October 12, 2009 / 1:04 AM / 8 years ago

Fine dining in New York down but not out

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - High-end dining in New York City has been hard hit by the recession and needs to adapt to changing tastes to keep its allure, experts said. This week’s demise of Gourmet, a 68-year-old food magazine, underscored the precarious future of fancy dining.

More than 500 New York restaurants have closed so far this year, including high-end French eateries Chanterelle and Cafe des Artistes as even the city’s elite restaurants fall victim to the worst U.S. economic downturn since the 1930s Great Depression.

Although no one expects fine dining in New York to become extinct, it is in a soft patch with Eric Ripert, co-owner of three-Michelin star Le Bernardin saying after a “soft” 2008, “suddenly everything stopped” in January this year.

He predicted 2009 revenues will be 10 percent down on a year ago, but he has managed to avoid firing staff by doubling his spending on communications and marketing and raising his profile by appearing on television reality show “Top Chef.”

Some food writers and restaurateurs, who spoke at the New York City Wine & Food Festival this weekend, rued noodle bars and burger joints may be supplanting the top culinary perch once held by top-end restaurants.

Prior to the recession, fancy eateries attempted to outdo each other by offering the most expensive dinner or cocktail in the city.

But the recession only accelerated the trend of casual eating and a revolt against stuffy, rigid nature of fancy dining, some experts said.

Food writer Anya von Bremzen, said a restaurant should offer original and creative dishes at reasonable prices but at some top-end eateries, the atmosphere is “too fuzzy,” she said on a panel. She called for the end of “table bureaucracy.”

The concept of fine-dining has evolved from the days of starch linens and formal dress code but experts said top-end restaurant operators must be savvy and change with the times.

For example Daniel Boulud, who owns the Michelin three-star Daniel, recently opened DBGB, a casual bar and cafe.

Chef Andrew Carmellini said the hybrid concept will likely emerge, reflecting the “move to casual, comfort food without the trappings of a fancy restaurant.”

In the meantime, don’t count out fine dining in New York, said one restaurateur.

“Recession, schmecession, we’ve beat the odds,” said Drew Nieporent, whose top-end contemporary restaurant Corton earned two Michelin stars earlier this week.

The four-day New York City Wine & Food Festival concluded Sunday with 25,000 expected to attend the event.

Reporting by Richard Leong, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith

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