The New York Times’ Pete Wells Returns to the Beekman Hotel
Two months after Pete Wells reviewed Tom Colicchio's Fowler & Wells in the Beekman Hotel and less than a month after his treatise on modern hotel dining, the New York Times reviewer returns to the Financial District hotel and turns his attention to Keith McNally’s Augustine. The French-American restaurant doesn’t fare as well, walking away with only one star as compared with Fowler & Wells’ two.
McNally follows the template that has served him so well at the Odeon, Balthazar, and Pastis. The chefs from Cherche Midi, Shane McBride and Daniel Parilla, even reign over the kitchen again. From food to décor, Augustine plays by the McNally rules.
By unanimous consent, atmosphere is Mr. McNally’s great, almost unrivaled strength. Just as the James Bond movies move from one location to another, all of which feel exactly like Bond movie locations, Mr. McNally’s dining rooms are all different and yet somehow the same. He excels at building rooms that evoke vintage Paris — not exactly the real Paris, but the city the way you remember it a year after taking a vacation there.
This atmosphere and the food, though not authentic French, are careful recreations of the template that has served McNally so well. Wells identifies the precept that has held true through all of McNally’s offerings:
… the McNally Doctrine: Restaurants don’t need to do new things if they do the old things right.
Where the restaurant seems to lose steam, in the eyes of the reviewer, is in the new dishes. Variations are not quite there yet.
When invention does rear its head, the results are not always spectacular. What dark urge led the chefs to foie gras Augustine, thin slices of foie gras terrine scattered with chopped green beans and artichokes barigoule? And is there a way to get it de-Augustined?
In the end, Wells reaches the same conclusion as the casual diner:
If anybody points out an imperfection, you can say, “Look, it’s just dinner.” This is not the worst philosophy for a restaurant.