Art Star

The brand new Chambers Kitchen headed by Jean-Georges Vongerichten is good—but is it good enough?

What statistics? These: Chef Vongerichten explained to me that the Minneapolis Chambers Kitchen is essentially a restaurant that will create itself, because every week the management will, through the miracle of computers, be able to analyze which dishes sold well—those dishes will be kept, and the outliers dropped. Over time, patterns will emerge. If Chambers patrons prefer fancy fish, we'll get more fancy fish. If we prefer more plain steak, we'll get more plain steak. If we order more bargains, we'll have a menu with more bargains. If we stampede toward the luxury items...you get the idea. The early incarnation of the restaurant is, then, nothing but a starting place. So, I knew going in that this restaurant would be an early sketch, but I never anticipated how unsatisfying it would be to eat in such a sketch. Then, there's the issue of whether the experiment gets poisoned because the very people who would be your regulars never are, since they came early and ran off to the next big thing, telling everyone they know as they went: Is that all there is?

Minnesota is, as we all know, a uniquely challenging place to newcomers. Natives keep their cards close to the vest and are cheerful, watchful, but often make very elaborate judgments behind that poker face masked with a polite, nothing-going-on-in-here smile. If you start to hang yourself, Minnesotans will often just let you, and not say anything, as they don't want to embarrass you and/or be wrong themselves. On my first visits to Chambers Kitchen the house was packed, but on my last they finally debuted their tasting menu ($65 or $75 for six or seven courses, available nightly) and the joint was empty as a corncrib in July. I enjoyed hearing myself talk (no kidding, right?), but was also put in mind of dear doomed Aquavit, consigned to a slow death with locals telling them: "Oh, you're wonderful!" and then avoiding the place like it was on fire. Will Minnesota be to New York restaurateurs what the Russian front was to would-be European conquerors? Will we kill all comers with rapier judgments concealed behind you-betcha smiles? Time will tell, but in the meantime I offer this to our new friends: I've been here for more than 10 years now, and while there certainly are some dullards and dopes around the place, in general, if you underestimate Minnesotans they will eat you for dinner, and not leave a tip.

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