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When Fine-Dining Chefs Go Fast Casual

From the Editor: Everyone wants to be the next Shake Shack

Bryan’s sandwich, with salmon, old bay seasoning, soy-dijon on sesame seed potato roll from STRFSH

This post originally appeared on November 4, 2017, in Amanda Kludt’s newsletter “From the Editor,” a roundup of the most vital news and stories in the food world each week. Read the archives and subscribe now.

This week Michael and Bryan Voltaggio, the brothers who made a name for themselves on Top Chef and then opened fine-dining restaurants in California (Michael) and Maryland (Bryan), opened a fast-casual fish sandwich spot in Santa Monica called STRFSH. I think it stands for Stir Fresh. Or Street Fashion. Who even knows? (Yes, I know it’s short for “starfish.”)

Meanwhile, on America’s opposite coast, Mark Ladner, a maddeningly talented chef who helmed the kitchen at (insert all of the accolades) Del Posto and, before that, Lupa, opened his long-anticipated fast-casual pasta spot Pasta Flyer.

In the same week, our critic Ryan Sutton offered his tepid assessment of Martina, the fast-casual spinoff of Danny Meyer’s and Nick Anderer’s sit-down pizzeria Marta. Sutton felt similarly about Made Nice, a fast-casualized version of upscale restaurant The Nomad.

Dave Chang will open his sixth Fuku this fall. Michael Solomonov’s falafel shop goes from one to three locations soon.

I get it. These one-time fine-dining chefs want to feed the masses. They want to stay alive in the great culling that’s to come. They want to be the next Shake Shack or Sweetgreen and make real dollars and attract investors. And adding a cheap option to a larger restaurant portfolio is nothing new.

But as a restaurant obsessive — someone who follows the careers and talents of great chefs the way others follow film or pop stars — I can’t help but feel a little disappointed when such stratospheric culinary talents focus their energies on ideas built for a modern-day food court.

The dining room of Le Bar de Joël Robuchon
Photo by Alex Staniloff

Opening of the Week: L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon

Who is behind it?: Joël Robuchon, a Very Big Deal Chef with restaurants around the world.

What is it?: The newest location of the fanciest chain in the world, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. It serves a nine-course tasting menu for just under $300 including tip, plus the option to order à la carte. 30 seats surround the counter, with a few tables off to the side. Unlike most of the other outposts, this location has Le Bar — a 56-seat restaurant at the front of the space intended to be more casual and lower priced.

Where is it?: Chelsea, New York City.

When did it open?: Wednesday, November 1.

Why should I care?: Robuchon is a pretty big deal. He has the most Michelin stars of any chef in the world. People plan their trips to Vegas around his stints at his restaurant there. And I find it intriguing that he opened his 2006 restaurant in the Four Seasons hotel in Midtown, but his 2017 iteration in the old Colicchio & Sons spot in lower Chelsea. And I’m almost surprised he didn’t join his brosephs in the new high-end mall rising in Hudson Yards.

Also, it tickles me that so many reporters wrote about his 60-pound weight loss, and that he lost said weight by (duh) reducing his intake of butter, oil, and sugar.

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