What happens when one of your favorite chefs, whose restaurants you’ve greatly enjoyed in the past, becomes more and more successful? And by successful I mean keeps opening restaurants all over the damn place.
Well, I guess on the one hand you can be happy for that chef’s success and be excited to try all of those restaurants. I mean, there is a chef or two here in New York who have gone on to fame and fortune and I’m pretty happy to be eating in most, if not all, of their establishments.
But what about the other side of the coin, where as your favorite chef opens a new restaurant, one or more of the previously opened ones turns out to be not so good?
Okay, the chef I’m referring to is José Andrés. You probably know José; a great cook whose food I've always admired, wildly popular, got a bunch of TV shows, Spain’s greatest ambassador, etc., etc. He has that great accent. He’s a partner (in Think Food Group) and ostensibly the Big Kahuna Chef of close to a dozen restaurants. He made his bones working in some of Spain’s top kitchens, including that of Ferran Adrià, of…well, you know…that Ferran Adrià. And then when he embarked to the United States, rather than heading for New York City and all of it’s potential fame and glory, he headed for Washington, D. C. - and whatever it is you go there for.
In José's case, it was to open restaurants. Jaleo, Café Atlantico, Zaytinya - all good, if not great restaurants, as a matter of fact. Highly touted restaurants, which gave him and his partners the ability to open more restaurants. These were and are fun, happening places with good food, good times and fairly gentle prices. Then there were more – Oyamel, another location or two of Jaleo, minibar by José Andrés, a restaurant or two in Vegas, one or two in Los Angeles – you get the picture.
Just last weekend, I was excited to try a restaurant of Jose’s that has been open for a while now – Oyamel, in D. C. Even though I’d be warned off by a friend who knows his food, I was curious ( said friend said it sucked, btw). But it’s José's place, after all, so off we went.
Now, to say I was put off a little by being seated in the bar area, even though I had made a reservation weeks earlier, would be putting it mildly. My mood was made (slightly) worse when my protestations fell of deaf ears, as we were told by one of the 3 or 4 hostetts that it would be another hour’s wait to sit somewhere else (like perhaps in the restaurant), and that they didn’t consider our table to be in the bar area, even though, ummm, it was in the fucking bar area.
I don’t know about you, but sitting in the bar area of a popular restaurant on a Friday night isn’t my idea of fun. Because sooner or later someone’s ass is gonna be about an inch from my guacamole, and at $13.50 an order, I prefer my guac sans ass, especially when it’s the ass of some tourist douche from Iowa.
Be that as it may, I guess all would have been forgiven if the food knocked me out; that way I could prove my friend wrong, which is always fun. It didn’t…as a matter of fact, other than a really nice fresh hearts of palm and avocado salad, nothing was that exciting - not even the ass guac (okay, the chips and salsa were fine).
Then it struck me; my last meal at Zaytinya, a place I’ve blogged and raved about in the past, wasn’t that great either. I mean, sure, it was ok and all, but it lacked a certain zing that I recalled from previous meals. These were both meals, that once were finished and we walked outside, I said to Significant Eater: “We don’t have to go there again!”
So perhaps there are two lessons to be learned. One is for José and that is - don’t forget about all your other restaurants when you’re running around the world opening new ones and flogging yourself on TV. And the second is for me and that is, listen to (some of) your knowledgeable food friends – they (sometimes) know of what they speak.