Let's All Pray For the End of Bourgeois Dining Experience
It was a time of celebration for the Plotnicki family as my twin sons turned 21 a week ago Sunday. To note the occasion, I booked a table at the Louis XV in Monte Carlo. I hadn't been at the restaurant since the late 1980's, and I have to say I wasn't that impressed by that meal. But since then, numerous people that I know have told me that they think it's the best restaurant in the world -- in fact in the OA survey, many people included that claim in their comments. So returning has been on my agenda for some time, and given that both of my sons spent their spring semester at university in London, we organized a family trip in Europe (family vacations are so hard to come by once your children get older) to celebrate this special occasion.
First of all I can say that we all enjoyed our meal. Sure we had various complaints that ranged from the style of the cuisine to the necessity of dining at that level of formality. But unlike other posts on this blog, I'm not really interested in talking about food in this post. I would like to concentrate on something I hardly ever discuss on these forums which is cost. In a word, the cost of a meal at the Louis XV can only be described one way. Outrageous. Sure, I know that I could have availed myself of the lunch menu which is a bargain compared to what they charge at dinner, but this was a birthday celebration that was to be followed by a trip to the casino (one of the privilages you gain when you turn 21) for the occasion so dinner was more appropriate.
Mrs P and I started our meal by splitting the Cocotte de Lugumes which were described as "fresh vegetables from the daily market in Nice." The dish, if I recall correctly, cost 104 Euros. What was served was a cast iron pot that contained a thin layer of vegetables in a reduced vegetable broth. Tasty yes but, could the actual ingredients in the pot cost more than a few dollars? In fact I believe I had the exact same ingredients at Mirazur for dinner on Thursday night where, and this is hard to believe, the cost of a nine course tasting menu was less than the cost of this single dish at Louis XV! And the outrageous cost at Louis XV didn't stop there as the gamberoni dish that Mrs P and I split (4 specimens and some clams, supions, vegetables in a lemon sauce) cost a whopping 121 Euros.
As I was eating my veggies, I was looking around the room and I tried to figure out the motivation for paying these types of prices for food. Sad to say I couldn't really find any. Sure the room was dripping with all of the indicia of luxury. And while I'm the first guy to enjoy a luxurious dining experience, it's more than a little ridiculous when the cost of luxury adds 80%-90%, or even more, to the cost of the food. No wonder that in order for this style of dining to continue to exist it needs to be subsidized by hotel chains, in this instance, by the Principality of Monaco who feel they need to have a Michelin 3 star restaurant within their borders, but restaurants like Le Cinq and Le Meurice in Paris, just to name two of them, are in the same boat. They simply wouldn't exist, nor would the chefs who man their kitchens cook in their current style, if they had to operate restaurants that were self sufficient and depended on a purely gastronomic audience.
At the heart of the development of any aesthetic is the notion of progress -- the concept that the techniques and materials that artisans use to craft their art are always progressing. But in France, because working capital has been disproportionately allocated into supporting restaurants that are intended to act as loss leaders for hotels or casinos, the evolution of culinary technique has been interrupted, and as a result. one can count the number of important French chefs that first appeared on the scene over the last 10 years on a single hand.
In my perfect world, restaurants like the Louis XV would cease to exist (in fact I would consider asking Monsieur Ducasse to close all of his restaurants and take early retirement to Moustiers as his business strategy probably causes more problems for young chefs than any other chef in the world,) so that the delicious ingredients the restaurant sources could be redistributed amongst up and coming chefs, who run restaurants where the ratio of food to non-food costs is more reasonable, ultimately making them available to a broader group of diners. Then, because of the increased competition for diners among young chefs, young chefs would be motivated to create new ideas and French cuisine would become revitalized as a result. I know it's just a dream but ....