Is Danny Meyer on his third strike in BPC?

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January 17, 2015- By Steven E. Greer, MD

We recently learned that the influential food critic for The New York Times, Pete Wells, visited Danny Meyer’s North End Grill at least two times late last year to try out the new Chef Korsh’s entrees. However, he has since declined to publish a review of the restaurant, instead, writing about many other restaurants.

Coincidentally, Mr. Danny Meyer himself made a rare appearance at North End Grill dining with a group right as Pete Wells was there to review the restaurant. Most restaurant people know when Mr. Wells is in the house, but they are supposed to pretend to not know him. Did Mr. Meyer’s ambush spook Mr. Wells, or was the new menu by Chef Korsh just unimpressive?

Around the corner is Danny’s latest incarnation of Blue Smoke, now on it’s third chef. This newest attempt to redefine it has Chef Jean-Paul Bourgeois de-emphasizing the barbecue, bringing in New Orleans Cajun dishes, and overhauling items that did not need to be changed. For examples, they eliminated the French fries and replaced them with potato wedges and mayonnaise. They eliminated the corn bread cubes and replaced it with Madeleine-shaped corn fritters to be dunked in some pretentious sugary sauce. The new fried chicken is not as good as the old version, and most importantly, the prices have gone up considerably.

BatteryPark.TV conducted a survey of the community, and most people had very negative things to say about Blue Smoke:

Better healthy options but fried chicken not great and prices top high. Last time service was indifferent. I’d rather go to El Vez. Also not a big BBQ fan in general.”

“not good the tomato stuff with steak is not good its a BBQ place -serve baked potatoes and some good vegetables its too frou frou or trying to be if you pay that much for a steak you want to be full the weird vegetables not cutting it”

“We used to LOVE Blue Smoke…. Now it’s almost indistinguishable from a lot of other generic American restaurants. We are deeply disappointed, miss our old favorite spot, and sadly won’t be going back anymore as long as the new menu stays.”

We then started a survey of opinions on the new North End Grill, and the feedback was also underwhelming in support of the changes. Some of the comments were:

We go there a few times a month and eat the bar menu, not in the restaurant. It has the best atmosphere of any place in BPC. The food is too expensive.”

“If I want a fine restaurant, I go uptown.”

“the burger isn’t any good anymore – they changed it”

“Seems over staffed for the level of service received”

“I don’t think they should be allowed to have the outside bar”

“We do need a nice breakfast place with normal prices

When Blue Smoke and North End Grill opened three years ago, the dining rooms were packed for two services each night. Now, anyone walking by can see inside that the rooms are often only half full. What went wrong?

Plaguing Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group is a lack of leadership from Danny Meyer that has allowed chefs to run amok. When Mr. Meyer sold 40% of his company to private equity, and will soon turn Shake Shack into a public company, he began to delegate the day-to-day management of the restaurants to newly hired executives, such as Chief Restaurant Officer Sabato Sagaria.

Well, those staff are not getting the job done, even failing to execute a simple change in the French fries at Shake Shack. At Marta, the new pizza hut in Midtown opened by Mr. Meyer, so many employees called off one night that a bartender had to be repurposed to serve tables. The signature Union Square hospitality was lacking when we dined there.

In this vacuum of leadership, the huge egos of the “chefs” working for the “prestigious” Danny Meyer have all started to focus more on impressing the media and critics than the customers. Hoping to be the next Tom Colicchio or Daniel Humm, they have gone down the rabbit hole, and no one in management seems willing to take the blame for interfering with the “creative process” of the chefs.

The new Blue Smoke menu is a classic example of a New York chef losing touch with what the patrons want as he strives for culinary recognition. French fries are too common for Chef Jean-Paul Bourgeois. Oh no, those will not do. Instead, he must have potato wedges. And don’t forget that he uses special “Steen’s Cane Syrup”.

One time at Blue Smoke, a rogue junior cook, unsupervised, decided on her own to serve pigs head. A friend of the chef ordered it, disgusting the entire bar of diners as a large half-head-of-pig sat on the counter.

At Marta, normal pizza crust is too mundane for them. They must have the world’s thinnest crust. In other words, they serve crackers topped with a sprinkling of cheese and toppings.

If the new North End Grill continues to struggle, it will be “strike three” for Danny Meyer in Battery Park City. The first chef, Floyd Cardoz, did not work out (and prior to that, his Tabla restaurant closed down. But he was praised by Bravo TV’s Top Chef Masters).

When the New York Times came visiting again, they clearly did not rush out to write a review. Perhaps it was Chef Korsh’s menu that includes pigs feet, Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Malfatti (whatever that is), and annoying whole “chicken for two” for $50 (but it is free range chicken, don’t you know?). For New Year’s Eve, the sad souls who chose to spend that special evening in the hands of Chef Korsh were served raw scallops and raw salmon as the first two courses. Yummy.

Mr. Meyer claims to be a baseball fan. To put it in those terms, he might have already committed his third strike, and he just does not realize it yet. When the better options for fine dining open inside Brookfield Place, his revenue could evaporate.

Or, perhaps we do not give Danny Meyer enough credit. Maybe he has foreseen this demise for years, and that is precisely why he cashed out.

If Danny Meyer has indeed checked out, so to speak, and is no longer enthused about running restaurants, then he should sell his North End Grill and Blue Smoke spaces to restaurateurs who do care. There are 13,000 people who above-average incomes in Battery Park desperately desiring some good local options for dining.

(Are you listening, Timur Galen of Goldman Sachs?)

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