Friday, December 21, 2007

Eating the Illadelph: Deciphering Why CityGrange’s Seemingly Imminent Demise Was Almost Unavoidable

In order to answer how and why CityGrange came to begin its, what we can only assume will be, too short existence with one foot already in the grave, we can simply look towards one of Mr. Bruni’s First Impression posts over on Diner’s Journal, where he pretty much explains it perfectly.
Hotel restaurants that don’t have their own entrances on the street — that are tucked inside the hotels they inhabit, accessible only through the lobbies — have it tough.

They’re sometimes far enough from the nearest source of natural light to seem like culinary catacombs of a sort, and they can have the atmosphere of afterthoughts, of add-on’s: mess halls necessary for the feeding of guests, not dining destinations with enough merit and panache to lure discerning locals who are choosing from a whole city’s worth of options.

[CityGrange], the new restaurant in the [Westin] Hotel, is a case in point. You walk a long way from the hotel’s entrance on [17th] Street to reach the restaurant, buried deep inside, and by the time you get to the host station, you’re likely to feel that you’ve passed all of the action, not that you’re joining it.
We took the liberty of replacing “Brasserie 44” with “CityGrange”; “newly renovated Royalton” with “Westin”; and “West 44th” with “17th.” Mr. Bruni was talking about another hotel restaurant entirely. But, honestly, we don’t know if it’s possible for that description to be any more apropos.

It might be unfair, but atmosphere is simply way too important these days to consistently drawing a crowd for a spot like CityGrange to have a fair shot. The writing has been on the walls forevs. Le Bec Fin. The Grill at the Ritz Carlton. Even Stephen Starr is susceptible — look at Washington Square.

Now, it’s not the rule — some interior hotel restaurants can get by on their good looks cuisine (read Lacroix and Fountain). But look at Tavern 17. Compare that with what used to be there (Circles on th Square). The new space is much more open and much more oriented to 17th Street, i.e. potential customers not associated with the hotel.

It’s a shame really, because the concept of CityGrange is good and one that we’d love to love. (Anyone who’s all about supporting local farms and their foods, and thereby preserving open space and conserving natural resources, is someone we’d happily endorse.) But with a space like that, you’re basically starting off with one hand already tied behind your back. And then to under-whelm basically everyone, including several critics, from the onset… that’s just not a formula that’s going to get it done.

If this were Eater, CityGrange would have been DeathWatched, like, yesterday.

Tough break. Especially because those sliders are fucking good.

First Impressions: Brasserie 44 [ Diner’s Journal ]
CityGrange [ Official Site ]
Craig Laban to CityGrange: I Eat Pieces of Shit Like You For Breakfast [ Philadelphia Inquirer ]

[ Photo via Foobooz ]

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