Glitz. Glamour. Grease. These are the three elements essential to a restaurant's success in the horrific environment that is the Meatpacking District. After the jump, we look at three of the more ostentatious examples of fine dining chez MPD.
It seemed like the perfect match of personality and place: Take America's gaudiest chef and put him New York's most obnoxious location. Design a space so garish that it would make a Gotti feel gauche. Bump up prices to beyond what the market would bear, so that the suckers who celebrate the Meatpacking District would feel privileged to pay outrageous sums for Molto Mario's scraps and innards. Del Posto, Batali's latest collaboration with the Bastianich family, would appear to be the epitome of MPD chic. It's almost meta: The assholes are eating assholes, the cocks coxcombs. So what happened? Well, even conspicuous consumption has its limits: If you're going to charge sixty dollars for some rice with a little lobster in it, you need more of a show than just an old Italian woman mixing up zabaglione. Perhaps the greatest service Frank Bruni has done for this city was his refusal to award it the fourth star it so desperately craved: Last time we checked in, downstairs had begun its inevitable transformation into the lounge that it probably should have been in the first place. We don't see Del Posto making it otherwise. Also, valet parking? What is this, Ronkonkoma? It'll be a pleasure to watch this place die.
We've no such schadenfreude for the failure of Craftsteak, Tom Colicchio's latest choose-your-own-dining-adventure offering. Again, it seemed like a good idea at the time: It worked for Vegas' notably unfussy patrons; MPDers couldn't be any less easily lead, right? Sadly, they could. We think the world of Colicchio; on a cold winter night there may be no better place to dine in Manhattan than the front room of Gramercy Tavern. But c'mon, five different grades of beef? $70 T-bones? Expecting the jackasses who come to the District to be able to decide on what sauce goes with what meat? Perhaps most offensive of all is Colicchio's "special" way of preparing the steaks: briefly seared in a pan and then roasted in the oven. As any New Yorker lacking access to an outdoor grill, which is most of us, knows, that's pretty much the only way to cook a steak at home: We're gonna drop two hundred bucks for sixteen ounces of stuff done the same way? Nice try, Tom.
Maybe the most interesting of these three places is Buddakan. So literally bridge-and-tunnel that it comes from Philadelphia, Buddakan was always expected to live in the shadow of its sister restaurant, Morimoto. Surpassing all expectations, Buddakan has proved that what's essentially an Orientalized cafeteria can turn out solid Asian cuisine at prices that, while certainly not bargain-basement, don't require you to refinance your mortgage. While restaurateur Stephen Starr, a man dedicated to proving the point that Pennsylvanian proprietors can be just as dickheaded and arrogant as our own homegrown talent, may have missed the mark with Morimoto, we can't totally hate on Buddakan. If you're in the MPD (which, remember, you shouldn't be) you could definitely do worse. You could do Del Posto or Craftsteak.