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José Andrés (1969-) - Spanish-American Restaurateur, Culinary Celebrity, and Humanitarian


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What happens when one of your favorite chefs, whose restaurants you’ve greatly enjoyed in the past, becomes more and more successful? And by successful I mean keeps opening restaurants all over the damn place.

Well, I guess on the one hand you can be happy for that chef’s success and be excited to try all of those restaurants. I mean, there is a chef or two here in New York who have gone on to fame and fortune and I’m pretty happy to be eating in most, if not all, of their establishments.

But what about the other side of the coin, where as your favorite chef opens a new restaurant, one or more of the previously opened ones turns out to be not so good?

Okay, the chef I’m referring to is José Andrés. You probably know José; a great cook whose food I've always admired, wildly popular, got a bunch of TV shows, Spain’s greatest ambassador, etc., etc. He has that great accent. He’s a partner (in Think Food Group) and ostensibly the Big Kahuna Chef of close to a dozen restaurants. He made his bones working in some of Spain’s top kitchens, including that of Ferran Adrià, of…well, you know…that Ferran Adrià. And then when he embarked to the United States, rather than heading for New York City and all of it’s potential fame and glory, he headed for Washington, D. C. - and whatever it is you go there for.

In José's case, it was to open restaurants. Jaleo, Café Atlantico, Zaytinya - all good, if not great restaurants, as a matter of fact. Highly touted restaurants, which gave him and his partners the ability to open more restaurants. These were and are fun, happening places with good food, good times and fairly gentle prices. Then there were more – Oyamel, another location or two of Jaleo, minibar by José Andrés, a restaurant or two in Vegas, one or two in Los Angeles – you get the picture.

Just last weekend, I was excited to try a restaurant of Jose’s that has been open for a while now – Oyamel, in D. C. Even though I’d be warned off by a friend who knows his food, I was curious ( said friend said it sucked, btw). But it’s José's place, after all, so off we went.

Now, to say I was put off a little by being seated in the bar area, even though I had made a reservation weeks earlier, would be putting it mildly. My mood was made (slightly) worse when my protestations fell of deaf ears, as we were told by one of the 3 or 4 hostetts that it would be another hour’s wait to sit somewhere else (like perhaps in the restaurant), and that they didn’t consider our table to be in the bar area, even though, ummm, it was in the fucking bar area.

I don’t know about you, but sitting in the bar area of a popular restaurant on a Friday night isn’t my idea of fun. Because sooner or later someone’s ass is gonna be about an inch from my guacamole, and at $13.50 an order, I prefer my guac sans ass, especially when it’s the ass of some tourist douche from Iowa.

Be that as it may, I guess all would have been forgiven if the food knocked me out; that way I could prove my friend wrong, which is always fun. It didn’t…as a matter of fact, other than a really nice fresh hearts of palm and avocado salad, nothing was that exciting - not even the ass guac (okay, the chips and salsa were fine).

Then it struck me; my last meal at Zaytinya, a place I’ve blogged and raved about in the past, wasn’t that great either. I mean, sure, it was ok and all, but it lacked a certain zing that I recalled from previous meals. These were both meals, that once were finished and we walked outside, I said to Significant Eater: “We don’t have to go there again!”

So perhaps there are two lessons to be learned. One is for José and that is - don’t forget about all your other restaurants when you’re running around the world opening new ones and flogging yourself on TV. And the second is for me and that is, listen to (some of) your knowledgeable food friends – they (sometimes) know of what they speak.

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Anybody who has been to Jaleo (especially the flagship downtown) or Oyamel in the last 5 years could hardly call Jose Andres a great chef. Cafe Atlantico had some good dishes but the menu hadn't changed in a decade. Zatinya is hit or miss except for the service, which is always a miss. America Eats gets mediocre reviews. China Poblano in Vegas is mediocre at best (and I've tried it 3 times -- the Mexican is mediocre, the Chinese is far worse). Jose Andres always has been vastly overrated.

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I'd say you could afford him about as much culinary prowess as Emeril deserves at this point. Can a Doritos endorsement be very long in coming?

Easy potshot to take, but if the cooking at any of the JA joints was hitting the heights that the flagship Emeril's has had under David Slater the last few years this question wouldn't even be being brought up.

As for Oyamel, when I think of it as a place to grab some (admittedly PQ priced) tacos and solid cocktails, it's still better than your average spot near Verizon. I truly do like that bar under those expectations, but I'd imagine the goal is for it to be something other than an upscale spot for a Caps pregame.

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I had two recent meals at Zaytinya. I thought the food was fine both times, especially a cod dish with oranges. The service was only ok - especially for the one lunch, i think we were there for at least two hours (it was a restaurant week lunch, so 3 courses). The biggest disappointment is that the restaurant just looks dated. The chairs and tables are really scratched and worn and the general atmosphere needs something to make you want to be there. Two other recent stops at Jaleo were more disappointing - the menu has not changed. I found the food at Estadio more varied and satisfying. I am (tangentially) in the restaurant business and I understand the desire to keep popular items on the menu, but sometimes you just have to challenge your guests with new dishes and experiences.

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Anybody who has been to Jaleo (especially the flagship downtown) or Oyamel in the last 5 years could hardly call Jose Andres a great chef. Cafe Atlantico had some good dishes but the menu hadn't changed in a decade. Zatinya is hit or miss except for the service, which is always a miss. America Eats gets mediocre reviews. China Poblano in Vegas is mediocre at best (and I've tried it 3 times -- the Mexican is mediocre, the Chinese is far worse). Jose Andres always has been vastly overrated.

Couldn't have said it better myself. Never understood the fascination with this guy. I can understand the food declining when he started building an empire, but I didn't even like the food at Jaleo or Cafe Atlantico in 2004.

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I cut Jose a lot of slack, and not just for the memory of Jaleo 10 years ago with Steve Klc's desserts (outstanding) but for taking a risk in 1993 and opening in a part of town that was - literally - dangerous. Pre-Penn Quarter, pre-Verizon Center, that neighborhood was at night the province of peep shows & hookers, with the occasional syringe or crack pipe crunching underfoot and only the dubious charms of Chinatown to recommend it culinarily.

Rocks predicting the demise in 2004.

ETA: that's not to say that I don't think his restaurants have gone steeply downhill in the last few years.

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but for taking a risk in 1993 and opening in a part of town that was - literally - dangerous. Pre-Penn Quarter, pre-Verizon Center, that neighborhood was at night the province of peep shows & hookers, with the occasional syringe or crack pipe crunching underfoot and only the dubious charms of Chinatown to recommend it culinarily.

Still, you have to admit the place did have character. I sure had a lot of fun in that part of town back in the 1980s. I never really felt unsafe going to d.c. space or the 9:30 Club. I also miss the row of corset and wig stores, but that's just me.

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Was he ever a "great" chef? I pretty much like all of his restaurants, but felt the Minibar was more form that substance, Zatayna overrated and Jaleo -- well, it's tapas.

Innovate, engaging, persuasive...so many good things. But if I was making reservations for a Big Night Out, none of his restaurants would make -- or would have made, even in the day -- the short list.

Maybe (as I think Don suggested a few days ago) a "great" restaurateur, instead,

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Jose Andres always has been vastly overrated.

Not always. When Jaleo first opened it served excellent food, of a kind and in a way that was new to DC. It was groundbreaking. Heather nailed it.

I've written it before on this website, and I'll write it again: it is impossible for any small business to grow while maintaining its level of quality and innovation. The Andres empire isn't the only local example.

I cut Jose a lot of slack, and not just for the memory of Jaleo 10 years ago with Steve Klc's desserts (outstanding) but for taking a risk in 1993 and opening in a part of town that was - literally - dangerous.

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Still, you have to admit the place did have character. I sure had a lot of fun in that part of town back in the 1980s. I never really felt unsafe going to d.c. space or the 9:30 Club. I also miss the row of corset and wig stores, but that's just me.

Nope - I'm there with you. Insect Club, RIP.

So just for discussion, once you start rising up the "chef ladder", your jobs become very different. I don't think anyone believes Jose Andres has forgotten how to handle a knife, but it's kind of not his bag any longer, you know? If we're judging him on the "good/bad", it seems there ought to be a baseline, and comparables.

For a guy who has multiple restaurant concepts in different cities on different levels, what is that baseline?

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Still, you have to admit the place did have character. I sure had a lot of fun in that part of town back in the 1980s. I never really felt unsafe going to d.c. space or the 9:30 Club. I also miss the row of corset and wig stores, but that's just me.

Nope - I'm there with you. Insect Club, RIP.

I spent a lot of time at all those places in the 80's and never felt unsafe, but that was probably because I was 22 and not worth mugging. (I kid, but really...it was a pretty crappy part of town)

Jaleo wasn't a "big night out" kind of place, but it was a style of dining new to DC and a lot of fun with a group on a Friday or Saturday night. It was the reason that I bought several Spanish cookbooks, had tapas parties, and chose Spain as my honeymoon destination in 1998. It was groundbreaking. I will say, though, that with the exception of Minibar (never been, no interest in "molecular" dining) his concepts have been hot rather than haute and I have always thought of him as a restaurateur rather than a "chef."

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It seems to me that he might also deserve a bit of credit for the many folks who have come out of his kitchens/dining rooms and gone on to create their own successful establishments/careers. Names like Todd and Maria Thrasher, Katsuya Fukushima, Mike Isabella, Tom and Christy Przystawik, and Michael Voltaggio, come to mind. Obviously they are all extremely talented in their own right. However, during their time with Think Food Group, they may have picked up a little something from José, either by working closely with him or by being given responsibilities and opportunities to grow.

José is also a devoted and generous supporter of DC Central Kitchen, which earns him lots of gold stars in my book.

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<snip>

I've written it before on this website, and I'll write it again: it is impossible for any small business to grow while maintaining its level of quality and innovation. The Andres empire isn't the only local example.

This is the core issue about which I've written quite a bit also. While it's not "impossible" in my view, it is unlikely. And the reason why is no different from any other retail/cottage industry.

Great chefs aren't necessarily great business managers. These are distinct skills and one does not guarantee the other. If anything, there's more likely an inverse correlation since great skill in a kitchen is about creativity, vision and deep knowledge of food and technique while business leadership relies more about effectiveness with people, process and numbers. Greatness in the kitchen is more an individual contributor kind of thing whereas business leadership requires excellence managing and motivating others. The best professional chefs cook really well. The best business managers get great results through others and with analysis and business knowledge. Some simplification there to be sure. There are exceptions. But this generally holds and explains.

Running a restaurant business (all the moreso with multiple locations) requires that you be able to attract and hire the right staff (very tough), retain those staff and keep them motivated and productive (also very tough), manage cash flow, make smart investment decisions, avoid over-expansion based on sound market analyses and market in a smart and cost effective way to build the business without turning customers off. No small set of skills and none of these have anything to do with dicing, baking, roasting, or operating a sous vide machine.

Combine the above with the other, hugely problematic, element in the mix with any entrepreneur or artist--arrogance--and you have the perfect recipe for the ongoing tsunami of restaurant failures. This isn't unique to restaurants. Someone who is truly great at X will often and tragically assume he/she is great at whatever else. It rarely works that way.

The best chef restauranteurs either stay small, hire great business partners or are the very rare kinds of people with both sets of skills. And, likewise, lots of restaurants go under for the opposite reason: business wonks who don't know their way around a kitchen and try to figure that out on the fly. Unprofitable B&Bs are numerous and great examples of this phenomenon. Know what you're good at. Acknowledge where you're not strong and hire to compensate for the weaknesses/gaps that we all have (or stay small).

I agree that the Jose Andres empire is one that seems as if it isn't so well managed. Food is often mediocre across the locations. And more restaurants are on the way. Sigh.

Why can't more chefs be like Frank Ruta? Or Ashok Bajaj? Sigh. :angry:

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Jaleo has accelerated downhill for many years now. It's on my list of "won't ever voluntarily go back" restaurants. After visiting Estadio, I proclaimed that Jaleo was dead to me. Zaytinya, for some reason, has remained a solid (and excellent) restaurant in my opinion. Good Mediterranean food in a sexy space with friendly & efficient service.

Oyamel is great for a happy hour at the bar, especially when I get to put my ass near other people's guacamole. But that's about it.

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I am not sure why either the title or the focus of this thread are an appropriate response to a meal at a bar at a restaurant that lost its chef--Joe Raffa, not José Andres--several months ago, thanks to a promotion within ThinkFood Group. Joe was great and the food at Oyamel was very good and interesting when he was there. Unlike Rick Bayless, Joe did not start out with an academic's immersion in Mexican culture, but he sure learned a lot out of a desire to offer fresh, regional Mexican cooking. The restaurant just brought in a second replacement very recently (the first left after a very short stint), someone who's got a new baby at home at the same time that he's becoming more familiar w a new kitchen, staff and menu.

**********

I don't dine out very much, but one of the most disappointing, bad meals I ever had in the area was on a special occasion a couple of years ago at a restaurant that receives some of the highest praise of DR.com. I don't doubt the gifts of the man behind the establishment and trust that many others have had wonderful meals there even though I didn't.

More than a little humility is in order in measuring how much one has accomplished in his/her respective fields/communities when deciding to judge the contributions José Andres has made to his. Humanity, too, if you're not an expatriate and these posts are written in your native language.

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The litany of misdirected gripes from pampered palates have little substance and there is not a single example in this thread of any food items that are insipid, poorly executed or which question Mr. Andrés’s capabilities as a chef. Or should Danny Meyer be held directly accountable for any of the marginal meals in his empire and yesterday's athletes/entertainers stripped of their stardom as they retire?

Anyone who expects to be knocked out by a bowl of mashed avocado needs to recalibrate their high-definition expectations to an era before basic cable and boutique 7 layer bacon dips. Mr. Andrés is not responsible for the “ass of some tourist douche from Iowa*” being in his busy establishment, nor the shabby upholstery which is fashionable elsewhere at that price range, and it certainly does not reflect his merits as a chef or owner. Complain to the manager.

While it is easy to goof on Mr. Andrés for sport, 5 restaurants in Penn Quarter that are generally full do more to benefit its employees, the neighborhood and the recognition of DC’s culinary scene (which ultimately raises the city’s second tier profile and brings in $$$) than if the restaurants were soulless franchises or retail spaces with a 10-month shelf life. Consider thanking or congratulating him instead, if not for revitalizing the area and producing chefs, then at least for his charitable deeds and enjoyable television show.

His restaurant group has tremendous purchasing power and is likely better able to compensate its employees and offer approachable prices than the cute fantasy of an independent, spacious, affordable, gourmet downtown eatery where diners are coddled, buffered from the asses of malignant visitors and the chef personally oversees every sprig of farmer’s baby greens at lunch and dinner 7 days a week while paying all the bills in a deflated economy with inflated food costs.

Of the thousands of harmless meals that the restaurant group puts out a week, it is entirely possible that an overwhelming majority of the target diners have just a cursory interest in food and are satisfied to go there for the pleasure or glamour of eating out in a bustling downtown restaurant. Penn Quarter is a port of call for cruise ships, not dainty, butler-serviced schooners and while I chose to eat elsewhere, the José Andrés cornerstones are largely better than the all-consuming liabilities of a steakhouse and hamburger-store landscape.

*For better or worse, Iowa contributes considerably to the nation’s agriculture, so the state’s residents who may be bettering themselves by visiting the nation’s capital or selling La Quercia do not necessarily need to be defamed with José Andrés. Enlightened, tolerant bar guests could give "the ass of some tourist douche" a sportsman’s pat in return for the eggs, pork, corn and grain that probably helped to feed and fuel half the items on the menu.

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More than a little humility is in order in measuring how much one has accomplished in his/her respective fields/communities when deciding to judge the contributions José Andres has made to his.

In my humble opinion, yours is the most intelligent post I've ever read on this forum. And with that, I'm done. Thank you, Anna.

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For the record, I've had some excellent meals at the downtown Jaleo and at Oyamel in the past year. Do they compare to the supposed glories of year's past? I can't say, but I simply enjoyed what I ate for what it was. And even though America Eats has been widely derided, and I have my own demurrals, it is hardly a debacle. How would people react to it under another chef's name?

That said, it seems to me that the questions of Andrés's status as a chef or a restaurateur or even as a "celebri-chef" are perhaps besides the point. Instead Andrés has become, for better or worse, DC's foremost food ambassador. People may despise that idea, yet he fills the role very well in some ways. in spite of glitches at his restaurants, it is clear that his knowledge of food remains formidable, and not just of his native cuisines. He is a both a student and teacher about food. His work with DC Central Kitchen, the National Archives, and elsewhere raise the profiles and reputation of worthy programs in important ways. Yeah, his TV appearances can be obnoxious, and some of his restaurants are looking and tasting a little rough around the edges. There remains much to admire there, even if it has taken some different forms from his initial heyday.

And, I think there are some promising signs about what Andrés 2.0 or 3.0 or whatever will be. There seems to be some real culinary energy in his LA and Las Vegas outposts that could translate back to DC. His planned renovation of Jaleo may help to reinvigorate weaknesses in the kitchen there. The upcoming expansion of Minibar seems promising. And, with some rethinking, America Eats could become an even more interesting concept elsewhere. (Of course, it could all go the other way also.) Yes, I think that his local outposts have suffered somewhat as his star has risen and he has expanded his empire. I have no doubt that, as Rocks says, Bajaj is the superior restaurateur in DC these days. But as others have noted, one shouldn't turn up one's nose at the continued popularity and skill still evident in his restaurants. If DC needs a food ambassador whose last name isn't Obama, we could do a lot worse than Andrés.

(And, being a native rural Iowan, maybe I'm a little resentful of having my home state peers being called "tourist douches." The vegetables I've enjoyed from my brother-in-law's garden have matched anything I've had here, as well as his skill with game fowl or ability to fry local-caught fish. The steaks at Archie's Waeside in LeMars easily give anything from Ray's a run for their money. In short, Iowans know their food in a way that many of the self-proclaimed experts here can only dream about. I'm proud to number myself among the douches.)

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This is an interesting discussion. I've given more thought to the initially posed question and the other points that followed. My initial reaction a few posts north was more about the point made previously by porcupine, myself and others (on this thread and many others) about obvious differences between kitchen/cooking excellence and business management excellence. And about the challenges inherent in scaling a restaurant business while maintaining quality and innovation. I personally think it possible but pretty unusual.

I agree with others that suggest the thread's initial question probably isn't the right one. No reason to think JA isn't as talented in the kitchen now as he ever was. If anything, I'd think him better than ever since most of us learn and improve with time and experience whatever it is we do. I also agree with Tujague that he's quite a good "food ambassador for DC." I base that on all the good he does beyond his kitchens and his public appearances like the one with Adria last month. I don't know JA but he just seems like a really good guy who's had a ton of success here, has amazing skills and knowledge and who genuinely cares about DC and its food scene. I also think JA 2.0 or 3.0 are likely to be interesting and admirable. Same as with Adria, his mentor.

Still, I think it fair and valuable to constructively criticize the quality of food/service in the various outposts as some have done here. Though not directly pertinent to the original question headlining the thread, it does relate to how well the JA empire is managed. As for specifics on what people like or don't like at Oyamel, Jaleo or wherever, well, there are established threads for those places with plenty of views from both sides of the fence.

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The litany of misdirected gripes from pampered palates have little substance and there is not a single example in this thread of any food items that are insipid, poorly executed or which question Mr. Andrés’s capabilities as a chef. Or should Danny Meyer be held directly accountable for any of the marginal meals in his empire and yesterday's athletes/entertainers stripped of their stardom as they retire?

Anyone who expects to be knocked out by a bowl of mashed avocado needs to recalibrate their high-definition expectations to an era before basic cable and boutique 7 layer bacon dips. Mr. Andrés is not responsible for the “ass of some tourist douche from Iowa*” being in his busy establishment, nor the shabby upholstery which is fashionable elsewhere at that price range, and it certainly does not reflect his merits as a chef or owner. Complain to the manager.

While it is easy to goof on Mr. Andrés for sport, 5 restaurants in Penn Quarter that are generally full do more to benefit its employees, the neighborhood and the recognition of DC’s culinary scene (which ultimately raises the city’s second tier profile and brings in $$$) than if the restaurants were soulless franchises or retail spaces with a 10-month shelf life. Consider thanking or congratulating him instead, if not for revitalizing the area and producing chefs, then at least for his charitable deeds and enjoyable television show.

His restaurant group has tremendous purchasing power and is likely better able to compensate its employees and offer approachable prices than the cute fantasy of an independent, spacious, affordable, gourmet downtown eatery where diners are coddled, buffered from the asses of malignant visitors and the chef personally oversees every sprig of farmer’s baby greens at lunch and dinner 7 days a week while paying all the bills in a deflated economy with inflated food costs.

Of the thousands of harmless meals that the restaurant group puts out a week, it is entirely possible that an overwhelming majority of the target diners have just a cursory interest in food and are satisfied to go there for the pleasure or glamour of eating out in a bustling downtown restaurant. Penn Quarter is a port of call for cruise ships, not dainty, butler-serviced schooners and while I chose to eat elsewhere, the José Andrés cornerstones are largely better than the all-consuming liabilities of a steakhouse and hamburger-store landscape.

*For better or worse, Iowa contributes considerably to the nation’s agriculture, so the state’s residents who may be bettering themselves by visiting the nation’s capital or selling La Quercia do not necessarily need to be defamed with José Andrés. Enlightened, tolerant bar guests could give "the ass of some tourist douche" a sportsman’s pat in return for the eggs, pork, corn and grain that probably helped to feed and fuel half the items on the menu.

I have a glass of champagne for you at CityZen

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(And, being a native rural Iowan, maybe I'm a little resentful of having my home state peers being called "tourist douches." The vegetables I've enjoyed from my brother-in-law's garden have matched anything I've had here, as well as his skill with game fowl or ability to fry local-caught fish. The steaks at Archie's Waeside in LeMars easily give anything from Ray's a run for their money. In short, Iowans know their food in a way that many of the self-proclaimed experts here can only dream about. I'm proud to number myself among the douches.)

and I have a glass of champagne for you as well

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A. Since the tourist line seems to make a lot of people unhappy, let's change it to "tourist douche from New York." I'm far less sensitive and we have some good "eggs, pork, corn and grain" too, though I won't be giving anyone a "sportsman's pat" on the ass; that's illegal, at least where I'm from.

B. I don't know how my post evolved to a point where it appears as if I wrote that I don't appreciate the things that José does outside of the kitchen. His charitable work, his employment of numerous people, his introduction to a style of cuisine many were unfamiliar with, his revitalization of Penn Quarter...all good. And of his cooking, I said "a great cook whose food I've always admired."

C. The comparison with Danny Meyer is, to me, comparing apples with oranges. José is/was first and foremost, a cook and a chef. I'm sure if you asked him, that's what he would tell you. Danny Meyer was never a cook, much less a chef. He's a restaurateur. And you can be damn sure that if I have a bad meal or a bad experience at one of his restaurants, especially one where I expect more, I'd have no problem writing directly to him. As a matter of fact, when Maialino first opened, and the bartender had no clue what an apéritif called an Americano was, I wrote about that on eGullet (to be fair, many bartenders don't). A day or two later, all the bartenders knew what it was, and servers were offering it as a special drink.

D. I wrote my post, and about José in general, because our overall experience at Oyamel was not what I expect from a chef or from a restaurant group of this caliber. I didn't get specific about much of the food, because, to be frank, I didn't remember many of the dishes. I did say that our salad of fresh hearts of palm was very good. But my chicken mole was composed of overcooked chicken, and lacked the complexity I look for in a mole. It's a dish that's the sum of its parts, not chicken with some mole on the plate. I also disagree that a guacamole (all ass kidding aside) is simply a bowl of "mashed avocado;" maybe Poivrot Farci thinks that's what it is, but I'm sure Bayless would have something to say about that. Diana Kennedy, too.

E. All that being said, perhaps a lesson for budding entrepreneurs can be learned here. I received an email from the general manager of Oyamel, the day after I posted my blog about our experience. Rather than excoriate me for what I wrote, he was a little more professional...

I am very sorry for your experience and want to apologize from the entire team that we did not live up your expectations.

Further, about being seated in the bar area...

We try to reserve the dining areas adjacent to the bar for "walk in" guests only during the course of any evening. Unfortunately our plan did not work as well as it should of the evening you dined with us but I would like to ensure you this is an exception and not the norm.

And finally, he not only offered us a return visit, he thanked me...

Thank you again for your feedback, it is guests like you who help us grow and improve every day.

Seems like a very professional way to handle my observations, instead of taking it personally or blaming the messenger, don't you think?

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Chef Andres is, IMO, one of the world's great culinary geniuses, and we are extraordinarily lucky that he chose to make his home in DC. He is a GREAT chef and he and his partner, Rob Wilder, are GREAT restaurateurs. Anyone who thinks otherwise is seriously misguided. Bitching about a bad dish or mediocre meal is fine - everyone is entitled to his or her opinion - if you don't like it, don't go. But after a mediocre lunch at DB Bistro in NYC last month I did not conclude conclude that Daniel Boulud was not a great chef and restaurateur - because I am certain he is both.

As for Chef Andres' talent as a chef, I have been fortunate enough to have him cook for me in his restaurants, in my kitchen (a DC Central Kitchen auction item), and in his kitchen. And the food - and I mean every single dish - was always creative, beautiful, and flat out spectacular. Those of you who saw Chef Andres crush Bobby Flay on Iron Chef a few years back, laughing his way through the episode while Chef Flay was sweating bullets, saw a glimpse of what this man can do in the kitchen. And please don't tell me it was all Ruben Garcia - Chef Garcia is a wonderful talent, but Chef Andres is and was responsible for that culinary thrashing. It is easy and somewhat vogue to engage in bashing celebrity chefs who have opened lots of restaurants - to suggest that they are somehow no longer great chefs. But I will gladly have Wolfgang Puck, Daniel Boulud, Jean-Georges Vongerichten or Jose Andres cook for me - anytime, anywhere.

As for him being a great restaurateur, reflect for a moment on the unparalleled contribution Chef Andres has made to the way we eat. He is more responsible than anyone in the country for the way a significant number of Americans enjoy dining in restaurants these days - grazing on, and sharing, an assortment of small plates rather than the appetizer, entree, dessert routine of old. He is a risk taker, an innovator, and a marketing powerhouse. Moreover, there is no other chef in this country, French, italian, Asian, who dominates his native country's cuisine in the way Chef Andres dominates Spanish cuisine. And other than Abe Pollin, I don't think anyone can take more credit for the the revitalization of the PQ than Chef Andres (and Rob Wilder). The trailblazing Jaleo, a high risk proposition in so many ways, was and is a great restaurant. It was an inspiration to Chef Karoum and me in opening Estadio and for Estadio to even be compared to this seminal restaurant is a huge honor. Zaytinya was also a groundbreaking restaurant when it opened, unique and forward thinking on a national level. And serving delicious and accessible food that was entirely foreign to Chef Andres. It was and is to this day, through numerous changes in the kitchen, an outstanding restaurant and a place I recommend to out of towners without hesitation. I could go on, and on, and on.

When we opened Estadio, we told Chef Andres about it before going to the press. He got teary eyed and told us he would do everything possible to help us. This was not lip service - he personally spent hours helping us organize our R&D trip to Spain, provided contacts for us in various cities, and he and Ruben personally toured us around Barcelona when we were there. And we were opening what some would perceive as a competing restaurant! His tireless efforts for the DC Central Kitchen and MANY other worthy causes is, alone, worthy of accolade - but it is the frosting on an enormous body of culinary achievement that DC has never seen the likes of, and likely never will again.

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When we opened Estadio, we told Chef Andres about it before going to the press. He got teary eyed and told us he would do everything possible to help us. This was not lip service - he personally spent hours helping us organize our R&D trip to Spain, provided contacts for us in various cities, and he and Ruben personally toured us around Barcelona when we were there. And we were opening what some would perceive as a competing restaurant! His tireless efforts for the DC Central Kitchen and MANY other worthy causes is, alone, worthy of accolade - but it is the frosting on an enormous body of culinary achievement that DC has never seen the likes of, and likely never will again.

hmmboy, one of the most honest, respectful posts I have read on this or any board. Thank you for sharing.

ad.mich: we had three dinners at Emeril's on Tschoupitoulas (sp?) in the mid '90's with Emeril behind the counter of the food bar for two of them. This was before he had his first appearance on the Food Network. I still remember him leaving the restaurant on our second visit around 11:00 at night absolutely exhausted. He told us that he had been there since 8, did this six days a week and we believed him. The man worked his heart out.

Whatever he has accomplished (and that is a LOT) he has paid some serious dues for. Your comment about Emeril's rings especially true since two weeks ago we walked by the original, having passed it over for Cochon. Regardless of my opinion of Cochon, the original Emeril's (with a mob on the other side of the window) brought back a great many memories. I waited two months for a reservation-then. We should have found a way to revisit it.

My guess is that Jose has paid similar dues to Emeril. He has also worked his own heart out. Passionate, expressive but giving everything. While I may bitch about getting a reservation at Minibar at least we have a Minibar. The original. Washington, D. C. benefits for his success. Not Los Angeles, not Las Vegas, but D. C. And, I love hmmboy's Estadio which I think is a Great restaurant. But there would be no Estadio without Jose.

Again, a wonderful, expressive and appreciative post and an absolute pleasure to read.

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You can't be serious with that name???? Is this his business partner ?!?

guyfieri-web.jpg

JuneBacon, your post from a year ago is funnier now (to me, anyway), post-Wells review. I had *no* idea who this "guy" was when you posted the picture in 2011.

I just got followed by @NoWayJoseAndres, the general concept of which made me chuckle. Most recent tweet: "People of Haiti! Your shrimps are as plump and supple as your spritely prostitutas. #StayClassy"

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I haven't read this whole thread, but I went to the downtown Jaleo for lunch last week and everything was really good. It was a Friday afternoon and even at 1:30 the restaurant was probably 75-80 percent full. We went through 8 dishes, some classics like the bacon/dates and patatas bravas. Some regulars that had been reworked like the chorizo and potato puree. And some new(ish) like the imported cured chorizo. Honestly, not a bad dish in the bunch.

I would agree that his various DC restaurants have their seasons when they have been up and down (Our last visit to Oyamel, which I've always considered the weakest of the bunch was mediocre). But on the whole, Jose and his team's ability to consistently put out good, and often very good food, year after year, slammed night after slammed night is impressive.

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José was likely one of the more tolerant and charitable millionaire attendees of the Alfalfa convention (faulty AC and killing sneaking Communists in the jungle notwithstanding, José Andrés has sweat buckets of equity & integrity, much of the recent batch being benevolent) and that absolutely should entitle him to crash a fat cat after-party where members’ ideology would otherwise banish half the people picking, packing, shipping, cooking, clearing and cleaning up the $25 veg plate. Makes the smooth handed elite look a smidge less soulless when they rub shoulders with a Cava drinking working class hero speaking broken English from another land burdened by 17% unemployment.

While most flaunting opulent wealth suffer from selective social autism -unable to apply fundamental courtesy when interacting with the great unwashed- José always said hello and shook hands when he came into the kitchen (Palena). I have heard stories of vacillating temperament but his presence alone at the latenight Alfalfa dénouement mixer would withhold my raging desire to spike their douchey punch bowl with laxatives, crop dust Jarvanka and sprinkle clumsily cut pubic hairs on the passed hors d’oeuvres.

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A few thoughts, comments, about Chef Andres.

Jaleo opened in 1993!  That is 25 years ago!  Chef Andres now has 4 or 5 restaurants in DC within blocks of each other.  I have eaten in and enjoyed all of them.  On some nights, it is impossible to get into any of them!  So notwithstanding many of the criticisms in this thread, he is doing something right as diners are voting with their pocketbooks.  

Chef Andres redefined dining.  By offering small plates meant to be shared, he changed our mindsets away from appetizer, entrée, dessert. Doing so allowed we the eaters to  try many different dishes in one meal.  Dishes were delivered as prepared, instead of in some predetermined order.   This probably also helped the kitchen and the front of the house by allowing them to deliver whatever they could get out of the kitchen first if, for example, the grill station was backed up.  It probably also shortens the average meal time, allowing him to get more turns.  

Many chefs who try to make the transition from cooking in one restaurant to building an empire fail because they do not have the managerial skills to put in place a system that guarantees quality control.  I can attest that Chef Andres has figured this one out.  Years ago, a dear friend of mine who is a fine dining chef, took a job working with Chef Andres.  Fine dining chefs tinker.  That is what they do.  Chef Andres would not allow him to tinker.  He wanted his customers to be served what they expected.  Neither one is wrong.  Just different.  Chef Andres runs a tight ship, and his efforts are proven by his crowds.  

He runs a well oiled machine that delivers a good product at a fair price.  DC is fortunate to be his home base.

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I just got a message from José, in which he was surprised that I called him a "figurehead."

Here is the post about which he was referring. Unfortunately, that quoted piece of text was something I edited in the original post here, because I didn't like the way it read. Nevertheless, I failed to change the quoted text several months ago.

This is a little embarrassing, but the truth is, I didn't know the real meaning of "figurehead" until about ten minutes ago - I always assumed I was the "figurehead" of donrockwell.com, i.e., the face behind the product. And yes, I thought (and still think) that José is the face behind ThinkFoodGroup. What I didn't know is that the true meaning of "figurehead" has negative connotations, i.e., "a nominal leader without real power."

I always thought José was the figurehead behind ThinkFoodGroup because he is the face of the organization; I did not know that the term meant "a face without any real authority." Given José's undeniable power, only a fool would say he is some sort of "empty suit." 

So I hope everyone understands that, in no way would I assume that José is just some mannequin with no real authority; at this point, he's one of the most powerful culinary figures in the world. I apologize for my misuse of that term, and I'm sorry if José or anyone else (understandably) took it as an insult. Lesson learned, and that's the last time I'll ever use "figurehead" to mean "the public face of the organization."

Earlier this year, I said that José would be credibly considered for a Nobel Peace Prize. I have also written him privately on several occasions, and said I'd be happy to be an expert witness in his defense in the Trump lawsuit, and that I would support any Congressional or Senatorial run of his wholeheartedly. I hope those things are more than sufficient to demonstrate that I was simply ignorant about the true meaning of the word, "figurehead." José, I apologize if I insulted you with that, and I hope you see it was not malicious - I'm going to edit that quoted text to match the original post sometime after people have had a chance to read it.

This is personally frustrating because I pride myself in having an immense vocabulary, but this is one word I've always gotten wrong - and I've used it many times in my life in conversation: Steve Jobs is the figurehead of Apple, Bill Gates is the figurehead of Microsoft, etc.

Cheers,
Rocks

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I know Andres is ramping up his foundation after Houston/Puerto Rico, they have been hiring staff etc.  Frankly, he will do more good through his foundation helping people in need.  Being a member of Congress would be a waste. 

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58 minutes ago, Tweaked said:

I know Andres is ramping up his foundation after Houston/Puerto Rico, they have been hiring staff etc.  Frankly, he will do more good through his foundation helping people in need.  Being a member of Congress would be a waste. 

You're right, it would be a waste - he's more effective outside the confines of the House. Nevertheless, it turns out José was only busting my chops with his original tweet, and I was too mentally numb to even realize it.

 

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