Here’s something we just noticed: La Grenouille charges more for its prix fixe than Le Bernardin! Or Jean-Georges! Or Daniel! In fact Philippe Masson’s half-century old bastion of haute gastronomy and high society is now serving what might be New York’s priciest short set menu!
When New York Times critic Sam Sifton reaffirmed the venue’s three-star status in 2009, he channeled both Tom Wolfe and Kanye, citing “city patricians” among the clientele and a dover sole that would “change the color of your mood ring.” He called the venue “classic French” and correctly noted that it charged “classically high prices,” which were $95 for three courses.
The dinner menu is now $172.
Earlier this winter, the price was an already hefty $164.
By comparison, Le Bernardin, New York’s best seafood restaurant, charges $150. The fancy French Daniel asks $142, while the internationally-minded Gallic cuisine at Jean-Georges runs $138. Those prices, incidentally, are for three savory courses plus dessert. La Grenouille’s menu is for two savory courses and dessert.
After tax and tip, dinner for two at La Grenouille now starts at $443. Add wine, and a meal will easily scratch at $600.
The restaurant did not respond to Eater requests for comment.
Since the end of the Great Recession, restaurants around New York have been steadily hiking prices to cope with mounting real estate and labor costs. The minimum wage, $7.25 an hour when Sifton reviewed La Grenouille, is now $11. It will rise to $15 by the end of next year.
But few culinary establishments, with the exception of perhaps Brooklyn Fare, have pulled a La Grenouille and bumped their base cost up by 80 percent.
None of this to say La Grenouille isn’t a fabulous place to dine. Masson’s Midtown institution is one of the last and best practitioners of the original haute cuisine that thrived in New York in the middle of the twentieth century. This critic, along with Bill Addison and Robert Sietsema, swung by the restaurant in the spring of 2014 for a dinner of sauteed ris de veau, caviar-topped pike quenelles, and oeufs a la neige in creme Anglaise. Our meal was absolutely baller.
Then again, our meal was just $104. That same year, Le Bernardin charged $130.
It’s also agreed that La Grenouille doesn’t quite operate at the same level as its younger Midtown peers. Le Bernardin and Jean-Georges both have three Michelin stars. La Grenouille has none.
To be fair, It would be foolish to question the loyalty of Le Grenouille’s clientele, but it would also be naive to overlook the fact that many of the high-powered Midtown magazine editors and fashionistas known for populating the restaurant now work in Lower Manhattan, home to Le Coucou, Daniel Rose and Stephen Star’s white-hot homage to the fancy French restaurants of yore.
The quenelles de brochet at Le Coucou, where there is no prix fixe, are just $33 a la carte. That’s not a point worth overlooking in an era when expense accounts aren’t what they used to be.
At least La Grenouille still has its $59 lunch (Le Bernardin charges $87). For those who go crazy over quenelles like me, La Grenouille hawks them for just $31 in the afternoon when a la carte is an option.
But still. Charging $172 for dinner — effectively $57 per course, more than the price of a steak elsewhere — strikes me as more than classically expensive.