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May 24, 2014 01:19 PM

Spring -- admiration but no love

Admittedly ZKG is a hard act to follow -- although we couldn't imagine how enthusiastic we'd become -- but we assumed Spring would be up to the challenge. Whoops! Not even close. Spring 's menu didn't educate us. Didn't make us consider unexpected flavor or textural combinations or juxtapositions. Simply stated we were bored.

Crispy frogs legs (standout)
Fresh pea soup (perfectly delicious but except for the silken texture nothing I don't already make)
Cucumbers vinaigrette (really!)

Crispy skin sea bream in vanilla broth (fabulous fish but I was put off by the vanilla fragrance wafting from my savory course)

White and green asparagus with bonito cru slices and hollandaise sabayon (I'm a fool for sashimi and cru preparations but this is edsentially a sourcing triumph. The flavor combinations are quite predictable)

Roast slices of veal with half a lengthwise slice of carrot (Until a small casserole of roast sweetbreads with lovely and generous Chanterelle mushrooms -- one slice per diner-- was brought to the table this showed a depressing lack of imagination)

The best course of the meal. Insane variety.
Pastry layer topped with vanilla cream and raspberries
Lemon curd topped with dots of perfect meringue
Chocolate "pudding" with blackberries
Peach sorbet

There were no mistakes in the cooking of my portion although my husband said his veal was somewhat dry. But there was no passion either.

To further irritate us this generous amount of food was fully served and consumed in 1 hour and 35 minutes. And we experienced downright leisurely service compared to many. Patrons who arrived up to 25 minutes after we did were being offered their desserts within three or four minutes of ours. One couple who added a cheese course had paid and we're out the door before we asked for the check. I can only assume the restaurant had 9:00 PM reservations for every single table.

All in all an expensive whatever. Is this restaurant intended for timid American eaters?

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  1. Your meal sounds quite good actually; there is no trace of bad execution or poor ingredients in your report. As I know the place, I'm pretty confident I would have loved it. I probably wouldn't have been "educated" or confronted with "unexpected flavor or textural combinations or juxtapositions" (if I ever wanted that, I'd go somewhere else), but I'm sure I would have enjoyed myself.

    Spring is not a place to blow your mind out with creativity and pushing all the culinary limits known to mankind; its purpose is to cook and serve food that tastes yummy. Not a lowly ambition, I'd say. In that respect, I can say that Spring is a place that educated me a lot.

    10 Replies
    1. re: Ptipois

      How can one enjoy a meal like this in an hour and a half? How can people enjoy a bottle of wine in an hour and a half while eating this meal. This is a joke.

      1. re: Versilia

        How much time should one need to eat a meal like this and drink a bottle of wine? This is a sincere question.

      2. re: Ptipois

        As I wrote I admired Spring for the quality of its ingredients , for its technical precision, for its well orchestrated service, and for the food itself. But there's no love and my memories will sadly be colored primarily by the blazingly fast pace of the meal.

        You ask how long a meal like that should take. My answer: 2 to 2 1/4 hours.

        1. re: Indy 67

          I had read in other reports that Spring's immense popularity with US visitors was turning into it's Achilles heel as they needed to adapt to the diners needs i.e. lots of variations for each dish in order to customise for finicky eaters.

          I wonder if the speed of the meal is another facet, with a good proportion of their diners preferring to eat at a US pace.

          Dinner in an hour and a half for me is fast unless it's simple. Dinner at a good restaurant like Spring should be a leisurely affair so I would be disappointed at less than two hours and would generally expect to eat for longer - especially at this price point.

          Multi sitting restaurants with table slots of less than two hours always feel rushed to me.....I bet your 9:00pm sitting comment us spot on. Another good reason for always eating later (after 9:00) as you usually don't get rushed out to fit in another sitting.

          1. re: PhilD

            Even the simple places we frequent now book seatings at the ungodly early hour of 7:30, followed by second seating at 10pm.

            1. re: PhilD

              Life is a trade off. As we've aged we find we can't dine as late as 9:00 which puts us in Spring ' s early seating.

              Phil, if I can segue into your London expertise. We have reservations at Harwood Arms, Lanceston Place, and Medlar. After reading my reaction to Spring should I change any reservations? Thanks.

              1. re: Indy 67

                I would love to help but me experience is a bit out of date. I loved the Harwood and understand it is as good.

                Launcheston place is well regarded but whilst Medlar has fans it would not feature on my list.

                Direct critism - your London List looks a. It dated...! Sorry. Antidote, clove club etc etc

                1. re: Indy 67

                  Those are all solid places--not innovative but tasty. (Also always on my parents' list (and they're in their 70's).

            2. re: Ptipois

              Perhaps the following anecdote will help you understand what I hoped would happen at Spring. We recently attended a master class conducted by opera star Dawn Upshaw. This in itself is sort of weird since my husband and I aren't especially opera fans. Still the opportunity to hear a master in the field sharing her insights with aspiring sopranos was irresistible so we went. The five singers were either upper classmen or graduate students at the Eastman School of Music chosen by their professors. We listened to each performance quite impressed by the students' obvious talent. And when each performance was over Dawn was very generous and specific with her compliments. She then proceeded to demand more of each singer. The universal complaint was that the students had focused so much on technical execution that each hadn't paid attention to the meaning of the lyrics and incorporated appropriate emotional shadings into their performance. Spring ' s meal reminded me of that evening. The chef was so focused on perfection that the enthusiasm or personality of the meal had been dumbed down. Perhaps something else instead of plain but perfectly roasted veal with a tasty but predictable sauce. Perhaps a peasant ingredient handled in a high end way. The sweetbreads may have served that function but they were blanketed in so many Chanterelles that i felt the chef was trying to disguise his one foray into adventure. The problem with the sweetbreads was they were the weakest part of the meal. I like mine pan sautéed with the exterior contrasting with a soft interior. These were uniformly soft in a deluge of Chanterelles. I don't know what other suggestions to make .

              I can only repeat that the conservative food choices combined with the speedy pace resulted in a disappointing evening.

              Incidentally friends of the chef -- perhaps friends of the family given the generation difference -- were seated nearby. Lots of kisses with chef and staff when they arrived. Lots of chatty attention during the meal . But the same menu and an even faster pace of service.

            3. It's my sense that any fault with Spring stems from Daniel's passion to please his guests. In the original Spring, his guests were often regulars who would eat anything not poison to them. In his wildly popular reincarnation, he still tries to serve a chef's menu, but also to please every guest. What he serves is excellent product, perfectly cooked and not scary.

              I really miss the good old days when these small tasting menus first became popular in Paris. You were told when you called for reservations that there was only one menu served, no choice. And you were asked when you were seated if you had any food allergies, not food preferences. Without special orders, the kitchen hummed efficiently, and the diners purred because of the free rein enjoyed by the chef.

              13 Replies
              1. re: mangeur

                I seem to remember Daniel mention that he himelf turned out to have a food allergy, after which he became very sensitive to other people's allergies.
                Once during the 2-year preparation of the new Spring, a waiter, who no longer works there, showed me the archeological basement and said: "this is where we will bury all the clients who say they have allergies, haha."
                I do miss the old days so much.

                1. re: Parigi

                  Hehehehe. Can't remember his name but I would guess that he was the controversial, acerbic one I rather liked. He was very in-your-face but you just had to put your palm out toward him and tell him to talk to the hand.

                  1. re: mangeur

                    " I would guess that he was the controversial, acerbic one I rather liked. "
                    Yes that one. And I also liked him, even though at times he was not suited for dealing with the public…

                    1. re: mangeur

                      "controversial, acerbic one I rather liked."
                      He told me sternly when I went to another table to greet an old friend "Please don't disturb the customers Mr Talbott."
                      "he himelf turned out to have a food allergy"
                      That is correct. He had the blood test done.

                      1. re: John Talbott

                        "Please don't disturb the customers Mr Talbott."
                        I've been meaning to tell you that.

                  2. re: mangeur

                    The challenges of success. I think it takes a particular type of chef/business owner who can stay 100% true to their cause rather than reflect the wants of their customers.

                    And the challenge of a successful Paris restaurant lauded by the US press is that it will attract a disproportionate number of US diners complete with all their foibles and expectations. It takes a strong person to resist these demands day in day out. I assume if would be similar for a Japanese chef lauded by the Japanese press and I wonder if they need to respond in a similar manner (which we fail to see). And similar for chefs from any countries.

                    It's always lovely to visit the home town boy cooking up a storm in a foreign country but there are risks as described in the OP. We actually took Bones off our list on our last visit because we wanted French not Australian (still wish I hadn't) and we had a limited number of meals in Paris.

                    When you live in a foriegn city the "home town boy" is great to have and you tend to have it on the rotation as a comfort blanket - it's fantastic to help celebrate their success with the camaraderie of the expat community etc etc.

                    And when the restaurant changes to become more touristy you just hope the intrinsic qualities that made it good to start with are retained i.e. the superb cooking. I know Daniel Rose was determined to do that - has he succeeded?

                    1. re: PhilD

                      All the top restos, not just restos with non-French chefs, face the problem of getting a mostly non-French clientele because their phenomenal success also means reservations months in advance, which no local would do, no matter how good the resto.
                      There have been evenings when the entire Spring was English-speakng. I don't mind. But there is indeed the effect of pushing the restaurant toward a strange development.

                      1. re: Parigi

                        Not certain I agree - I think there are probably four or five that book out. Spring, Frenchie, Le Comptoir du Relais, and Septime come to mind but are these even all top restaurants or simply those on the hot lists?

                        And how many of the really top restaurants do bend to their clients needs? I would postulate it's only those with a narrow client base, clients who come from one country and maybe clients who are really not that worldly wise e.g. the American who eats at 6:00 and values speed of service, or the Brit who likes chips with everything and their steak tartare cooked.

                        1. re: PhilD

                          Good points, leaving unanswered how these NYT and blogger anointed restaurants maintain their integrity much less original mission while accommodating the diners you describe.

                          1. re: PhilD

                            "I would postulate it's only those with a narrow client base, clients who come from one country and maybe clients who are really not that worldly wise e.g. the American who eats at 6:00 and values speed of service, or the Brit who likes chips with everything and their steak tartare cooked"
                            I agree, and that is actually what I meant when I said : "There have been evenings when the entire Spring was English-speakng. I don't mind. But there is indeed the effect of pushing the restaurant toward a strange development."

                            1. re: Parigi

                              The food we ate was what I call expense account food. At its best the ingredients are impeccable and the cooking is stellar. Un fortunately the menu is designed primarily to not offend. Food like that has never been my goal and at Spring prices the meal was particularly galling.

                              1. re: Indy 67

                                "...the ingredients are impeccable and the cooking is stellar..."

                                Interestingly, these tend to be two things that I look for in a fine dining destination restaurant.

                                Every once in a while I enjoy being offended by the food; just not at Spring prices.

                        2. re: PhilD

                          'I assume if would be similar for a Japanese chef lauded by the Japanese press and I wonder if they need to respond in a similar manner (which we fail to see). And similar for chefs from any countries.'

                          Actually, I don't think this is the case at all. Japanese chefs cooking French in Tokyo aren't really following Paris trends - their cuisine is typically far more traditional in the sense of being more protein-centric, with denser sauces and rather less borrowing from contemporary Japanese food in terms of styling and plating (and this is the case even for 'returnee' chefs who've worked in France).

                          Many Japanese visitors are familiar with the more-trad style and at least some of my friends have been less enthusiastic about the less-trad Paris cooking of some of their compatriots with hot tables - les Enfants Rouges, for example. But I certainly don't get the impression that they are being catered to, or have any special expectations of being catered to - that may be an Anglo-Saxon thing.

                      2. At the risk of seeming to challenge the validity of the OP's individual experience (which I don't), I do think that the choice of Spring was simply wrong given her now more fully exposed preferences. The "transgenre" style that wowed her at ZKG is simply not the style at Spring where impeccably sourced, well-prepared, re-stated French cuisine rather than East-West innovation is highlighted. Daniel Rose's niche doesn't prevent creativity but certainly limits it compared to William Ledeuil's more wide-ranging references.

                        I don't think that the core and philosophy of cooking at both ZKG and Spring are conditioned one iota by the clientele that they attract. Given the differing styles and the limits imposed by those styles, it's only natural that Spring should have a broader appeal and yet disappoint some eaters at either end of the spectrum.

                        Where Spring has made compromises to accommodate its large North American following is opening hours and an abnormally early first service. In theory, it should give a 2.5-hour slot for every customer. In practice, some American clients are squeezed into tighter slots because of their reputation for quick eating.

                        As someone who usually eats at 9+ on weekdays and 10+ at weekends, I have never experienced Spring's hurried service that marred the OP's meal. I do, however, understand the risks of early dining... Paris restaurants are typically small and turnover is essential to assure profitability. And I also appreciate that age and normal eating routine may oblige some American tourists to bring their habits to France but this is, I think, usually somewhat risky. BTW, my 86-yr old grandmother manages late-night eating quite well... sometimes she requires an early evening power nap but is always fine for a meal at 10pm... but then her routine and rhythm are French.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: Parnassien

                          I have to wonder also what would happen if one were to nicely advise one's waiter at Spring that they were not used to dining so fast and would it be possible to slow the pace a bit. Just working one's plate slowly would certainly do the job to some extent. They can't come and whisk it away while you are still dining.

                          1. re: mangeur

                            yeah, but because it was a set menu, the kitchen staff was preparing the courses so all diners would get the same course at around the same time. They didn't whisk away dishes, but the next course would arrive about 5 minutes after we finished the previous one.

                            1. re: mangeur

                              I am a slow eater. As s result sometimes we didn't even have five minutes between courses.

                            2. re: Parnassien

                              Looking at my reaction to Spring and ZKG is looking at two pieces of the puzzle. If you haven' t read my Normandy posts the quick version is P'tit Resto thumbs down because the experiments were generally failed ones and the food quality had some issues. Thumbs up, broad smiles and ruffles and flourishes for La Rapiere for a wholly traditional menu. But you may have a point.

                              I'm dismissive of the asparagus dish because sashimi and crudo are typical food for me and I probably forget how alien they are to many. The chef may look at that dish and feel that's as far as he can go with his typical client. As a diner with a wider palate I kept wondering if there couldn't have been some way of tweaking each dish to better accommodate our tastes. Perhaps use an innovative flavor in the sabayon. Perhaps offer uni rather than tuna.

                              Ultimately I think my -- and my husband's -- disappointment comes from the pace of the meal. It's not endearing to be rushed out so blatantly

                              1. re: Parnassien

                                Parn - I would agree about the cooking style. However, isn't a restaurant experience a combination of lots of factors, so if the style of a place is to speed the diner through the meal it can affect the fundamental experience of the place.

                                To me "fast French food" is an oxymoron and so when restaurants speed the service for demographic they choose to serve they impact so much more than just the table turnover. So whilst I may love the food at Spring (or Robuchon for that matter) the pacing undermines the experience and detracts from the enjoyment to such an extent it has a negative effect on the perception and enjoyment of what is served,

                              2. Thanks for sharing, Indy 67. We had a different menu in December, but an identical experience. We really felt like the food fell flat, and we were back out on the street in a bracing 85 minutes. The experience as a whole felt a bit precious, and the space, which has clearly been designed to show off the kitchen, was just uncomfortable as we watched the service staff contort themselves all night to wiggle through the narrow walkways.
                                I enjoyed reading about the good old days of Spring, which sound like they were exciting and spontaneous. I suppose that's the experience we were looking for.

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: chompchomp

                                  The first time I went to Spring, it had opened not long ago. The coat rack consisted of … a chair. Yes a chair, on which all the coats were piled.
                                  As all 16 diners were served the same food at the same time, it was like a party, with a party atmosphere that went with it.
                                  Food? Each dish was a revelation. I loved food items that I usually hated, like aubergines. (And I never liked it again outside Spring.)
                                  -- I am surprised that people find Ze food daring and Spring food "safe". I have always felt the opposite. I would recommend Z to non-adventurous diners, and never to the then no-choice no-compromise Spring.
                                  We floated on a cloud as we left the restaurant. I was nearly home - which was a few blocks away only - when I realized that I was floating not only on good food karma but also inside the coat, because it was not mine. It was a similar Burb about 4 sizes bigger. When I stepped back into the restaurant, to a roomful of people who, during the time when I was gone, had obviously discovered my mistake, the walls resounded with everyone's out-of-control laughter.
                                  Those were those days.

                                  1. re: Parigi

                                    "-- I am surprised that people find Ze food daring and Spring food "safe". I have always felt the opposite. I would recommend Z to non-adventurous diners, and never to the then no-choice no-compromise Spring."

                                    Same here. I have trouble adding my voice to this conversation for it's dealing with concerns I have no experience of. I can't figure out why Spring should be dismissed as not innovative enough. It is innovative in the way that it is quite unique, that it explores tastes and the French cooking tradition in a very personal way (with zero concerns for trends or hype), and that there is no other place like it. It remains a mystery to me why a restaurant, at this level of quality, should be found missing because it not enough of this and not enough of that, and why expectations should all be based on a stereotyped notion of culinary innovation. Not every good restaurant does have to revolutionize cooking; I've had terrible meals at media-cherished "innovative" restaurants, and a place can be innovative in the way that it does things particularly well.

                                    And I do appreciate it when there is no more than a five minutes gap between the end of one dish and the arrival of the next.

                                    1. re: Ptipois

                                      "And I do appreciate it when there is no more than a five minutes gap between the end of one dish and the arrival of the next."

                                      I would be surprised if many agreed with this pacing - that is pretty quick especially for a good quality meal. And whilst my experience of the food isn't recent I don't doubt the quality of food but wonder if the pacing is detracting from it.

                                      And could the pacing be different for the locals who are well known to the house? That can make all the difference with the kitchen slowing the delivery etc.

                                      1. re: PhilD

                                        "And could the pacing be different for the locals who are well known to the house? That can make all the difference with the kitchen slowing the delivery etc."

                                        Everything is different everywhere for those well known to the house. Even unconsciously, these differences creep into every area of service.

                                        1. re: PhilD

                                          I can only refer you to the portion of my original post describing the equally fast service for the friends of the chef.

                                      2. re: Parigi

                                        There's a Chinese restaurant in Lucerne called Li Tai Pei, that used to have an offshoot in Zurich. I never visited the Lucerne location, but the Zurich one had a wonderful aubergine dish. The vegetable must have been peeled, and it was silky, feathery, smooth, and luscious. And I think they used equal weights of aubergine and garlic. I have often tried to reproduce this dish, and have begged the restaurant for the recipe, without success.

                                        1. re: Parigi

                                          I ate there in that period but it sounds like one of the differences was the pace - I recall we sat down at 8:00 started eating when all guests arrived at 8:45 and rolled out after 11:30 so a lovely long and relaxed meal (almost too long!). Back then no waiters just Daniel and a young chef helping (now his wife?).

                                          1. re: PhilD

                                            Before that, just Daniel and a young aspiring fashion student as server.

                                      3. Must of been the early seating. We were there last summer (banished to the Cellar lol), reservation was at 8:30. Best meal of our trip to Paris and Barcelona, great pace. Loved every dish. Fabulous service.