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Pete Wells Accuses Legacy Records of ‘Gratuitous and Offhanded’ Use of Black Culture

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He likes the food, but said the space made him “uncomfortable”

Mickalene Thomas’ photograph heading into the dining room at Legacy Records
Mickalene Thomas’ photograph heading into the dining room at Legacy Records
Photo by Gary He

Hot Hudson Yards restaurant Legacy Records — the third from the Charlie Bird and Pasquale Jones team — gets two stars from Pete Wells at the Times for its exceptionally fresh food that has “finesse.” But in an uncharacteristic assessment of the ethics behind the aesthetic, the critic questions the authenticity of the decor and thinks the restaurant uses black culture “in a gratuitous and offhanded way.”

Before essentially accusing Legacy Records of cultural appropriation, Wells marvels at the ingredients chef-partner Ryan Hardy is able to score for the Mediterranean dishes, writing:

Again with the main courses, I stopped and wondered: Where did Mr. Hardy find lamb (with snap peas and smoked cream) that tasted as if it had never eaten anything but fresh herbs? How did he find a rib-eye that’s so tender and deeply flavorful without being flabby?

Mr. Hardy has been quick to make the most of what the market says is the first month of spring and the calendar says is the last. Creamy new-crop potatoes deserve a little appreciation before they’re sent off to root cellars, and Mr. Hardy built a fine appetizer around them with leggy broccoli sprouts and melting chunks of fresh mozzarella spiked with anchovy.

He also finds the raw crudos particularly appealing, but found the risotto too salty and the desserts, basically gelato, a little boring. But it’s mostly a positive take on the food, with him concluding that Legacy Records “doesn’t say anything particularly original, but it has a finesse that’s new for this restaurant group.”

That approval, though, is muddied by Wells’ questioning of the authenticity behind the aesthetic, which he says relies on a “shred of history” that it turns “into a fantasy of black American music.”

The decor features a provocative photograph of a black woman by a black artist (pictured above), upstairs there’s a mural based on a painting by a black artist, and hip-hop frequently plays from the speakers. That, along with the name — after a recording studio that used to be at the location — makes Wells conclude that “Legacy Records tries to present itself as a homage to another era in music.”

But the recording studio used to allegedly be for orchestras, Broadway casts, and commercials, and the painting is placed casually next to the cafe area in a way that “strips out some of its meaning,” Wells says. Though he says he shouldn’t be the person deciding what’s appropriate, “Legacy Records uses [black culture] in a gratuitous and offhanded way that made me uncomfortable.” Two stars.

Correction: June 19, 2018, 2:16 p.m.

This article was corrected to show that the mural upstairs was not painted by a black artist, rather by artist Chris Lux based on a painting by black artist Ernie Barnes.

Legacy Records

517 West 38th Street, Manhattan, NY 10018 Visit Website

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