Our man Platt filed on Bar Breton and Txikito this week, awarding each one of five stars. Here now, a quick follow-up dialogue with the critic on these two restaurants. What he thought of the burgers and the décor, and why cheap restaurants are New Yorkers' bomb shelters.
Leventhal:Okay, Mr. Platt. Thanks for stopping in. Seems like in these economic times, you're inclined to be lenient in the name of value ... "If Michelin retains its lofty, increasingly outdated standards in this age of culinary deflation, soon there won’t be any stars to dispense at all," you say. Did the economy factor in this week? Possible you'd have passed on these guys a year ago?
Platt: In the case of Reynaud, he's been one of the more talented (and successful) French chefs in the city for several years now, so if he has a new project, people are going to be interested. In this case, I thought Bar Breton was interesting less for the food than for the symbolism. It's emblematic of what's happening to the grand old French model, as established by the lords of Michelin many years ago.
Leventhal: Meaning the model is crumbling?
Leventhal: Or is at least being shelved until we can afford it again?
Platt: I think it was crumbling before the recession hit. As I've written perhaps too many times, younger savvy diners don't want foie gras and grandiose tuxedos. Anymore. They want pork butt, cooked by downtown chefs like Mr. Chang. The recession has accelerated the whole process. You see it in other outmoded business models — like newspapers, for instance.
Leventhal: Yes, got it. Although I'm not familiar with this guy you're referring to, Chang.
Leventhal: So Breton. You don't talk décor all that much, so let's talk décor. Seemed like it was a bit haute-barnyard-aspirational to my eye. You get that vibe?
Platt: Everyone's haute-barnyard-aspirational these days. I thought it was a mishmash, to be honest. It's half surfer bar, half French brasserie breakfast joint, half tourist trap. Clearly Monsieur Renaud is much more comfortable in the kitchen than modeling "casual style" restaurant décor.
Platt: Décor-wise, Txikito is really the model these days. All the chic new joints look like stripped-down bomb shelters. Bomb shelters that sell pork products, that is ...
Leventhal: Cheap restaurants are, in a way, New York's bomb shelters. A little bit of sustenance and a lot of booze.
Platt: It's true. It's where we find refuge in these desperate times. Places like Txikito are packed. Momofuku is packed. I mean, that's the original fine-dining bomb shelter.
Leventhal: Truth. So, the burgers. Both places got their burgers mentioned, but you didn't say a lot about either. Try not to fall asleep at the keyboard, but any color on the burgers for us?
Platt: Renaud's burger is a decent connect-the-dots haute burger of the kind we see perhaps too much of these days. He does a good job following the formula established by other lapsed gourmet chefs like Laurent Tourondel. I thought the Txikito burger, on the other hand, was inspired. A lot of the food at Txikito sounded better than it tasted. Much as I hate to feed the burger mania, I thought "the double" (or whatever it's called) was a tour de force.
Platt:The patties weren't too big. The bun was fluffy and delicious, and didn't get in the way of the meat. Am I sounding like that lunatic, [redacted]?
Leventhal: Still on Txikito, the split between Tía Pol and Raij was somewhat surprising, if only because Tía Pol did very well, and good chefs tend not to leave successful restaurants if they have equity. Did you find out anything about this?
Platt: I thought Tía Pol (another seminal bomb shelter) was almost a perfect small, gourmet neighborhood restaurant. I like Txikito, but not as much as Tía Pol. All of the food was good, but somehow the real magic wasn't there. Don't ask me why.
Leventhal: Did she try too hard to replicate the original without creating something new?
Platt: I don't know. But a great restaurant is like a great rock band. There's a certain alchemy that's hard to recapture, even if one or two of the musicians leave to go off and form their own band.