coGe_FoodWine_Cooking.gifLast week at the 92nd Street Y some people took time to hear the fantastic Mike Colameco host the legendary chef Jacques Pepin, critic Gael Greene (now of the Insatiable Critic blog), food maven Arthur Schwartz, and old-school restaurant mogul Michael Whiteman hash out whether NYC dining scene was better then ever. Pretty cut and dry, no? Schwartz and Greene mostly argued that it is not a better scene today, lamenting the arrival of the $44 lamb chop and the teardown it apparently heralded for their beloved old neighborhood joints with solid value, good food and owned by a chef who cooked.

Whiteman, who as a last minute sub for Tim Zagat, had a clear cut position as the businessman's voice of reason, offered insider insight about restaurant start-up funds ($500-800/Sq.Ft. to open a restaurant) and says the boom in the industry is about real estate, cheap labor and cheap food costs. Jacques was as charming as you would expect and had his quick wit on display. He unequivocally stated that New York is the greatest place to eat in the world, went on to tell some recent tales of dining in Europe and tears them apart. He went on to say that on top of that, high-end food in Europe is much more expensive relative to New York or the US in general. All in all, an enjoyable night; zero signed cookbooks bought.

Whether trying a high-end or high-value place in NYC you are likely to do much better if you plan well. From the former category, there could not be places from the "good old days" that compete with the likes of Blue Hill, The Tasting Room, Telepan or Daniel. As far as high-value neighborhood places we would be hard pressed to believe you would be able to beat out Lupa, E.U. (under Akhtar), Alias, or Prune with any of the ghosts of the past. You just have to have the right neighborhood or time to scour yours.

Here are a few blurbs and the best exchange, paraphrased for your ease and ours:

  • Arthur Schwartz called those on the panel in favor of today's restaurants and their prices “apologists.”
  • Colameco astutely observes that Gael and Arthur are “behaving like an old married couple.”
  • In response to Schwartz being annoyed that people call and ask for a recommendation for a “new restaurant instead of a good restaurant,” Whiteman declares that todays diner has consumer attention deficit disorder.
  • Sharing the gem that “there are idiots out there who think fatty pastrami is not good,” Schwartz kicked off a conversation about peoples expectations are out of whack with the oddly sounding in his accent “they want sex not food” on the plate. Mike Colameco continued similarly with the observation people “are looking for their palates to be wowed” and a fading appreciation of subtle flavors is being spurred by the amped up cuisines that followed after the initial French conquering of US cuisine. Gael calls it “sad that chefs want to pursue dishes that have never been made before,” continues by declaring that “Ferran's food is not to be eaten more than once," and ends with “people go to WD-50 to see the cutting edge, not to eat.” As can be expected, Jacques defended the chefs and essentially correlated their relevancy and importance to the practicality of wearing Gucci couture for everyday use. You would not do it normally but it must be done for cuisine like fashion to move forward.