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Who’s Setting Up in Hotel Restaurants? Big-Name Chefs, but Almost No Women

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Times critic Pete Wells writes on the upsurge of hotel restaurants

Fowler & Wells
Nick Solares

Pete Wells writes this week on the recent rise of hotel restaurants, where hotels “build the restaurant for you,” from the kitchen, to the dining room, to the tables, chairs, lighting, and artwork. The Times critic notes that he is largely fond of these restaurants, each reminding him in varying ways of a different era of dining, where ample space and traditional hospitality were the norm.

Wells notes however that hotel restaurants bring with them other memories that the critic is “less nostalgic for,” — including a lack of diversity. He writes:

Almost none of New York’s female chefs have been admitted to the party; Ms. Bloomfield, who runs four of them with Mr. Friedman, is an exception. Are the deals not coming their way or are women turning them down?

The cuisines that have flourished in the newer hotels are ones that New Yorkers were very familiar with 30 years ago: Italian, French and what used to be called New American. True, we have Indian Accent in Le Parker Meridien, but other large countries — for that matter, entire continents — have been left behind.

Take a look at the short list Wells provides of the hotel restaurants that have opened in the last few years: Mario Batali, April Bloomfield, Mario Carbone, Andrew Carmellini, Tom Colicchio, Tim Cushman, John Fraser, Daniel Humm, George Mendes, Harold Moore, Dale Talde, Rich Torrisi, Laurent Tourondel and Jonathan Waxman. This list, though incomplete, portrays the current fabric of hotel restaurants.

Despite that “. . . new hotel restaurants look and feel the way restaurants did in the 1990s,” they can make financial sense for those involved. “We start making profit from Day 1,” says Ken Friedman, partner with April Bloomfield in The Breslin Bar & Dining Room and the John Dory at the Ace Hotel in Nomad, and Salvation Taco at Pod 39 Hotel.

“For an independent restaurant, the initial expenses of an opening can quickly add up to $1 million or more,” writes Wells. “This is not the kind of cash that chefs normally keep stashed in an apron pocket next to the meat thermometer, so they borrow from family, friends, banks or other investors. Some of them drown under the weight of this early debt.”

Eater has addressed the rise in hotel dining in New York, including a handful of Ryan Sutton’s reviews in the past year. They include:

Leuca in the William Vale Hotel: “It’s a Williamsburg restaurant pretending to be a stadium-sized spot in the Meatpacking District. I sip at a $14 spritz, served in what appears to be an opaque, fish-shaped flower vase and observe its largely windowless main room, filled with comfy brown banquettes, brown wood walls, brown wood floors, and four uncomfortably oversized photos of a little blonde girl making faces.” One star.

Le Coucou in the Soho Howard Hotel: “[It] doesn't blow you away in in the same way that experimental Brooklyn spots like Olmsted do, nor does it intend to. It's an assured, steady-handed restaurant at just three months old. It makes you look forward to more from Rose, who's entered the New York fray with a smart Starr blockbuster instead of an edgy independent flick.” Three stars.

Augustine in the Beekman Hotel: “Augustine, true to form, is currently the best of the McNally gang. It’s a fine example of the classic French cooking New Yorkers are falling in love with yet again, and it even equals Minetta in the quality of destination-worthy steak cookery.” Two stars.

Cut by Wolfgang Puck in the Four Seasons Downtown Hotel: “Cut isn’t just a steakhouse. It’s an international luxury brand sporting six locations from Asia to the Middle East to London to Las Vegas. The Persian Gulf outpost is nestled in a hotel that’s sort of shaped like the letter H and that, conveniently, sits on its own exclusive island in Bahrain. The Singapore location is housed in the $8 billion Marina Bay edifice famous for a rooftop infinity pool that entitled international types love to Instagram. And Cut in New York, not to be outdone, is on the ground floor of a hotel-residential complex where apartments can run up to $60 million.” One star.

Indian Accent in The Parker Meridien Midtown: “Few dishes have infected my consciousness as much as Mehrotra’s blue cheese-stuffed mini naan, or his epic beef kebab with bone marrow sauce, wherein the meat is cooked through but melts in the mouth as if it were a raw sea scallop.” Two stars.

La Sirena in the Maritime Hotel: “At La Sirena, which boasts a sweepingly curvilinear midcentury aesthetic, the soundtrack runs to the nondescript club bangers you might encounter at spin class, and the menu resembles that of a run-of-the-mill trattoria. Your cavatelli with pork ribs (blubbery and undercooked) or your linguine with clam sauce (microwave-quality) are both served tableside, a dramatic flourish that does nothing to improve the actual dishes themselves; the pastas are simply scooped out of a pan and dropped on a plate. We’re forced to watch as the servers dazzle everyone with their Vegas buffet tong skills.” One star.