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Aug 14, 1998 12:17 PM


  • j

On our birthdays my wife and I always take each other
out to a top restaurant. Last night it was Lutece. And
it was shockingly lousy. The room was depressingly
shabby...and empty, too. With no soft music or
anything, just the hum of the air conditioner. The
service was rushed and inattentive -- when I'm shelling
out $300 for dinner and wine, I'd like to have my wine
and water glasses kept full thank you very much. And
I'd also like not to have to raise my hand and ask for
fresh pepper. None of which would have mattered so
much if the food was great. But it wasn't even good.
The amuse bouche was what looked and tasted for all the
world like corner deli lox and cream cheese spread on a
piece of toast. My wife's foie gras appetizer was the
highlight of the evening, nicely caramelized and served
with some kind of fruit compote. The rack of lamb for
two was ordered medium rare and arrived raw. Since they
had already carved the entire thing and presented it to
us, we felt too awkward about sending it back. I mean
they would have had to cook an entirely new rack for
us, right? Or maybe pan fry the individual chops. 4 of
the 8 pieces we were served were inedible. Seems to me
the waiter should have taken us off the hook by
realizing the problem and taking care of it himself.
Dessert was downright lousy. Chocolate souffle that
tasted like scrambled eggs with a little nestle's quik
sprinkled in as an afterthought. Had us looking back
misty-eyed to the intense chocolate mousse we had at
Bouley a couple of years back. My wife had called ahead
to ask them to put together a birthday treat for me,
but had to get up from the table to go remind them
about it, since they had served us dessert without any
sign of her request being fulfilled. Overall, an
extremely disappointing meal. Although we certainly had
fun ripping it apart in the cab ride home. Our rankings
of the birthday restaurants so far go in this order: 1.
Bouley 2. Jean Georges 3. Daniel 4. Lespinasse 5. Le
Bernardin 6. Chanterelle (also very disappointing) 999.

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  1. That just about breaks my heart. Lutece has always
    been my dream of a fancy occasion New York restaurant.
    I have dropped broad hints off and on to be taken there
    by my kids. I, too, have a birthday coming up which I
    will celebrate in New York. I think I'm going to
    suggest we just follow the crowds to Babbo!

    Did you communicate your disappointment and
    displeasure? Why not send a copy of your post to them?
    Send mine too! pat

    6 Replies
    1. re: pat hammond

      Pat -- Sorry to upset you -- I had always though of
      Lutece as the height of luxury too, but was sadly
      disappointed. I suppose there's a chance it was just a
      very very off night for them, although I kind of doubt
      it because I did see the head chef, Eberhard Muller
      (sp?), in the house. And no, I didn't express my
      displeasure out of a combination of being intimidated
      and not wanting to cause a scene. But I think I will
      take your advice and send my post to them -- maybe it
      will help them address their problems.
      Thx, Joel

      1. re: joel t

        If it makes you feel any better, and it probably won't, both of my experiences at Lutece, during the Soltner days, were disappointing -- nowhere near as disastrous as yours, just mediocre.

        The service, though, was always attentive, and it sounds like yours was unconscionable. Although I wasn't wowed by the food at Lutece, there was an obvious pride among the whole staff back then.

        Like you, it's kind of fun dumping on a bad experience at an extravagant meal. I've always enjoyed dumping on Chanterelle, too .

        1. re: Dave Feldman

          Having been dragged to Lutece a number of times for
          business lunches, I have to agree that the current
          state of the restaurant is decidedly mediocre. I've
          never had a disastrous experience there either, but
          I've also never had a particularly memorable one.
          Service has been adequate, but whatever esprit de
          corps existed in the Soltner years is certainly gone.
          As for the food, ho hum.

          Chanterelle, too, has been a frequent source of
          disappointment for me. I find that all the more
          disturbing, since Chanterelle is one of only four
          restaurants that carries a four-star ranking from the
          New York Times.

          1. re: Steven Shaw

            I've got to jump in to bash Chanterelle too!

            I loved Chanterelle when they opened (had a wonderful,
            extravagant Saturday lunch). When I returned for dinner
            2 yrs ago, it was definitely mediocre. The staff didn't
            have that pride that Dave mentioned.

            thanks for sharing your review with us and saving us
            from a likely similar disappointment. Such bad meals
            are esp crushing to a chowhound.

            Seems there are fewer and fewer fancy restaurants we
            can look forward to.


            1. re: Janet Traub

              On the other hand, I have never been disappointed in
              many return trips to my favorite restaurant in
              NY--Union Square Cafe. Danny Meyer knows that how
              people get treated is just as important as the
              wonderful food served. Hope all you chowhounds agree.

              1. re: phyllis

                Give me Gramercy Tavern any day or night. Tom Colicchio
                has forgotten more about flavor than many four-star
                chefs ever seem to learn. Short ribs with deeper
                flavor than any you've dreamed of. Everything--but
                everything--is layered with deliciousness. And his
                pastry chef, Claudia Fleming, is the best in town.
                Awesome tapioca pudding with passion fruit sorbet; the
                best cookies I've ever had; etc. etc. And you get Danny
                Meyer on top of it all! Can't wait for Tabla and 11
                Madison Park to open--how could this group possibly
                surpass Union Square Cafe & Gramercy Tavern??

                As for Lutece, I only got there once, during the
                Soltner years, and I had a grand time--must've been an
                "on'' night. He was there, of course, and sat with us
                to respond to my puff-pastry questions. One of the last
                great chefs--check out his book! I don't know Eberhard
                Mueller's cooking, but no one expected him to come up
                to Soltner's level.

                And--sorry, gang--I adore Chanterelle. Karen & David
                Waltuck are among the most talented restaurateurs
                going, always attentive, patient, and kind. I've never
                had a bad dish there, and the wine list is pretty
                awesome as well.

                But for the money, give me Gramercy Tavern.

                Bon appetit, everybody!