On Wednesday, only one day after New York magazine knocked down chef Michel Richard with a tepid review of his just-opened New York restaurant, the New York Times came along and kicked him in the ribs. Hard. The review by Pete Wells is what the professionals call “savage.” It gave no stars and rated Villard Michel Richard only “fair.” If there’s any remote silver lining, it’s that in the process of reviewing the New York restaurant, Wells came to Washington to try out Richard’s DC eatery, Central, and liked it quite a lot. Ironic? Of course.
Wells leaves no bone unpicked in his review of Villard. The word “awful” appears. It is the kind of review people read out loud to one another, due to sentences like, “If Villard Michel Richard doesn’t make it as a restaurant, it could open as the Museum of Unappetizing Brown Sauces.” Ouch. And it gets worse: “If soldiers had killed Escoffier’s family in front of him and then forced him to make dinner, this is what he would have cooked.”
About his trip to Washington, to compare the dishes at Villard to their prototypes at Central, Wells says “In every case, the Washington version looked and tasted better, for the same price or less.”
Adam Platt’s unflattering two-star review that appeared Tuesday followed an earlier dismal review from the Washington Post’s Tom Sietsema.
Can Richard make it in New York? Each bad review puts a nail in Villard’s coffin, but the fact is that modern restaurant ownership at the highest ends—where it’s more about investors, deals, and leases—can defy the critics, for a while. The money comes from elsewhere, not from the celebrity chef’s pockets. Wells writes, “Hotels especially know that a famous name lures travelers, who won’t realize until it’s too late that the food being served has nothing in common with the cooking that made the name famous.”