I’ve never been to Eccolo, the restaurant that replaced Ginger Island on 4th Street in Berkeley. Though it was started by former Chez Panisse sous chef Christopher Lee, but its reviews were always mixed, making some people happy and other furious. With very limited restaurant money, I never was too tempted to take the chance and try it.
I just found out that it recently closed through a very interesting article by Eccolo sous chef Samin Nosrat on the Food section of today’s San Francisco Chronicle (another business that is likely to fail in the near future). Nosrat explains how the business went under – basically, the economy put them in a position of either significantly downgrading their ingredients or significantly increasing their clientele. Despite a series of gimmicks (happy hour, more comfort food, etc.), they were not able to do the latter and they refused to do the former further, so their only choice was to close down. I’m sure that most restaurants nowadays are facing similar issues, and I wonder how many are choosing to downgrade their ingredients to stay alive.
The impact may be particularly bad for “nice” restaurants in the high end of the price scale (i.e. with entrees in the twenties). Even people who can still afford to go out to eat semi-regularly seem to be downgrading their restaurant choices. Indeed, many of the new restaurants that are arising (and yes, new restaurants are still opening in this economy) are pricing their dishes in the teens. The question is whether they can survive on that.
All this said, I’ve always thought that foreign/ethnic cuisines (Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Ethiopian) often offer tastier dishes than Californian restaurants at significantly lower prices (of course, we rather not think much as to the quality of the ingredients they use), so hopefully they’ll do better.
But all in all, I think/hope that the restaurants that will survive are those that offer good food and have consistent good reviews.