In this hectic, globalist era of international spinoffs and jet-setting superstar chefs, ultra-high-end restaurant outlets seem to be proliferating around town like Pizza Huts. If you don’t believe me, hop in a taxicab to the Four Seasons Hotel and hunker down with the rest of the gratefully murmuring food aesthetes at the new Manhattan location of Joel Robuchon’s haute cuisine dining chain, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. As any McDonald’s addict will tell you, however, franchising has its benefits. Robuchon’s pointy, pocket-size baguettes alone are almost worth a special trip, and once you’ve puzzled your way through the overly complicated menu, you can’t go wrong with “La Langoustine” (a perfectly cooked langoustine, bound in a crunchy, origami-like crust), “L’Oursin” (lobes of uni set in an opulent lobster gelee), or “Les Ravioles,” consisting of moon-shaped ravioli, lightly stuffed with foie gras and floating in a warm chicken broth, like some medicinal potion.
The other high-profile Euro chef to parachute into town this year is that famous London screamer, Gordon Ramsay. But there’s nothing feisty, or confrontational, or all that different, really, about the modestly named Gordon Ramsay at the London, which opened several weeks ago on West 54th Street, in the newly remodeled London Hotel. The dishes I sampled on an early visit (pigeon pot-au-feu, roast chicken with foie gras sauce, black bass with spicy nuggets of chorizo) were confident, smoothly executed, and possibly even ethereal. Still, with its compartmentalized, Jean Georges–style dining rooms (an elite twelve-table space and a larger grill room serving a tapas-style menu) and its icy, haute department-store decor, this restaurant (look for the next Gordon Ramsay outlet in Miami) seems like a lot of the other gourmet franchises in town.
That’s not the case at Masa Takayama’s Masa, where the city’s greatest out-of-town Japanese chef now charges a cool $400 (up from $350) for his truffle-and-foie-gras-filled sushi menu. That other great culinary emigre, Napa Valley’s Thomas Keller, now charges $250 for his carefully articulated nine-course tasting meal next door at Per Se. But if you can live without exotic Keller creations like “Elysian Fields Farm’s Carre D’Agneau,” followed by spoonfuls of “Flowering Quince Sorbet,” then do what I do and take the escalator down to Mr. Keller’s newest Time Warner Center outlet, Bouchon Bakery. Connoisseurs of the genre consider the tuna sandwich (tartine of tuna nicoise, $13.25) to be the best in town. Personally, I’m happy to sit under the giant, glowing Samsung sign at lunchtime and scarf platters of the classic salmon rillettes or the pork-tonnato sandwich (ribbons of pink pork loin, pickled onions, and tuna aioli on toast), followed by a couple of Keller’s addictively creamy, gourmet Nutter Butter cookies for dessert.