When a prominent critic slams your restaurant, how do you recover? Last August, New York Times restaurant reviewer Sam Sifton wrote that the food at Plein Sud in Tribeca was "lacking in flavor, texture, temperature or interest: room-service fare that leads to increased loneliness, raiding of the minibar, sleepless hours staring at the television in blue light, thinking about home."
Ouch. For an establishment that had opened a few months before the review was published, it was an ominous sign. The NYC restaurant industry is notoriously brutal, with even well-received eateries shuttering with little notice. So how did Plein Sud owner Frederick Lesort respond to the article?
"We took it very badly—everyone was disappointed, and I'm sure the review had financial consequences because it made people decide not to try the restaurant," says Lesort, who believes that Plein Sud chef Ed Cotton's appearances on Top Chef at the time unfairly influenced critics. "I think people expected something a little more complex when our intention was simply to be a bistro. We didn't want to be the new Daniel or Jean Georges. But we had no choice but to try to move forward."
Which meant digesting Sifton's points and making changes. "We looked at the menu and made adjustments and simplified things," says Lesort. "Our goal is to make sure every single person is happy and receives the best service. Yes, it would have been nice to have a good review in the New York Times or The Village Voice, but the reviews on OpenTable are what I look at because ultimately who I want to please is the everyday client who takes the time to come and spend money in our restaurant." (Lesort filed for personal bankruptcy in March, but says the filing "is personal and separate from Plein Sud and my other concepts.")
As for how the restaurant is faring today, "business is actually much better," says Lesort, who recently celebrated Plein Sud's one-year anniversary with a party at the bistro. "We had a very good end of 2010 and we're growing and seeing improvements on a monthly basis. We're optimistic that this will be a great business down the road. This is exciting and it's fun and we've now long forgotten the review."