Published: Saturday 14 April 2012
“Farewell to those overcooked paragraphs of fine restaurant writing that became the hottest reading in The New York Times.”

As two high-profile U.S. restaurants close and food critics take a step back, is this the end an era?

This has been a bad year for grand restaurants in the three- to four-star range, and the clang of their closing doors raises the question — is the whole gastro frenzy that stirred into life in the mid-1970s finally lurching towards closure? Goodbye Iron Chefs, sayonara, and "molecular gastronomy" in the style of Ferran Adria. Farewell to those overcooked paragraphs of fine restaurant writing that became the hottest reading in The New York Times.

On March 7, the high society eatery La Cote Basque (actually used as a chapter heading in Truman Capote's "Answered Prayers") closed its doors. This last Wednesday, The New York Times mourned at length the Chicago restaurant Charlie Trotter's, slated for extinction in August. According to the Times, Trotter's "had a huge and lasting impact on Chicago's culinary landscape, if not the nation's."

OK, a couple of big-time restaurants bite the dust in the Great Recession. So??For several years, one of The New York Times' most avidly read writers was Sam Sifton. Sifton approached his job con amore, not from him any cavils about price. His prose had the confident lilt of a man writing for Wall Streeters for whom a couple of thousand dollars dropped on a dinner for four was absolutely no problem and indeed, almost an emblem of parsimony.

In early October last year, he published an emotional eulogy to Per Se, "the best restaurant in New York City."

"Per Se's signature starter course is Oysters and Pearls," wrote Sifton. "It combines a sabayon of pearl tapioca with Island Creek oysters (small, marble-shaped, from Duxbury, south of Boston, fantastic) and a ...

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