Is Villard Michel Richard the Meatballs of New York?
Michel Richard's New York debut of uber-ritzy Villard Michel Richard, where a burger goes for $26 and an eight-course prix fixe will set you back $185, hasn't been going so swell. Just take a look at some of the reviews:
"You expected luxury, and what you get instead is the gluey texture and bland flavor of a wartime MRE." —Ryan Sutton, Bloomberg on squid ink-colored Israeli cous cous made to look like beluga caviar.
"Fans of the four-star Citronelle are likely to be disappointed by what they find in the Gallery [the restaurant's prix fixe dining room], which lacks the whimsy that’s long been a signature of Richard’s cooking." —Tom Sietsema, Washington Post
And yesterday, a zero-star review:
"If Villard Michel Richard doesn’t make it as a restaurant, it could reopen as the Museum of Unappetizing Brown Sauces." —Pete Wells, New York Times
Shocked that an esteemed chef like Richard could produce such a flop, Wells decided to visit Richard's D.C. restaurant Central and compare dishes shared by both menus. In every case, the Washington restaurant was superior. Which leads Wells to raise an interesting question: What if the New York restaurant is awful because Richard isn't actually involved? A publicist, of course, tells Wells that Richard oversees "day-to-day operations." (When Sietsema visited Villard, he was told the chef was away that day at a charity function. "Stepping away from the stove less than two months after launch and before the Gray Lady weighs in," the critic noted, makes Richard "a brave man.")
But we've heard this story before, haven't we? Remember Meatballs? Richard opened the meatball shop, with his photo up on the walls, in Penn Quarter in late 2011. Except that it quickly became evident that Richard didn't really seem to be involved. Instead, all the business documents pointed to Mark Bucher, owner of Medium Rare and BGR: The Burger Joint. But Bucher and Richard's publicist denied that Bucher was a partner, claiming he was merely helping out a friend. Bucher tried to avoid public affiliation with the project altogether, insisting that Richard was the frontman.
As the bad reviews rolled in, Richard began to distance himself. And by the time the restaurant closed in June of 2012, Richard's publicist was saying "Michel is not involved with it. He was only ever minimally involved."
But if Richard opts to back away from his latest restaurant, he may have a tougher time: After all, it's named after him.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery