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Frank Bruni's Reviews of Vong & Mercer

Though it is never pleasent to see an iconic NY chef like Jean-Georges get so destroyed by the most influential restaurant critic in the coutry, I agree with most of Bruni's sentiments. I had perhaps one of the worst lunches I have ever had at Mercer ("a downtown Applebee's") last year and have slowly watched Vong first become complacent and then deteriorate.
Jo-Jo's, however, remains one of my favorite restaurants. How Jo-Jo's continues to maintain a high standard and other restaurants in Jean-Georges empire suffer is the question. (I have not been to Jean-Georges restaurant in several years, never tried V and think Spice is fun though inconsistent.)

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  1. I found Vong mediocre years ago.

    1. I never liked Mercer Kitchen or the 'atmosphere' either. The pizzas were/are a total disappointment, the servers diffident. It seemed like a restaurant going through the motions even when it first opened. Vong at least had some energy when it opened...

      1. While I normally find Bruni to be a bit stodgy, these reviews were spot on. I tried to get in to Mercer last year and was told sorry, with a tut tut type of attitude.
        Vong, I have been to twice, the first time was a great experience as it was very fresh and "new". I went back last year and it was a complete factory, we had reservations for 8, and were seated at 9-15 with out any type of apology.
        They have really lost the plot on that place.
        I don't think it is fair however, of Bruni to point out with such detail the staff he had problems with at Mercer, these are livelyhoods of people who are most likely in jeopardy today.
        I can't imagine that Mr V will be going down to give them a slap on the back.

        4 Replies
        1. re: anto

          If the hostess and bartender were bratty as Bruni has indicated (and he's not usually one to harp on these kinds of things) then they should be fired.
          If any of us screws up our job that badly, we'd likely be fired. Should it be any different in the restaurant biz?

          1. re: Andrew P.

            Bratty can be a perception, Bruni, while a good critic, seems to have a very high mainteance level of expectation.
            Unlike other employment, working in a restaurant allows the public to be the judge and jury of weather you will be there to work your next shift. You may have done an excellent job at serving your customer, but they might be in a bad mood and report you anyway. It just seems that JG should be the one blamed for not reinventing his staff and keeping them fresh.

            1. re: anto

              I think Frankie probably has a really good idea of the impact of writing up his service issues. Bartenders and servers all have places on the bell curve like everything else. Most are average, 10% are outstanding, and 10% are awful. Every once in awhile you have to cull the herd.

              1. re: anto

                Bruni wrote a lengthy piece last year about how hard it is to be a waiter. To illustrate his point, he waited on tables for a week in Boston. I think he's pretty qualified to complain about bad service.

          2. I've never been to Vong (and guess now I might not ever go), but Bruni's assessment of Mercer Kitchen was about right. I should note, though, that this same year he has also given substantial (and deserved) praise to the original Jean Georges (Four stars) and Perry Street (3 stars), both of which I have been to in the past year and found exceptionally good. I wouldn't say that he "destroyed" Jean Georges overall, but this proves he doesn't have a "fetish" for him as some have suggested.

            1 Reply
            1. re: jonasblank

              good point about JG and Perry street. It just goes to show you can't be everywhere at once and that perhaps the flag-ship restaurant and the newest restaurant are getting the most attention.

            2. I had a terrible experience at Mercer Kitchen and enjoyed Bruni's review greatly. My wife and I had to share a menu (which was different from the one displayed in front of the restaurant) and the food was truly mediocre.

              1. Amanda Hesser's the one with the fetish for Jean-Georges.

                Bruni has championed waitstaffs in the past, so I'm guessing that these two deserved it.

                I think Bruni got this one right.

                1. I've never been to Mercer Kitchen, but I also think Bruni got it right with Vong.

                  I'd gone severall times when it first opened--it was new, different, the waitstaff was wonderful, the food really spectacular and like nothing I'd experienced before.

                  Then I went a couple of years later--waitstaff was rude, uncaring and the food had the same vibe. A tired one-trick pony. I have not been back. If I could return to the original Vong, I'd go in a heartbeat.

                  1. I ate once in the bar/cafe above Mercer (same kitchen) and have to say I entirely agree with the review. Bad attitude, high prices, and very mediocre food. Maybe this will force JG to clean ship.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: streamwise

                      I concur completely on Mercer Kitchen. Hated the door and the food was so-so at best. I do remember the oysters being good though.

                    2. I haven't read Mr. Brunis' article but my experience at Vong was bad enough to never step foot into his establishment ever again. However, this past weekend a friend of mine wanted to eat at JoJos which is way better than i had anticipated.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: csw

                        Jojo is a different animal. Delicious. And fantastic for lunch.

                        1. re: carbonara

                          Even the waiters are a totally different breed in itself. The service in Vong was obtrusive; total invasion of our privacy. We had to cut our voices low because our waiter was standing behind us listening to our conversation. JoJos was more discreet and comfortable despite it being only a tiny fraction of space compared to jojos.