La Grenouille Review
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.
Good point about Michelin Guide rating, after all they do know French food and what La Grenouille served a few nights ago to our table was a pale and very poor imitation. The kir was so-so, the glass of Pol Roger, lovely. The fish quenelles tasted like water and the lobster and tarragon ravioli were way too salty and a very meager portion for which one pays a $15.00 supplement. It's summertime- can't they find strawberries that are not white in the center which is what garnished the so called vacherin desert. My husband asked about the cheese course- it is indeed only a very pitiful 3 cheeses (by this point in our sad meal my food savvy son asked if one of the cheeses was boursin). No one at the table was impressed by their meal and we rated the food about a C-. The room is pretty but the highly vaunted flower arrangements are mainly notable for their ordinary but high quality plant material not arranged in any especially creative manner. The service is too familiar and jokey and plates are cleared before everyone at table is finished- in France, they send waiters to the guillotine for such a crime. The room was full on a Thursday night. The head waiters and maitre d's make a point of shaking one' s hand as one departs but that doesn't make up for the lousy meal. It's hard to see La Grenouille getting away with this- it would be great to have a really fine classical French restaurant in Manhattan. Don't waste your money here. How in the world can Zagat give it a 27? New Yorkers must know better!
I think people have been conditioned now to expect something quite different than the dining experience La Grenouille provides when paying these prices. However, I consistently find it good of its kind. On recent visits, I enjoyed the lobster ravioli, blanquette de veau, oxtail in red wine and calves liver - which gives some indication of what they're good at. I think they prepare these dishes precisely and satisfactorily - if you don't like this kind of classic cuisine (old-fashioned if you will), it's not for you.
The restaurant is caught in a bind, as La Caravelle was. If it overhauls the menu and modernises, it loses its core clientele. If it doesn't, new diners are not attracted. It's a real problem, and it may be the restaurant's undoing.
But I don't think they are failing in the kind of cuisine and ambience they are seeking to provide. I haven't had problems with service, and in New York there is not much point complaining about the prices.
This place has been around for 40 years or so, and I only recall having lunch there a few times over the years. It was always enjoyable as someone else was paying, but nothing earth shattering. It's something of a "dowager" restaurant now. Still I imagine it has its charms for old timers. I would check it out at lunchtime again, it might be livelier as that was where all the movers and shakers used to be seen in the "old days". :)
A moment while I lift my jaw from my desk.
Sorry you had to go through that, but thanks for posting, especially in such a level tone given the gouging you endured. I've always wanted to eat there as I pass by it every night on my way home from work and it looks like such a great room.
Do you think the known, old guard regulars (and the Times) are getting different food and service at the early bird seating?
I'm stunned by this posting really. Wow. Very sad.
By the way, I agree with you about the Michelin stars vs. Zagat (which is getting more and more unreliable, especially their price points) and the Times.
re: Bill Strzempek
I was disappointed by the service but I didn't really go expecting to be fawned over. I did, however, expect a classic high-end French dining experience (i.e., high quality food and presentation) which the restaurant simply did not deliver. Given the taste and look of our dishes, I don't see how the kitchen could simply turn around and boost that quality for somebody else that the staff happens to know or wants to impress.
Here is my opinion of why places like La Grenouille continue to exist in the Manhattan restaurant universe, especially when much better alternatives are available for the same (or lower) price. Basically, there are the old rich who began eating at the restaurant in its glory days -- a demographic that has simply fallen into the habit of dining there once a day/week/month. For the restaurant, these diners are who pay the bills on a daily basis, supplemented by "special occasion" guests who are lured by the restaurant's reputation as "the most romantic dining room in the city". This second category includes both young couples (full disclosure: I fall into this category) and tourists.
I happen to live in NY and dine out on a regular basis. Thus, I feel I have a good idea of what else is out there at this price point. I was disappointed by the experience b/c it is clear that "classic French" dining is dying in this city if La Grenouille is supposed to be the best representation of that. And I posted the original message mainly as a warning to other people who are perhaps looking for the same thing that we were -- I suggest looking elsewhere, because this restaurant is probably not going to fulfill what you are looking for. It seems really targeted for a core clientele that can afford to drop $300+ on dinner on a regular basis without much consideration for "quality". That is, these clients don't demand very much in the way of taste b/c they're comfortable with the place -- they'll continue coming no matter what. Thus, places like La Grenouille have no incentive to make things much better just for the sake of satisfying the higher standards of those clients who only plan to come in once (which is most of us).