Christopher Gross Takes on Chowhound Regular

I can't resist the drama, so I've reposted a current Chowhound thread in case the moderators possibly pull the entires.

In a nutshell, Eric Schaefer -- a local foodie who goes by ejs1492 on Chowhound, and whose blog, Eric Eats Out, is one of my faves -- has been accused by chef Christopher Gross of doing something unethical by posting a negative review of Christopher's restaurant at the Biltmore. Apparently Gross thinks Schaefer was out of line in mentioning NOCA in his review (posted back in August) just because Schaefer has a Facebook "Fans of Restaurant NOCA" page.

I'm surprised that a prominent local chef would get mixed up in something like this. You have to read 3/4 of the way through before you'll get to Gross's comments and Schaefer's response, but read on:

Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge

We tried it last night and I must say that both my wife and I were exceptionally disappointed. I was a big fan of Chistopher's Bistro back in the day, as well as Christopher's, the "fine dining component" before he moved to the Biltmore Fashion Park. Maybe there wasn't as much competition back then, other than Vincent's, Mary Elaine's and L'Orangerie much earlier.

We arrived and walked up to the hostess stand where we stood for 5 minutes before we were greeted. Christopher even walked right past us and said "hi" but never asked why we were standing there or if we needed to be seated. Once we were finally seated - in a great booth in a beautiful room (they sunk a ton of money into this place) we were asked if we wanted bottled or tap water. When we said bottled, our server said "that's good because the tap isn't filtered." Huh?

This isn't a thorough review, but here is quick rundown on what we ordered:

Course One:
Torchon de Foie Gras - described as "fair" by my wife, a foie gras connoisseur. Not nearly in the same league as that at NOCA, Binkley's, or Cafe Bink. And a very small portion.

Escargot en Croute - Excellent. HUGE and flavorful snails, great garlic butter, delicious pastry over the top. This was my favorite part of whole meal.

Course Two:
Seafood Platter consisting of 1/2 lobster tail, 4-6 large shrimp, several king crab legs, several oysters (we were never told where they came from), several cooked mussels, and two sauces....one was choppotle and one was a garlicky butter. We had to ask what they were, and they were then described to us incorrectly. No cocktail sauce and we had to ask for horseradish, which wasn't the "atomic" type that I prefer....this was straight from a jar. The crab legs were the highlight...everything else was rather forgettable.

Main Courses:
Truffle Infused Filet Mignon for my wife - no trace of truffle whatsoever. A good filet, but nothing to write home about.

Lamb Chops for me - quite good, but not better than what I could find at many other restaurants in town including Mastro's, Zinc Bistro, or Eddie V's.

Sides: Spinach - simple preparation of very fresh wilted spinach and Truffled Fries - nowhere even close to the truffled duck fat fries at Bourbon Steak.

Dessert: Chocolate Tower, his signature dessert. Quite good, very sweet, but not as "cool" as it was back in 1991!

All in all, I wonder if the Phoenix culinary scene has left Christopher Gross in the dust. No question that he has talent, but I'm wondering if he just hasn't kept up. Vincent, who has been around just as long (longer?), has stood the test of time but Christopher's just seemed so predictable and average....as if it was GREAT 15 years ago but just "so so" today. For that "type" or cuisine I much prefer Zinc Bistro, or a host of others.

Futhermore, they didn't get the service details right. Other than the episode when were had to wait to be seated and the weird comment about the water, the servers repeatedly brought my wife and I eacother's entrees, and the wrong appetizers. Sauces were described incorrectly. Iced tea was not refilled. Food was set down on our table even though I had gotten up to use the restroom. (Speaking of restrooms....the sinks are communal for men and women. Very gimmicky, and not in a good way.) These are little things, but they add up to a lackluster experience, especially when they come from a James Bears Award-winning chef...and one who prominently hangs his award where you can see it when you walk in. One disclaimer: our server was very good and quite wise about food, in general, and this menu. She seemed spread too thin, however, and we were left with an array of servers and secondary staff that didn't seem to have much of a clue and weren't of the same caliber as our server.

NOCA, for example, puts this place to shame. No wonder that two of Christopher's kitchen staff were walking into NOCA for late-night eats last time we were there!

More details to follow on my blog at www.ericeatsout.com

EJS.

7 Replies so Far

  1. Howard's take:
    http://www.azcentral.com/ent/dining/a...

    1. re: azhotdish

      Funny...I just finished reading that. Sounds like he ate at a different restaurant than we did. The best adjective I can use is "underwhelmed." I usually agree with his take....but not this time.

      1. re: ejs1492

        I agree with you and Seftel's comments regarding servers who didn't know what they were doing, not nearly as professional as they should be, etc. I had the scallop special which was surprisingly big but other than that was average, just as average as the overpriced boring charcuterie and cheese plate.

        I go out to a nice dinner once a month tops so value is extremely important to me and I walked out feeling like it was a waste of my money. Although my group overall thought everything was ok or some said good, the food nor the service was nearly as polished as it should have been. Personally, when I drop 120 dollars just on myself it should wow me. I have to agree NOCA at 120 dollars for two of us for their Sunday night special was an extremely better value with much better food and managed to completely wow me.

    2. yes eric schaefer (ericeatsout) we know you like noca and you also run the noca facebook fan page and your wife is the admin and you are listed as the contact person with your email and nocas , its funny how you make comments on other restaurants and that you seem involved with noca . can you say biased or unethical

      1. re: chefgross

        As opposed to sending ones staff to competing restaurant and then having them badmouth the place?

        1. re: chefgross

          If you are indeed the chef and owner of this restaurant, this seems very unprofessional and petty to respond in such a way. This review is nearly 9 months old, so one has to wonder why you are just now posting this as your first post. Are you losing so much business to Noca that you need to badmouth someone who merely runs, as your post says, a fan site? How come you haven't gone after Noca directly?

          This also doesn't make me want to try your establishment. If you are this petty, what would happen if I tried to send a dish back? Would you spit in it or just merely treat me badly for not liking your food? I think I'll take my business someplace where the management doesn't seem as openly hostile to criticism.

        2. re: chefgross

          On November 11, 2008 (two months after my review) I received an email from Christopher Gross stating the following "Sorry that you were not very happy , please if you ever stop in again say hi best Christopher."

          I am not on the payroll at Noca, nor am I immune to objective criticism of it You may note that on both Chowhound and on my blog I have praised Binkley's numerous times, yet was willing to call it like I saw it when the food and service were well below par on New Year's Eve, 2008.

          If this post is, indeed, from Christopher, then it's worth noting. Had I walked into your restaurant and delcared that I was going to be writing about it, then perhaps Chef Gross wouldn't have walked past me 3 times as I stood in the reception area of his restaurant waiting for someone to acknowledge me so I could be seated. There was no hostess in sight, and we were on the verge of turning around a leaving after waiting for well over 5 minutes when the restaurant was nearly empty and the proprietor walked past me 3 times without acknowledgement. The facts are this: our meal at Christophers was weak, below my expectations and not what I would expect from a restauranteur who so prominently displays his James Beard Award behind the hostess stand.

          My affection for Noca is purely based on the fact that I have eaten there at least ten times and have yet to be disappointed. To the contrary, I have been routinely "wowed" by innovative cuisine, warm service and a genuine passion from everyone from the bus boys to the general manager. I do not "review" Noca on CH any more because my identity is well known at the restaurant. The CH moderators are aware of this, as well. I do, indeed, have "noca fan page" on Facebook and have no qualms about it. Perhaps if my meal at Christopher's had been even remotely close to even the worst meal I've had at Noca then I'd have one for you, too.


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