How does it feel when a restaurant critic from a major news publication trashes your restaurant? La Vie owner Mike Bramson is currently going through the emotions after Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema gave his splashy Mediterranean eatery a goose egg with the most scathing headline we’ve seen in a long time: “La Vie on the Wharf is so bad I’m only writing about it as a warning.”
And it gets worse. Sietsema goes on to slam the decor (“Combine Las Vegas with a Carnival cruise, and you have an idea of what to expect”), the service (“lack of common sense”), the drinks (“a five-bottle wine list…none less than $80), and the food (“ceviche in name only”).
Unlike Founding Farmers’ Dan Simons, whose restaurant was the recipient of Sietsema’s last zero-star takedown in 2016, Bramson isn’t writing a lengthy Facebook rebuttal. The Social Restaurant Group co-founder, who also operates Provision No. 14 and Pamplona, says he’s planning to meet with his kitchen and management staff and go through the review “to see what’s personal bias and what’s constructive criticism, and go from there.”
“For me I know it’s kind of a punch in the gut when you first read it, but if he was a friend, I would ask for that constructive criticism,” says Bramson. “I tried to talk to as many people as I can and try to find something we can improve on. That’s the only way we can get better.”
Founding Farmers didn’t appear to suffer too much from the critic’s blows—it’s still one of the highest-grossing, most-booked restaurants in the country—and Bramson says he isn’t too worried about the ramifications for his restaurant, either. Unlike other restaurateurs who go to crazy lengths to spot critics and give them extra attention, Bramson says he isn’t in that business.
“I don’t want to influence it in any way by giving them special attention,” says Bramson. “Maybe this review would be better, but I’m not worried how this will influence our diners. We’re not going to change our whole approach just because one review.”
While he’s open to the criticism, Bramson doesn’t wholly agree with all of Sietsema’s points. He says La Vie, which opened in June, had already remedied some of the issues by the time the review came out. Namely a broken wine cooler (the reason for that tiny, expensive wine list) and a new pastry chef to fix those “sorry final impressions.” As for the ding about plastic straws? “We’re looking into that,” says Bramson.
He also doesn’t agree that the restaurant has “no dedicated chef”—though it is unusual for any eatery to open in DC these days without a culinary headliner, let alone one that serves $46 entrees. Bramson says SRG corporate chef Jorge Contretas designed the menu—and that a new day-to-day head chef for La Vie is on the way—but that the group purposely chooses not to single out one person.
“The menu is created through our culinary team. We don’t name an executive chef,” says Bramson. “It’s not about egos or anything like that.”
If there’s one point Bramson would like to argue, it’s the decor—a look that Sietsema partially described as “just waiting for The Real Housewives of Potomac to alight.”
“[Designer] Dave [Anthony Chenault] did an amazing job, we have stunning views,” says Bramson. “And if the Housewives of Potomac want to come, they’re more than welcome.”