Lucier restaurant tries so hard to be perfect, and because they try so hard, fall so short.
After all the pre-publicity and self-aggrandizing, the oncoming crash of this restaurant is as loud as a jet.
I haven’t had many complimentary things to say about their food, Willamette Week wasn’t particularly nice, calling it The Trophy Wife, but Karen Brooks of the Oregonian has destroyed Lucier restaurant with her recent review.
Some choice quotes from the review:
But after four visits and a deep exploration of the menu, I’m sorry to say that the concept is about as viable as the auto industry: a money guzzler, out of touch and running on empty ideas.
According to one designer, the dining room at Lucier is meant to “feel like an island,” complete with a glass bridge crossing a gold-tiled water canal running around the perimeter. I’m afraid that the only islander who would claim this place is Gilligan.
Why would anyone want to spoil a perfectly good piece of foie gras with caramelized pineapple, rum gastrique and candy-like pieces of pretension called “macadamia glass”? The dish seems to have escaped from Luau Night at the Honolulu Hilton.
Mille-Feuille of Lobster misses the point altogether, arriving as a block of blandness, limp and greasy to boot. (And who hid the lobster?)
I can’t argue with anything she’s said. Sad, so much money wasted for so much excess, and then placed in the hands of a chef that seems to be in way over his head. No wonder so many Lucier restaurant employees have been looking for jobs. This is like the original Ten 01 opening reviews all over again. Will they take the drastic measures needed and pull out of this dive, or will they quietly close. Time to place your bets.
I’ve been there and couldn’t agree more. I thought it was very “Vegas comes to Portland”, which is as absurd an idea as it sounds. How can supposedly knowledgable people so misread the town they’re opening in? Lucier would have been in trouble in a good economy. With the recession and the rumored $4+ mil they put into it, they’re going to need way more customers than they’ll get to feed the oversized egos that opened this disaster.
PDX Jake says
Agree with you on the impact of the recession — I think we’re going to see a lot of our favorite spots shuttered. However, my wife and I ate at Lucier in August and had a memorable evening. It was ostentatious, of course, but I thought that was the point. They are trying to do something that hasn’t been done in Portland before. I, for one, have been waiting for a Portland restaurant where I don’t feel overdressed in a jacket and tie. I love Portland’s vibe, but sometimes I get tired of sitting down at the symphony next to a guy in jeans and flip flops. As for the food, I had the tasting menu with wine pairings, and found it very thoughtfully put together and well executed.
Love is a Fist says
I have just found out from a very relieable source that Lucier may be closing it’s doors on Saturday!
I get tired of sitting down at the symphony next to a guy in jeans and flip flops.
Really gets in your ears, dont it?
I’ve been to Lucier and think that review was pretty harsh. I thought the room, service, and food was all very nice. I think Lucier is a nice addition to Portland, but apparently I’m in a minority.
What is for sure is this place is going to have to make adjustments. Seriously, given this review, the WW review, and a growing chorus in word of mouth, yikes. I wish Pascal and all of those working at lucier the best, reviews like this can hit like a mack truck. They have my sympathy.
It was a spot-on review, it shot straight and was beautifully written. Brava.
Well I am sorry that they are having succh a hard time. This is the Dussin group’s second try at getting out of the “spaghetti factory” shadow. It is a very ambitious project that had troulbe opening, and opened during the worst time to open such an expensive venue. That being said, I wonder how long they stick with “Pascal”. The Dussin’s certainly can buy him out, and probably should. I always wondered how he jumped from making chicken fried steak on MLK to Fenouil, to Lucier anyway.
Again here was an example of hiring some strange people to run the front of house. Yes their GM came from Gary Danko, but how many other “5-Star” employees did they hire? The GM’s assistant came from Portland City Grill ( not a bad program, just not 5 star ) They fired the original sommeilier ( with a sorts of rumor ) , and hired Ron Wolf ( no five star experience ) Jim Biddle ( 10 jobs the past 8 years ) and Savannah Ray ( no 5 star experience ) . I harp on this cause that’s what they advertised as being needed to apply.
THere are all sorts of rumors about Pascals resume…..so its a wonder he is still around ( again, Dussin can easily buy him out ) Glitzy space, change chefs, change direction and the Dussin’s have the money to get this correct. They should take a lesson from Ten-01 and swallow one’s pride and move forward.
Here’s what I know: Pascal has experience in the Bay Area and France that isn’t embellished. He was not a chef at the places in France since he’d just finished school, and in France, you can’t just become a chef right out of school like here. As for the Bay Area, nothing made up there either. Pascal, in fact, seems rather humble about his experience. When he moved to PDX, he had to get a job to feed the family, which turned out to be Billy Reed’s, which he made the most of. Can’t really fault a man for putting family first, just because it won’t look good on the old resume later. Jesus. You people forget these are real people you have so much fun dissing. Seriously.
What was the first try of getting out from under the “spaghetti shadow”? Anybody remember Cody’s Cafe? Pascal jumped from making chicken fried steak on MLK because he hooked up with the Dr. that owned Tucci’s in Lake O. He persuaded him to build Fenouil and he would take his French *** experience with him and make the doc a pile of money in the Pearl. Ron Wolf actually has 5 star experience from Salishan, Jim Biddle is one of the most knowledgeable wine people in Portland. Go back to square one and make good, solid, expertly prepared food with no pretension. Forget the whole “French Laundry” hhype. If that is what Portlanders want they can go to Napa or New York.
Does anybody remember the first attempt at getting out from under the spaghetti shadow? Does Cody’s Cafe ring a bell? Used to be in the space that was John’s Meat Market and is now Elephants Deli. Pascal got from frying chicken fried steak on MLK by hooking up with the neuro surgeon who opened Tucci’s in Lake O. From there it was a short jump to creating Fenouil with Pascal bringing his 3 star talents to the Pearl. The doc decided he had lost enough money on that venture and was looking to sell. Along comes OSF with a big wad of cash and bought that and Pascal along with it. So now Pascal has the opportunity to further exhibit his 3 star skills in a big splashy setting. Hence the success they are enjoying now. Portland does not need a restaurant like the French Laundry. If they want that they can go to Napa or New York for the other one. Prepare good food with good ingredients and drop all of the pretension. However, in this economy they may not be able to salvage this and will probably turn it into a highend Spaghetti Factory. Ron Wolf actually has 5 star experience from Salishan back when the cellar was a Grand Award winner. Jim Biddle is one of the more knowledgeable wine people in town. Don’t know who Savvanah Ray is, hopefully not related to Rachael. And maybe Pascal has learned that Portland really is a small town and that it does not pay to embellish the ‘ol resume. Karen Brooks has done a great job of reviewing this restaurant pretty much in the style of Frank Bruni from the New York Times.
Someone told me that Lucier had recently closed down early on a Friday evening after referring it’s one reservation to Fenouil. Hard to imagine, but if it’s true, that’s really a shame.
How interesting that as of tomorrow, when this review publishes, Lucier will also become the only AAA four diamond restaurant in the State of Oregon.
Yanno, I’m just not done on this thread. I can totally feel for those that work in that kitchen and especially for their Chef. They do their damndest every day and I have no doubt they’ll all show up and do it again tomorrow. And if Portland doesn’t want something like this, well, at least someone provided the opportunity for the town to make it’s mind up. I think I am well qualified in that department to comment further.
Foie with Caramelized Pineapple. Wolfgang Puck had it on a menu back in 1980-something. Was the “perfectly good piece of foie” not cold torchon here though? With a sauterne something on the plate? Nice reporting.
Foie with Pickled Pineapple and Rum Gastrique? Paul O’Connell did that. Major hit when he did.
Foie with Macadamia nuts, Eric Hara did that and got rave reviews for it.
Maybe in Portland foie should only ever come with apples, truffles, cherries or brioche, and fish should only ever come with chips. But never with some variation of marrowfat peas on the plate despite the fact Gordon Ramsay, Heston Blumenthal and Gary Rhodes all thought it was a great idea at some point – and strangely enough these boys have more than a few Michelin stars on their resumes between them.
How many people in Portland have ever heard of marrowfat peas? Or had the opportunity to try them – like many of the things Pascal has been prepared to menu up for people to try and discover?
Portland food writers aren’t Fay Maschler or A.A. Gill. Which would also apply to lots of people that like to jump on the topical bandwagon on internet websites.
Unfortunately it isn’t just enough to repeat the use of the same ingredients on the plate and expect it to come across well. Trying to present menu items that have garnered rave reviews in the past or in another market is one thing, but then not adjusting one’s presentation of those same components when one’s food message isn’t coming across, is just folly. One has to produce what will sell yet safely push the envelope if possible.
I just wish the dining public of Portland would take more of a risk sometimes and break out of the food stereotypes of the PNW.
Lur Kerr says
Morris, You might want to hire another fact-checker. The London Grill at the Benson Hotel has had four diamonds from AAA since 2001.
Chase D. says
And Lur, you may want to check the fact that London Grill was downgraded to 3 Diamonds for 2009, leaving Lucier – as Morris stated correctly – as Oregon’s only 4 Diamond winner.
Glainie: That certain Friday night was Halloween. Most places reported being extremely slow that evening.
The food at Lucier, as I experienced it, is in line with Brooks’: overall, not good. It was unnecessarily complicated, inexplicably composed, and not tasty. Actually, I’d say the most memorably bad restaurant dish I’ve had this year — and I’ve eaten in Portland, NY and SF — came from Lucier, a langoustine with vanilla leeks, pork belly and anise. I’ve eaten a lot of restaurant meals in my life — I’ll wager most of us have — including many at Wolfgang Puck restaurants, and whereas some might detect in the description a Puck-ish “inventiveness,” I hear alarm bells. What arrived was not good: a lukewarm vertical stack covered in what looked like graying sea detritus; this would be the leeks, shredded and limp. Think about these flavors for a minute: leeks, lobster (I’m with you), pork belly (still with you), vanilla (uh…) and anise (well…). These was no harmony here. Having access to great ingredients and free reign to create does not assure that great dishes are coming out of the kitchen, no more than having a computer means you’ll write the great American novel.
I believe “Portland doesn’t want something like this” not because of Lucier’s price tag, but because the aesthetics of the restaurant shout at rather than seduce the diner; because people don’t understand (as I did not) why you’d open a bar with no bartender (isn’t his/her convivial presence part of why we sit at a bar?) and because the food isn’t very good.
Good points, Nancy. Exactly how we felt. I actually had the same experience at DOC recently as well were the flavor combinations were so strange. Sauces too sweet, ingredients stacked one on top of the other. The classic “just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should.” And the “bar” (with parentheses firmly in place) has to the most pretentious, cold, uninviting place for a drink. The lack of bartender is so precious. Are we supposed to go, “wow, my drink just mysteriously appeared from the back room!” And if you’re in the mood for a glass of wine instead of a cocktail, you’ll be offered a list of rather uninspired choices…but at least you get to pay an exorbitant price for them. Debt service is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?
“Foie with Caramelized Pineapple. Wolfgang Puck had it on a menu back in 1980-something.”
I’m trying to figure out if this was supposed to be a point in Lucier’s favor or a point against.
That was my reaction, too! And I’d say TWO points against! A) Wolfgang Puck might be fabulously rich and famous, but he’s still a hack. B) 1980?????!!!!! If we’re gonna do retro food, let’s just go all Mad Men and they can serve crab salad in 1/2 and avocodo. 80’s food was not exactly anything to pee yourself over.
Lur Kerr, The London Grill did indeed, but no more. The few other Oregon restaurants that had four stars all lost them in the 2009 review.
Dave – neither one way or another really. I think what I wasn’t saying directly was that Foie can work well with all of these things but sometimes you can just end up with one or two things on a plate that really do not need to be there. Sometimes they really should not be there. And sometimes they’re there because someone is a genius. I was more throwing a thought or two out there others might have wanted to further discuss. I think Nancy’s well written langoustine comment totally hit that nail on the head.
One can study menus and ask why would you do that, but sometimes, until you actually eat it you can’t confirm what your brain palate is telling you. Yet sometimes you just totally know something is the worst idea ever. Like drinking red bull immediately after brushing your teeth.
Have I died and gone to bizarro world where no one has ever
dined in Paris or NYC to know what good food really is? Evidently. The
quintessential example of this ignorance is Karen Brooks’ article about Lucier
in the very same printing of the Oregonian wherein Lucier is tauted as receiving the only
4-diamond AAA award for a restaurant in the entire state of Oregon. The entire state! And the chef recently cooked at the esteemed James Beard Foundation. Could it be that
the “keep Portland weird” press is not on par with the times? It seems that if you’re going to
write a glowing review about a Portland restaurant, it has to be a small, bistro-like restaurant where the chefs are
dowsed in tattoos as they bare their arms in t-shirts and grease, or you have
to run down a rabbit hole to find a restaurant buried in a basement. It seems
as though the Portland press isn’t ready for something that is actually nice. God forbid there be any flavor or plate design, not to mention, killer
brigade service which any, and I mean any New Yorker would die, die, die for!
And don’t forget about free valet parking. Right, forget that, especially if
it’s free! Seems like Portland press would rather hike 6 blocks after circling the blocks forever and a day
just so they’re hungry enough not to enjoy beautiful and complex textures and
flavors instead of the same old hunk of meet that’s overly sauced with wine
reduction. God forbid Portlanders actually get something good like foie gras
with pineapple gastrique. That’d just ruin everything!!!
The absurdity continues: It’s utterly bizarre that people actually want a nice
place that is locally owned to fail. I actually read that on someone’s blog.
And why, I wonder? Because we need to “keep Portland weird?” Wow. I thought when I moved
here 10 years ago that people were nice and that people actually liked different people. I mean, that is
actually why I moved here. Evidently, I was wrong there too. Seems like they
all just want people to look and act like your typical SE-er, tattooed,
grunged, and gnarly, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Heck, I love that.
But is that all we want to populate our streets and our restaurants? Do we
really just want to go to the same place with the same people over and over and
over again. Karen Brooks and her ilk do. Count me out. I’m headed back to enjoy
a beautiful meal at Lucier…
Food Dude says
Having eaten in a fair amount of just average 4-diamond AAA restaurants, that award doesn’t particularly impress me. Neither does cooking at the James Beard Foundation; I can think of many Portland restaurants that have – heck, I got an email today that Lincoln will be there, yet they just opened a few months ago. Valet parking is free? When you are looking at the overall picture of a restaurant, that’s worth about a quarter point: who cares!
You’re too lazy to walk (oops sorry…that’s “hike”) 0.25 of a mile? What is that, six whole minutes?
To hype a place because it has free valet parking is the epitome of damning with faint praise!
Lil Ta says
Portland does need and want great places to eat that are clean, architecturally “hip,” have outstanding service, and (gasp) convenient parking. We just also want those places to have great food! Bluehour is a fine example – an interesting menu that delivers without any unsuccessful theatrics.
Funny to see French Laundry referenced by so many in this post. As someone who was there recently, lucky me on a day when Keller himself was in the kitchen (we spied on him for a good twenty minutes from outside), I’d say it’s a very high bar. Lucier, if you stretch for it and don’t make it, well, at least you stretched, but have the good sense to recognize failing elements and try to improve them. We’ll root for you if you’re committed to getting that food up to Laundry standards – but you’ve got to find a way to show us that you’re working on it.
No one at Lucier has ever said they wanted to be Portland’s French Laundry, so far as I know. Having said that, I found the food to be right on. Having been in the industry for many years, and worked in the Bay Area, I was totally impressed by the food. I think some Portlanders are just set in the same old same old. I recently ate at Bluehour and while I really like Kenny’s food a lot, I have to say that Lucier’s menu–and execution of that menu–is on a different level. But that’s just my opinion. It is refreshing to hear that someone is actually rooting for this restaurant instead of wanting to kill it, though. My only problem with lots of these blogs and reviews, for that matter, is the palpable ill will. I think there is room for all types of restaurants here, and I hope that people will start allowing for that.
When Lucier opened, Dussin had a meeting with the managers and told them he didn’t care if it wasn’t making money, as long as it was the “Best restaurant” in Portland…
They did have an attitude from the get go.
Where are you getting your information?
You are obviously NOT a real New Yorker (and for the record I am AND I worked and dined at top establishments there):
A) New Yorkers do not drive and the only valet restaurant I can think of is Peter Luger’s (which is for tourists and bridge and tunnel, anyway). And true New Yorkers have no issue with walking distances, in fact we love it!
B) A Triple A 4 diamond review means NOTHING in NYC restaurant circles! We rely on the NY Times reviews for our discernment. In fact a TWO star NY Times review (which is, since you wouldn’t know this, quite respectable, BTW) would be the equivalent of most 4 or 5 star reviews by the big O.
C) EVERYONE has done something with the James Beard Foundation. As noted above, it’s NOT a big deal.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d LOVE to see better restaurants open here—’cause sorry, our “scene” kinda sucks, especially compared to NYC…but Vegas glitz pretentious with circa 1983 cuisine isn’t gonna cut it, either.
And I don’t think most people look so much grunged here as they do like they’re about to go camping.
I thought the review was a bit too harsh. I’ve been to Lucier once and thought the food was pretty good but certainly not on the level of some of the destination restaurants in other large cities. Having moved here from Chicago a couple of years ago, I was rooting for a special occassion place to go for birthdays or anniversaries. I love the Portland food scene but there is definitely a bitchy undercurrent in this town that I’ve yet to figure out. Maybe we self aggrandize our ‘cool, local, organic’ scene a little too much for our own good. How about suggesting they hire a more competent chef, and be a little bit constructive in our criticism as opposed to salivating with glee for a business to fail in this harsh economy?
It’s not because one spent multi-million $ on a place, offer high prices and staff it to the nines that it will work! Those folks bit more than they could chew.
Bring in people that know what they are doing and I can garantee you that it will fly. Pascal is a nice guy, but he’s way over his head with this.
And I’m sure the Dussins are very nice, but should have recruited a chef with a better pedigree.
Usually, when a guy with deep pockets has a restaurant dream but he’s not a chef, things don’t work out. It’s not because you’re loaded that it means you understand quality.
Clean the space up a bit, add a bar with a great bartender and a strong chef, kill the attitude and watch the place blossom. Doesn’t matter if it’s in Portland, NY, Paris or Beijing.
Food Dude says
I agree with everything you say.
As far as I know, Pascal’s first venture in the area was Tucci. Tucci got remarkably and noticeably better (as in, worth returning to after swearing it off) when Pascal left to focus on Fenouil. The chef who took over the kitchen day-to-day — cooks circles around Pascal. The few times I’ve been to Fenouil, I’ve found the price/food quality ratio to be unacceptable. This is why I’ve only been there a few times.
I certainly don’t demand my chefs be dirty and tattooed. But when I can have an awesome meal at the Pigeon — which is consistently awesome AND reasonably-priced — I don’t see the point of paying top dollar for the privilege of eating food cooked by the same guy who can’t hack it at two other less ambitious Portland restaurants.
And in a town where food critics hold places like Toro Bravo and Nostrona in such high regard, I rely much more on word of mouth and Internet for accurate reviews.
Yeah… this review brought to you by the same bunch that made clarklewis ROTY shortly after opening and is totally enamored with anything associated with the now defunct Ripe Empire. They have no credibility with me, and this review only reinforces that. While it’s not completely offbase and fairly well written, my own experience at Lucier was a lot more positive. I think it’s priced out of the market given today’s economic environment and possibly aiming a bit higher than they’re capable of reaching. But my own experience there was very positive and I’d definitely return (assuming it survives this hack review and the economy).
I’m not sure if these reviews are fair. They may well be. I wouldn’t know because I’ve never eaten at Lucier. What I do know is that most Portlanders I know hated this place before it opened its doors. Portlanders confuse audacity with pretension, and that’s just not fair to those of us who like flair. That said, no one trashes a restaurant like Karen Brooks, a journalist whose writing is sharp and quick witted, but whose judgments continually embody the provinciality of Portland. She gave Toro Bravo a B minus even though it’s great, and she gave Lincoln an A minus, even though it’s quite mediocre. And does anyone remember her unfair review of Lolo?
Food Dude says
If you haven’t been to Lincoln lately, go back. They have steadily improved since opening. That aside, I’ve always said the O’s scoring makes no sense. Based on my experiences, I would have given Lucier a C, but to me, there is a big psychological difference between a C and a C-.
Food Dude says
Toro Bravo got a B+
Yikes. I had to laugh upon reading about my experience in one of the comments… My boyfriend and I were the 1 reservation Lucier had on Halloween night. Perhaps I forgot how many people I yapped to after that!
Here’s what happened: My boyfriend made reservations, as we were eager to try Lucier and it was our anniversary. We showed up at 7 p.m. and the restaurant was dark and empty, with a sign on the door saying “We are closed to allow our employees to spend Halloween with their family.” Or something like that. I was laughing. My boyfriend was not. He angrily dialed Lucier’s number and a nice guy answered. My boyfriend gave the guy a piece of his mind, the guy apologized and said we were their only reservation and they thought someone called us to cancel, etc. He then politely offered to send us to their sister restaurant Fenouil for dinner on the house. We took them up on the offer and had an excellent meal at Fenouil. Since they were comping our meals, we went ahead and ordered an extra nice bottle of wine and I almost felt guilty when they insisted on comping that in the end, too.
So, despite the flub, I’d have to say they were extremely nice and gracious about it. The following weekend, we went back to Lucier to give them a second try and had a good time.
Brewmaster, you summed it up beautifully. Couldn’t agree more. Karen Brooks approaches reviews with a very strong bias towards her own very provincial view of what a Portland restaurant should be like. That bias really clouds her judgment and credibility IMHO. I suspect I’m not alone in not taking the Oregonian’s (and particularly her) reviews very seriously.
That’s some interesting calculus. Let’s do more math:
Grew up in NY + 17 years in LA + frequent dining trips to SF + 1 year in Paris = doesn’t like Lucier, either.
The only bias Brooks displays is one against mediocre food.
Deleted. Comment violated rules of the site.
One would hope so, though as your anonymous comment attests, your cajones are not
Have you ever noticed how anonymous comments are part and parcel of teh internets? (And, um, PFD?) No?
Check into it.
Of course, my point wasn’t about [moderated] since I’m not *actually* making a claim about my own expertise. I was ridiculing your statement of self-aggrandized expertise. Really, who cares? Especially on this website, there are lots of credentialed folks and your self-important tone about your “year in Paris” is just that.
Nancy has published food articles in many reputable rags such as NY & LA Times. What have you written?
PdxYogi, Nancy may be a published and gifted writer. But that isn’t the issue I questioned.
My apologies for the crude remark FoodDude rightfully deleted. With a teaspoon of effort I might have expressed myself more thoughtfully.
I didn’t grow up in Portland either. Does that mean I can’t be biased and provincial? I doubt it. But, if you think that KB isn’t biased — for example being enamored with (as someone else here put it) “all things Hebberoy” — umm, well, then I’m afraid you might just have some serious blinders on. Far as this review goes, I can only comment based on my own experience there… and then it simply comes down to one opinion vs. another.
The sad statement is that Portland can support this type of restaurant, I am just not sure why they made it so large. 100 seats mean that from Thursday – Saturday you need to do at least 2 1/2 turns to make $$$. I highly doubt that Lucier has been doing this type of business on a regular basis.
If the Dussin’s had a 30-40 seat restaurant with a small bar, they may have pulled it off. Aside from the lower operating costs. There is less pressure to put out as many plates. ( although it probably isnt the case to date )
As for the review, as all reviews there are good points and bad. The issue is this restaurant has not recieved the accolades it wanted. The kindest was a “quick hit” from Gourmet. They said very ambitious, we will come back to visit it later to see how things have settled. Very fair, considereing Gourmet was basing this on the “press meal”. But how can all three Oregon publications be somewhat on the same page??? Its like the old adage,” be careful pointing the finger at someone, because there are three fingers pointing at you.” Everyone has an opinion on this restaurant. The common denominator is that although loud iin design we Lucier has been described as very “Vegas” and “Dubai”. There has been nothing but positive for the pastry chef, and the fact that the staff really tries hard to please. The issue always has been about the food/Chef.
One big difference between comparing the Lucier experience to Per Se, Jean George, or what ever “big name” restaurant. Is that the big name operators know when to quit. Jean George had a restaurant called 66. It was a fancy steak house that was splashy from decor to price. The big problem the bar had no real bar, or bartender. The end user hated it, and got a cold feeling. JG closed this restaurant in 8 months. It is now currently Matsugen which is doing very well. The “concept” of 66 is now named “Prime” ( with a beautiful bar, and great bartenders ) and doing well.
As I stated earlier, the Dussin’s have the money to pay out Pascal. Pay him out. BTW, if they did’nt buy out Passcal and his doctor friend. Fenouil was having real cash flow issues. With the growth of the North Pearl Fenouil will survive. But Fenouil had its issues, and needed this Dussin cash infusion. But how successful has Lucier been? How successful has the other concept the Dussin/Pascal is ( it is always looking for employees ) . The Dussins should stick to Papa Gus’ spaghetti concept ( cash cow ) . Change the course of Lucier. Get a new chef, and like already stated, build a real bar, hire great bar tenders, simplify the concept, and move forward.
Cause it is a pretty space, and the outside venue is beautiful. Instead of the caviar and egg at the bar how about a caviar pizza? ( now there is an old Wolgang Puck trick )
“If the Dussin’s had a 30-40 seat restaurant with a small bar, they may have pulled it off. Aside from the lower operating costs. There is less pressure to put out as many plates.”
That isn’t the point. if you open any new restaurant you’d better be ready to put out 50 good plates or 250 good plates. Especially at the level they were choosing to play at.
When I think of what sets Portland apart from other cities (i.e. public transportation, natural and agricultural resources and our proximity to them, the green living standards) the main thing that comes to mind is our sense of community. To many outsiders we are just a toy city comprised of nothing but patchouli-smelling hippies and mustachioed hipsters. To those of us who have grown up here, we know that there is a deep-seeded mentality that overshadows our aesthetic exterior. It is our mutual support between local businesses, artists and purveyors that has helped us grow at such an astonishing rate. We have caught the eye of the country in so many arenas because we are guided by our values and standards. And yet when a local business comes in and tries to raise the bar, show what is possible, we publicly condemn them for not quite reaching far enough. Don’t get me wrong; Ms. Brooks was right about a lot of things, but the way she voiced her opinion was inappropriate and downright sophomoric. What disturbs me the most is that many in our restaurant community and/or blogosphere have condoned and even supported such harsh words. I agree, changes need to be made. Lucier attempts to go so far above and beyond that when they misstep it looks that much worse. Yes the food could be better, the service more relaxed, and the bar…(don’t get me started) but at least they are trying to elevate our expectation and culture in this fickle-bitch of and industry. How can we make strides if we trip ourselves in the first steps (it’s only been open 6 months!!). What Karen Brooks did was to throw a stick into the proverbial spokes of this industry and I frown at any editor, nay Portlander, who let these words see the light of day. Shame
Food Dude says
So you are saying a restaurant shouldn’t be reviewed for what… a year? Two years? Six months seems like a long time to me.
“And yet when a local business comes in and tries to raise the bar, show what is possible, we publicly condemn them for not quite reaching far enough.”
Um…no, not I, nor most others, in my opinion. I condemn them for making lousy food, blocking my river view with their poorly rendered glass “art”, and yes, I was overbearlingly hovered upon.
Chase D. says
I have to say, I was quite dismayed by Ms. Brooks’ review. It not only lacked an ounce of objectivity, but she seemed to go out of her way to nitpick even the most benign of details at Lucier. While some of her observations may ring true, Ms. Brooks seems to delight in tearing down this restaurant that, there can be little doubt, does not conform to Ms. Brooks’ idea of what a ‘Portland’ restaurant is. Her notion, while not only provincial, insults Portland, and Portlanders, by constraining the lot of us to organic, local-loving sandal wearers (all of which is fine).
I happened, by sheer coincidence, to be at Lucier on one of the occasions when Ms. Brooks was dining (I know what she looks like). On this evening, she was dining with Oregonian/Wine Spectator contributor Matt Kramer, and another guest. By my somewhat limited observations (we were dining at roughly the same time), Ms. Brooks and guests seemed to be having an enjoyable time, was interacting with Lucier management and staff convivially, and I did not notice any hovering, nervous, or intrusive service – either at her table or my own. For her to turn around and write this overly mean hatchet job only confirms my suspicions about her going into this venue with preconceived notions which she was determined to validate.
I have dined at Lucier – both in the lounge and the dining room – on several occasions, and have always enjoyed myself and the attentive, friendly, and knowledgable staff. This is a group that genuinely seem to believe in what they are trying to bring to Portland, and I think that for that, they should be commended. Does Lucier sometimes fall short? Certainly. The golden dome that houses the service bar is a poorly imagined monstrosity, and the food, which should be mind-bendingly unforgettable, often fails to reach the kitchen’s lofty ambitions. But I for one have found ‘bargains’ on the wine list, and the sommelier team has never once tried to soak me, but rather has made very enjoyable and knowledgable recommendations of smaller, lesser-known producers within price guidelines I’ve stated.
Whether Lucier ultimately fails or succeeds (and I hope it succeeds if for no other reason that I believe Portland at least deserves this dining option), what troubles me most is the near joyful glee that certain people in this town are rooting for and anticipating Lucier’s demise. This restaurant will never make some people happy, in the way that some people would never have voted for Barack Obama last month. But for the rest of us with open minds, I sincerely hope Lucier continues to hone its rough edges and will find a sustained place on the Portland scene.
I couldn’t agree with you more. For such a liberal-minded city, I have continually been shocked by the glee with which some people condemn others–in this case, a locally owned business trying to do something different, trying to raise the bar, and trying to further invigorate Portland. Shouldn’t we all be trying to raise the bar? Seems to me that one can critique a restaurant without making it personal. I am glad to know there are others, such as you, who seem to agree.
What are you supposed to say when the bar fails to be raised? What’s the literally equivalent of a pat on the head?
They tried to raise the bar, but the point is that they failed. It’s great to have folks do something different, but they need to do it right. And Lucier didn’t.
I’m for Chase’s point. Why do we write about this all with glee? Why rub it in with all this sage and knowing and hearty agreement, so happy and eager to see Icarus fall to the sea. Why not instead humbly voice our encouragement to the dozens of folks trying to make Lucier work?
It is strange to me that there no mention anywhere here of the one restaurant Portland did provide an elegant environment (if antithetical to Lucier), superb service, quintessential and authentic “Portland” vibe, and superlatively delicious food: Genoa.
Genoa had the calm grace of New York’s Chanterelle and the insouciant playfulness of Chez Paul in Paris.
Did Genoa fail because it wasn’t snazzy like Lucier, or because, like Lucier, it was short on the aforementioned requisite tattoos? Or was it because Portland’s restaurant tastes are still limited? Or was it because our restaurateurs lack the balletic grace and dexterity needed to pull off an effortless top tier restaurant? Or is it because we are more interested in analyzing and critiquing than experiencing and supporting? I doubt it’s any of that. I honestly don’t know what it is, but all of this discourse resounds sadly in the empty silence of post Genoa Portland.
Marshall Manning says
Genoa was around for what, 35 years? I really wouldn’t consider that a failure in the restaurant business, and as others have mentioned at other spots on this site, it seems that Genoa had just run its course.
It’s true, in my opinion: restaurants, like anything else, have lives. Very few restaurants in this country are around for a century, or 50 years, and if they do last decades, it’s because they’re either a) enthusiastic about and open to reinventing themselves or b) are the very best at doing that which the public finds timeless and irresistible. Case in point for b: Peter Luger in New York. They do steak so well that people have been coming for essentially the same meal in the same space since 1887 (and it’s STILL cash only). People go to restaurants to experience the food, take in the scene, stay close to home, because they know someone in-house, the list doesn’t end. But they keep going because they like it. I never dined at Genoa, but from what I’ve heard it was wonderful in its time, and then it was supplanted by other wonderful places. For all but the very rare Peter Lugers of the world, it will always be thus.
Food Dude says
There is an interesting commentary on Genoa’s decline and fall over on Wine Guy World’s website:
I agree with many of the things he said (though not the fixed price issue), but more importantly, the food went from being some of the best in Portland, to getting left behind.
I really don’t think it’s as complicated as all that. Portland is, and always has been a conservative town. Yes, there are some adventurous amongst us, and I dare say, a few high rollers, but by and large, we are a relatively simple lot that seeks out value, comfort, and well-prepared, but easily defined cuisine. Personally, I’m not at all surprised by Lucier’s problems. Almost everything about it goes against the Portland grain (as Ms. Brooks was quick to point out). I don’t think it’s insulting to Portland to suggest that this isn’t a good fit. I think it’s pointing out the obvious. Yes, it may frustrate some who feel that with all the recent national media attention, Portland must surely be ready for such a venue, but I disagree. One need only scrutinize the truly successful restaurants in town to draw conclusions about what works and what doesn’t. Portland has its own style, perhaps not cosmopolitan, but a style none the less. I’m happy to embrace that style, and when the need arises for something a bit more…um..dramatic (?), I’m more than happy to seek it out elsewhere.
glainie….hate to burst the bubble, but Portland is no different than everywhere else in the U.S. Case in point, those of us who read/respond to food blogs. We are by far the minority in any city. I think we’d like to think differently, but it just isn’t the case. Sure, the NYC food scene gets huge press, but out of 19+ mil in the NYC metro area, I would guess that about the same percentage as “conservative” PDX cares about food more than we do.
What bubble are you bursting? I don’t get your point, or how it has anything to do with my comment. Sorry.
Whether one be of the reigning-portland style, new-york-style, san-francisco-style, bombay-style, I would have little in common aesthetically with anyone who didn’t find Lucier-style tacky as hell. Those shooshy pants, good lord! But more importantly, the food was just … meh. And I think portland already has many exceptional dining options for even the tattoo-averse: Castagna, Higgins, Paley’s … why worry about holding on to this flop?
What cupsncakes said.
As far as I can tell (from way, way outside Lucier’s target demographic), there are two separate things going on here.
One is the question of Lucier’s culinary vision. While some here have reported dining very happily at Lucier, the more common response to the food seems to be in line with that of nancy, cupsncakes and the several published reviews to date — essentially, “meh”. This is not good, but it’s not necessarily fatal; plenty of restaurants survive and even prosper without the support of their local foodie communities.
The second is the question of Lucier’s business model — a large space catering specifically to a very high end customer base in a deliberately opulent setting. And while it’s relevant to note that Lucier was conceived and developed before the current economic storm front hit, what seems to be puzzling many of us — myself included — is that Lucier’s business model seems (a) difficult for anyone to sustain in the Portland market, and (b) wildly inconsistent with the highly successful business model of the Dussin family’s other restaurant business (the Old Spaghetti Factory chain).
The reports of “meh” cuisine, lavish development decisions, and apparently minimal customer traffic make the picture even more puzzling; it’s hard to visualize how Lucier could succeed financially even in a less challenging economic climate — and harder to visualize how folk with otherwise solid-seeming business sense could pour so much money into a venture with such limited likelihood of success. One is tempted to wonder whether Lucier was ever intended to succeed in the first place — it would make a weird kind of sense if the whole thing was conceived as a “let’s lose a lot of money for tax purposes” project.
Whatever the answer to that question, I can’t see Lucier surviving for very long without deep-pocketed patronage — and in that light, I think the story that’s most telling is, in fact, the recent announcement of Philippe Boulot’s move to the MAC. If I were trying to develop a Lucier-like restaurant in Portland, Boulot would be very high on my list of candidates to run its kitchen, and the moneyed elite that sit on the MAC board would be exactly the kind of patrons I’d be trying to attract. The money that’s now being spent to make over the MAC dining room operation is precisely the money that Lucier needs in order to turn a profit, and it’s not good for Lucier’s bottom line to see that money flowing elsewhere.
The moral in the end may also be “run what you know”. We’ve seen the Holland/Burgerville group try to develop the Beaches and Noodle concepts, mostly unsuccessfully. And I would swear there’s a second relatively recent example of a local restaurant group trying to launch a “bold new concept” outside its market category and having it fall flat, but it’s gone right out of my head just now….
Carol Edwards says
It is sad to me that Portland bloggers always bash an ambitous effort. What is that all about? Are we so hip fleece cool that there is no room for others?
I love and fully support ambitious, creative efforts, as long as they’re well executed, well thought out ambitious efforts. Which, I think unfortunately, Lucier was not.
Food Dude says
If it was good, I think those same bloggers would be raving about it.
Nonsense. That is an inaccurate and over-the-top generalization.
Bloggers trip all over each other to praise an “ambitious effort” if it is successful! Sometimes overly so.
X-MSG over at that other site is reporting extensive lay-offs at Lucier and word of possible closing in the new year.
Food Dude says
Thanks… I know they have been laying off people for at least a week now. Sounds like there have been even more.
There’s no reason after paying $175 for my meal that I should have left Lucier hungry and needed to stop at McDonald’s on the way home.
Wait…I’ve no reason to doubt you when you say left Lucier hungry – though why, after spending $175.00, you didn’t just order another dish or two is beyond me – but you actually went to Micky D’s after? Class!
maybe I’m a portland guy
but i’d hit the drive-thru on my way in
wiping the grease/salt on my levi’s as i’m led to a table
asking my waiter to ‘biggie it’
possibly finishing my fries at the table
rejecting the wine
ordering a bucket of pbr
I got a call from a cook friend over their. This Saturday is the last day of operation. He told me that Jeremy has been running a 48% food cost and the $800,000 that they put into the wine cellar was too much to deal with. Also not having a good review and only doing 30 covers a night for the past 2 months. It’s sad because they could have brought something special and different to the market.
Food Dude says
I wasn’t going to put the “Saturday night they are closing” rumors through, but have gotten so many emails from so many people today, I’m pretty much believing it at this point.
I would say that the main reason for the upcoming closure is the fact that they are doing 30 covers a night. The original goal of this restaurant was to win a grand award from Wine Spectator and $800,000 is probably what it would take…as I’m sure they knew (or Scott told them) when the opened.
Chase D. says
Don’t everyone twist their arms patting their back, or twist an ankle jumping for joy over news of Lucier’s impending closure. There’s a lot of staff members there who got behind this restaurant for the better part of a year who are now without jobs 2 weeks before Christmas. I’m not saying that any complaints or criticisms of Lucier haven’t been valid, but we don’t need to revel in their demise.
Food Dude says
I agree. Thought the one with the exclamation was a bit strange
I also agree. I work with a few of their cooks whom, several months ago, were looking to pick up a few shifts to make up for their hours being cut at Lucier. Now where are they at? 16 hours a week doesn’t cut mustard when you have bills and a family. I personally know about 20 people – at least- hoping to find a kitchen job in Portland at the moment.
Perhaps we’re going to start seeing some very good, experienced cooks preparing your sandwiches at the Safeway counter – at least they’ll have good benefits.
It just doesn’t make sense to me that they are closing. After all this investment, it would make more sense to re-concept the place. I know it could fly with a better chef and a couple minor structural changes. I am freaked out to see more staff without a job at this time, knowing how hard it is out there. I hope they will get paid and hopefully get some kind of a severance pay.
I cant believe that the Dussin’s would close up this quick. Granted they have lost a lot of money, but what is one more week or two of hemoraging $$$ ?? It isnt like they could not afford it. I too feel for the staff. Its tough out there. I would be willing to bet that during the first quarter of ’09 there may be more closings in Portland.
As for the goal of a grand award in the first year, that is a real tough task. First you need deep pockets, second you need all the big name wines with depth, Third you need a sommeilier with big chops and creates his/her own PR. I realize that Lucier thought they had this, and had to make an early switch. But the GM used to work at Gary Danko, yes? He should have recruited the first and best sommeilier that Danko had, Christine DeFault. She has the look, knowledge and chops to sell that list.
The only place I know that won a Grand Award in year one was, Pebble Beach after Peter Ubberoth and company bought the famed resort. They hired Joe Nase ( Grand Award at Lespinasse in New York –
little chef named Gray Kunz) Including Lespinasse, Joe is the only two time Grand Award winner who does not have a “M.S” . BTW as soon as they ( Pebble ) got the grand award, Joe got canned.
Too bad about the whole staff….I hope the Dussin’s reconsider, afer 2 million or whatever the lose, whats another 60k???
It is truly awful that they are closing. Again, I am galled by the fact that people think the Dussins and Chureau should suffer more losses just because the Dussins appear to have the money. I wish they would stay open longer, too, and think the chef is fantastic. I’ve always thought it was a small percentage of people who did not like what the chef does–or so it seems from the outpouring of support on the Oregonian’s website and even here. But to suggest that the Dussins and Chureau should suffer more loss is shortsighted. I cannot imagine how incredibly difficult a decision it must have been to make this decision. They are good people who are ultimately running a family business, and a decision like this would not come lightly to them. They are another casualty of this economy. What does any of us know of their finances, afterall? Again, I am surprised that people state things of which they do not know. Perhaps they will reconsider if they are able to do so, as I think all of them–Chureau, the Dussins, the staff–were aspiring to do something different and great, and they were there, and the timing ended up being terrible. We can’t forget that when they were planning this restaurant that the economy was at its height. What a terrible loss.
Galled…think how the servers and bussers and dishwashers feel……management made great salaries. But the folks living off tips took these jobs thinking they were in “hog heaven” – large average check average equates to larger tips.
You are right we dont really know the financials, but lets say the Dussin’s spent even half of what is rumoured ( 2 million ) for a quick fix should’nt they get rid of the biggest % of fat ( GM salary – or the Maitre d’ ) and maybe a sous chef ? Finish the week ( s) without them and let the tipped employees make the best of it?? Why have 3 sommeiliers?/ let one ( Ron Wolf ) finish the last weeks out?.
Yes The Dussins’ will re-open and re-design the concept. It is a beautiful space. But Pascal still at the helm????? HELLO!!!!!! Recruite a chef out of the Bay Area or NYC with some chops. To draw people. Build a nice bar, have real bartenders. Have high end cuisine, just simplify it. Hire a sommeilier who really understands the list ( simplify the wine list ) run the space a little “lean” to start and as the business builds, build the business. Take advantage of the beautiful view, price according to the ecomonomic times ( American Wyagu vs. the authentic stuff ) Besides does Pascal with his “resume” really fit the Dussin groups recruitment picture? For the price hire an outside consulting / mangement firm. ( better pre and after tax hit on the P&L ).
Jean-George Vongerichten has a company/management company called “Restaurant Concepts”. His 8 flag ship stores are under JG’s direct ownership. JG mangement goes to spaces ( hires chefs, managers etc ) bulds a JG designed menu. Plus the little French guy stops i 3 times a year to smile, glad hand and even do an occasional special menu ( he actually cooks ! ) The Dussins’ should hire them. Plus they/JG is a press machine. On my last post I mentioned the sommeilier Joe Nase. Where was one of Joe’s first jobs??? Anyone??? He once wirked for Aramark and worked at Atwaters in the very begining. He loves Portland ( IPNC a bunch of times and is friends with a lot of the old guard in the Willamette Valley ) He left cause in the mid 80’s Portland food scene was in the begining stages. He knew he had to move to a bigger venue.
You are correct we dont “know” about the financials, and yes this is a tough decision. But really what’s a week more? and what about the big New Years party they had planned? Where do those reservations go? Galled???? how do you think the the staff feels today? Galled??? maybe worse, no?
My comment was only that we tend to do a lot of speculating here. “Galled” just means that the people running the show are people too, with families, just like the staff. I am sure that no one who worked there wanted this to happen, least of all, the owners. Your point about hiring an outside group is well-taken, except that I think they were trying to keep it as local as they could. I’m not sure Portlanders would’ve warmed to all the outsiders. I’m not sure why you seem dead-set against Pascal, but I don’t share your opinion. He’s talented, nice, and treats his people well. Anyhow, we’ll have to wait and see what they do.
I actually had heard they closed the doors last night
Having worked in, and having seen, multi zillion dollar places go down in flames, (bucks burn bestest), a thought betwixt beverages….
A *name* chef, wine person, zillion dollar room, mean squat.
zippo, nada, did i mention squat?
furthurmore, oh crap….
Yes! I see you waving your credit card(s)!
you wanna pay?
here you go…
fook along now…
anyway, it comes down to service
whoops, time for my smoke break…
Chase D. says
Thank you for adding nothing to the conversation except grammatically inept snide remarks, Meat. It’s odd that you state that it all ‘comes down to service’ – generally, the one consistently positive comments about Lucier throughout this ordeal has been that the service was amazing – warm and attentive without being intrusive (despite Karen Brooks’ ‘hovering’ comment).
If you’ve worked in multi zillion dollar places that have gone down in flames, remind me not to hire you for my staff.
Lucier’s final night is Saturday, I’ve heard. I’ve also heard that they plan on giving the place a major overhaul and will try to reopen in the Spring.
I suspect the Dussins’ line of credit as it relates to Lucier has been cut by their bank and THAT’S why they’re closing so quickly. Why else would they possibly close NOW?
Their entire organization runs quite bizarrely, anyway. While they pinch pennies obsessively in their OSF operations (I’ve heard tales of managers watering down windex, among other things) and whine endlessly about OR not being a tip credit state (and how hard it makes it for them to do business here), they twice annually have new manager orientations at posh hotels in which NO expense is spared. Their corporate offices are hideously, vulgarly 1980’s ostentatious.
Dussin is a bit of a small time Donald Trump. Minus the comeback $$$. And just like Trump has skated close to bankruptcy many times, so I suspect has (or will) Dussin. Lucier failed because it was an absurd, painfully ill-conceived vanity project—that opened in an already weak economy.
And based on some of their labor practices, I most assuredly do NOT think the Dussins are “nice people”.
Cuisine Bonne Femme says
I’ve kept my trap shut in the comments section since I was working to review Lucier for this site, however 2.5 meals into it, (2 meals and a bar visit) I never met the 3 meal mark required by this site. Ah, someday I’ll write about my experiences there.
However, I was always reminded of two things every time I went to Lucier: 1. Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities (yes, zumpie, I concur that Lucier was a vanity project for the Dussins and that is perhaps the downfall of this place) and 2. The tense scene in the Great Gatsby set in the restaurant where Daisy, Gatsby and Tom finally collide. Ah the excess of the 1980s and the 1920s seems so relevant to the recent excesses of the pre-mortgage crises era now.
And finally, I dunno, maybe I’m of the mind that a bit of editing in decor and menu is the sign of true elegance. Coco Chanel once said after getting dressed to always take off at least one piece of jewelry And Escoffier once wrote, “in cuisine like all the arts, simplicity is the sign of perfection.” Lucier seemed to have the opposite problem – Excess. It was like looking at a woman wearing crocodile heels, a fur coat, loads of jewels and gold and a Gucci purse all at once. Just too much. Too many design elements bumping into each other and too many ingredients and over the top preparations in dishes canceling each other out.
Compare this with a couple of top end meals I had in Spain in 2006, and one in France and a lunch I had at the French Laundry as well as a killer meal in NY this summer, and a common theme always emerged – restraint and refinement. In my opinion, that’s what separates the great restaurants from the so-so ones.
I do feel bad for all the hard working employees who, despite all the challenges gave it their best. The Dussin’s and the Chef however? Naw. They had plenty of time to recognize the problems (which were way apparent way before they opened), and mitigate them.
I still think Portland could use, and is ready for a world class worthy destination restaurant. Sadly, Lucier was just not up to par on that level.
Cuisine Bonne Femme says
Sorry, that quote about simplicity should have been attributed to Curnonsky, not Escoffier. You know those dead old French Gastronomes are so hard to keep straight!
CBF: This is the most “on target” comment that I’ve seen on this trail. Restraint is the word!
I’ve had dinner at Gagnaire, Troisgros, Robuchon, Lespinasse, Jean Georges and many others and every time, the perfection in simplicity was what made those meals exquisite.
What surprised me with Lucier was that the designer, Adam Tihany, is really better than that…
Thank you for your comments. They are all that should be said.
Shortly after Lucier opened, I wrote a short piece for the Platter column in the “O”. I’m not sure how much of it was edited out (both for space and to give Lucier a fair shot to get it together), but I wanted to share the key paragraph of the original here, fwiw, since it dovetails in many respects with what Heidi Yorkshire wrote for WW, what Karen Brooks wrote for the O and what CBF just mentioned above:
Like CBF and many others, I stand against provincialism and really wanted (and still want) to see Portland be home to a top-tier place (or several) folks can love–like places I love in other cities I visit. In my view, with Chureau at the helm, that was not to be Lucier’s fate, and I hope any re-launch will avoid the same mistake.
All that aside, my sympathy to the men and women displaced by Lucier’s untimely closure. I wouldn’t pretend to know about the size of the Dussin’s bankroll or what the motivation was to shut down in mid-December, but it’s a lousy deal to give your employees their walking papers right before the holidays. I really hope it was a necessary decision, not one engineered by an ice water-veined bean counter.
“I wanted to share the key paragraph of the original here, fwiw, since it dovetails in many respects with … what Karen Brooks wrote for the O…”
Is “dovetail” another name for plagiarize? I hope your editor pays extra to borrow your ideas, kick them up a notch, and then put her byline on them:
Love is a Fist says
The end of Lucier is drawing to colse and from what I’ve heard is that Che Pascal has not been there for the past Three days. I wonder what’s up? The people I know that work there are a little down about it I mean, he was the reason some of them worked there. just something to think about
Not true. He was there until the end….standing with his crew.
Love is a Fist says
That is not what I heard from the cooks. But I guess you were there with him.
Restraint and simplicity are certainly proven means of elegance and excellence. But several chefs have shown that complexity and at times even excess have their place.
I would be disappointed if we adopted an overly conservative view of what is possible with food.
Lucier may not have been pulling it off, but let’s not hold it against that sort of cuisine in general.
Cuisine Bonne Femme says
Tup, let me explain a bit more. I agree that experimentation and surprising combinations of ingredients along with complex techniques can be absolutely mind blowing when in deft hands. And very few chefs and restaurants worldwide can actually pull this off, but when they do there is still one common thread – editing. Especially when taken all courses of a dinner in consideration as a whole. In this type of cuisine a meal is a well executioned ballet of surprises and a tightwire of tension between being simple and over-the-top, but it is always about balance and knowing when to tone it down, but it never overwhelms or deadens the palate and each dish is simply in harmony both within the dish itself and the meal as a whole. And most dishes might have one complex note or two per dish, but for the most part are actually quite simple.
Sure all of these techniques and flavor combinations have their place, but all jumbled together in dish, after dish? Naw. Even Danko or a restaurant like Daniel have much simpler menus than Lucier’s. That’s the simplicity, elegance and restraint I was referring to. And for me, that’s the difference between an ok expensive restaurant and a genius one. Add in the ability to consistently pull off complex cooking techniques and basically prepare your food correctly and you have one of the few best restaurants in the U.S. (or the world for that matter). Sadly, in my visits to Lucier, the restaurant didn’t even have the basics of serving properly prepared food down. As my mama says, “you need to learn to crawl before you can run.” (I echo Nancy’s experience with the leeks, Foie and lobster dish – it was abysmal, and don’t even get me started on the badly prepared duck that certainly tested my jaw strength when trying to chew it. Those were inexcusable dishes.)
So yes, I agree with you that there is a place for the type of cuisine Lucier aspired to and that when done well it can be wonderful. And I do very much think Portland of all places would be prime (given our access to wonderful ingredients and passionate food scene that is now receiving national attention.) Yet. each and every top end restaurant meal I’ve had the pleasure of dining at (and yes, this includes the temples of gastronomy in NY, Paris and other places) has showed this simplicity and restraint that is their genius, and this is the crucial component that Lucier completely and utterly missed.
I think we diverge in only a very small way, and perhaps one merely of diction. Thanks for adding more. For me, if a dish has many notes or only a few, whether it needs toning down or gearing up, it is the words you’ve chosen “balance” and “harmony” which resonate with me. (No debate that Lucier was often discordant.) When I think of the epicenters of Indian court cuisines, or more current examples like Achatz’ orchestrations, I’ve always marveled at this ability to synchronize so much at once. It’s possible. I will repeat what you said, though: very few chefs can actually pull this off.
The Truth says
I think a true dose of truth is needed…
You cannot take a B class Cook, and turn him into a Chef. It seems everyone who may touch a knife, cutting board or pot in a kitchen is a “Chef”, Everyday i see nurses wearing scrubs working in hospitals but this does not make them a doctor. Why would you build a 4 Million Dollar restaurant and hire a cook to run it? If i were to build a four million dollar restaurant in Portland, OR(first mistake), the very next phone call would be to Alain Ducasse, Joel Robuchon or even Charlie Trotter to get a recommendation or two of an Executive Chef, Chef De Cuisine and or Pastry Chef. There is a wonderful restaurant in New York called “MAS”… Chef Galen Zamarra is beyond amazing, and his future is Bright! With 1 Million Dollars and his brigade we would’ve seen an acceptance of “True Gastronomy”. Imagine for a second i have a pilot whom only experience is flying a crop duster, would i trust him/her with my Gulfstream IV? I think not!
The Truth Baron.
Chef Pascal has over 20 years’ experience and many people like his food, as evidenced by excellent reviews for Fenouil. Lucier did not work in PDX for a number of reasons. But to say that you can’t rely on a local chef to do the deal is an unfortunate opinion.
Unfortunate but true.
#1 Fenouil had major growing pains at first. The North Park Blocks were not as populated, and if not for the Dussins, it probably would have closed. Remember Fenouil had major build out issues etc. Also it did not have “stellar” reviews in the begining.
#2 Truth Baron may be harsh, but he is correct. Any operator opening with a 4 million dollar facilitiy neeeds to invest in a name Chef, for a draw. Bottom line, Pascall may be a nice guy, but he obviously is not enough of a draw.
#3 How do you build a 4 million dollar jooint, and not have enough proper storage? or even a nice wine room/private dining room for 12? WEIRD!!!!!
#4 Not one publication gave Pascal a decent or good review. Can everyone be wrong??? His pastry Chef got good reviews, and they did say the staff tried. But no decent mention of Pascal’s talent. In fact some “questioned” his resume.
#5 Cooking at James Beard is an honor, but the operator pays for the honor. Getting a Beard award is a bigger deal.
#6 Yes it is sad, lots of people tried to make something different work. But the bottom line is even before the Oregonian article, Lucier was averaging 30 covers a night. Bottom line – that would never work.
#7 The blame sits on the Dussin’s and Pascal. They were the ones who had to set the team up for success. THEY DID NOT!
Truth hurts….but if remember the old adage, ” if it is good, they will come.” That’s the bottom line.
WW says this place closed last Saturday.