Friday, March 11, 2011

Collichio & Sons Restaurant Rant

Tom Collichio has made a reputation on television as a celebrity chef alongside Bobby Flay and Gordon Ramsay.  He can cook with the best.  But can he run a media empire based on food?

Reviewing a celebrity chef in NYC is gilding the lilly.  Professionals in the little circle of the restaurant trade make a living doing this.  Like Andrea Thompson in the New Yorker.  But as a paying patron, and restaurant professional, I recommend to other travelers where to go and avoid.  So here goes.

Eating in Chelsea is a challenge.  The quantity and variety of places make decision making a challenge.  After all, we can only eat in a limited number of places each day!  What a wonderful conundrum!

When kicking around the Chelsea neighborhood the other day, we were pleased to see another Collichio restaurant, having become fans of Craft.

We went in, an found a wait, but were very pleased to sit immediately at the kitchen bar, always my favorite seat!

From here we could see the workflow (our profession), the work skills, ticket flow, everything on the menu, and technique.  Happily, it was a pleasant way to spend the time while we waited.

The restaurant was full.  Service was non existent for us for about a half hour, but we were entertained.  We also noticed that with more than 100 seats full, the three cooks working the oven were not just in the weeds, they were in the forest.  Who designs a kitchen/dining room that is so far out of balance?  Imagine you and two friends cooking for a group of 100, ordering from a menu of about 30 items and expecting their food to be served within about 20 minutes.  Impossible?  Yes it is.

The menu is produced in a woodfired oven.  Simple.  I worked on developing such a concept and admire it.  Some of the food looked good, but the inconsistency was pronounced as food was produced at breakneck speed.  Three working individually, not coordinating or as a team.

Finally, we were served. Sort of.  We waited for water, to have the order taken.  All because of the imbalance between seats and kitchen capacity.  A fundamental design screw up.  Mr. Collichio?

When we received our food, still in good humor because of our proximity to the oven, the taste was good.  But on a pie that was featuring artisanal sausage, we had one, yes one piece of meat.  We watched as the pizza, too long on the paddle waiting to get in the oven, was stuck to the wood, and as the cook tried to shake it off in the oven, the toppings slid onto the oven deck.  Lost.  But when in the weeds so deep?  Get the food out!  Any food is better than a re-fire.  Our roast vegetable dish was portioned in a laughable way.  Rather than grab vegs from each container, the cook used a spatula, reaching under the arms of another cook.  She simply neglected to reach the brussels sprouts.  This was rectified when we complained, and we were graciously given a side order of sprouts.

The flavors were good, really good.  The entertainment was fun.  The service was forgivable.  The restaurant design and conception is abysmal.  People can't overcome bad planning.

Mr Collichio, has your inattention to the restaurants been completely overwhelmed by focus on your media empire?  We see this over and over again.  The need to promote the business turns into a belief that the chef is a brand.  The demand for growth makes each additional restaurant less representative of the original.  Not knowing when you go from chef/perfectionist/craftsman to executive/media star/personality.

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