New York restaurant. At the behest of design deity Jeffrey Beers, tables are lit from underneath. The visual effect recalls a 13-year-old putting a flashlight to his face before telling a ghost story -- it’s a mistake that washes out and mutes any bright colors in your dinner. Then again, this is good news for Luddites, as the eerie table lights will make most iPhone food photography look terrible. Sorry, Instagrammers.
15. Portions are too big. Thomas Keller, in his “French Laundry Cookbook,” was perhaps the first to tell us there’s a law of diminishing returns with food. That’s why Keller’s tasting menus at Per Se are portioned so modestly that you wish you had “one more bite” of each dish. At The Gallery, by contrast, I struggled to finish bite after bite of the fake beluga caviar or the average Dover sole.
16. Here’s perhaps the main thing: The Gallery isn’t bringing much to the New York culinary conversation. If Richard wants to offer striped bass as part of a four-course prix-fixe at $150, it needs to be better than a $30 version of the dish. It’s not. And boneless rack of lamb is as exciting as hotel buffet fare, with jalapeno sauce packing all the heat of parsley.
17. Dinner is a set menu, so you can’t skip dessert. That wouldn’t be a problem if the pastry department put out compelling sweets. Instead, you get a forgettable crispy chocolate bar and passable macarons. Yawn.
18. The Gallery, at about six weeks old, is still a young restaurant, but if Richard is charging more than his peers, he at least needs to be hitting his golf balls on the green. The Gallery, sadly, is still very much hacking around in the rough.
The Gallery at Villard Michel Richard is at 455 Madison Avenue. Information: +1-212-891-8100 or http://www.villardmichelrichard.com
P.S. To the folks who run Le Bernardin, Jean-Georges and ZZ’s Clam Bar –- time to put your full beverage lists, with prices, online too.
(Ryan Sutton reviews restaurants for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)