Pete Wells Rates Villard Michel Richard ‘Fair’

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“The strangest thing about my dinner at Central was the fried chicken. It looked like the one at Villard, but it was terrific,” says Pete Wells.

This week, The New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells reviews Villard Michel Richard in Midtown, calling it "awful" after the first time eating there, but after two more visits, the latter focusing on the à la carte menu served in the bistro instead of the tastings served in the Gallery, he gives it a “fair” rating.

“This seemed like a connect-the-dots conclusion. It’s a restaurant. It’s in a hotel, the New York Palace. And it was awful,” he says. “That didn’t make any sense, though. Born in Brittany but a star in the United States, trained in pastry but adept in every corner of the kitchen, Michel Richard has been one of the most respected chefs in this country since the 1980s. Settling in Washington, he gave the city a restaurant, Citronelle, that earned national fame. Michel Richard was serious. He would not have come to New York last fall to open an awful hotel restaurant.”

Complimenting the restaurant’s interior and general setting, Wells says, “The Stanford White interiors look better than they have in years, thanks to the attention the design firm Jeffrey Beers International paid to the way light strikes the paintings and fireplaces. White’s giddily opulent Gilded Age rooms can awe out-of-town visitors. Two weeks before Christmas, the restaurant was full of little girls in fancy dresses, most of whom stared, hypnotized, into phones and tablets, although one young rebel held a doll in her lap.”

But thinking back on his previous visits, he insults the fried chicken, comparing it to Novocain: “Think of everything that’s great about fried chicken. Now take it all away. In its place, right between dried-out strands of gray meat and a shell of fried bread crumbs, imagine a gummy white paste about a quarter-inch deep. This unidentifiable paste coats your mouth until you can’t perceive textures or flavors. It is like edible Novocain.”

He then similarly disses the veal cheek blanquette: “…the veal cheeks had the dense, rubbery consistency of overcooked liver. Slithering around the meat was a terrifying sauce the color of jarred turkey gravy mixed with cigar ashes. If soldiers had killed Escoffier’s family in front of him and then forced him to make dinner, this is what he would have cooked.”

However, on another occasion dining in Central Michel Richard in Washington, D.C., Wells finds that though the dishes may look the same as those at Midtown’s location, their taste is much more superior. “The strangest thing about my dinner at Central was the fried chicken. It looked like the one at Villard, but it was terrific. The difference between them was like the difference between winning a medal for figure skating and falling through the ice.”

All the while throughout the review, Wells mulls over the question of why the Midtown location doesn’t measure up to D.C.’s location, but never really finds an answer. 

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For Wells' full review, click here.