Richard Chen in East Liberty has closed. You can read the details about the closing here, but like any restaurant closing, we'll never really understand why it happened or whether it could have been prevented. While the restaurant had plenty going for it, such as a big-name chef with a national reputation, an award-winning restaurant design and lots of positive press, it also had plenty working against it. For on thing, the restaurant opened just a month or so before the bottom dropped out of the economy.
One thing to learn from this high-profile closing is that critical reviews can help a restaurant, but they don't make or break it. As much as I loved Richard Chen (and I did love it, the four star review was a work of real pleasure for me), I still hadn't managed to make it back into the restaurant since my last review visit. I can blame my busy reviewing schedule and my journalist's salary, but I'm probably a good example of why the restaurant didn't make it. Restaurants don't exist on praise. They exist on diners.
While East Liberty is often singled out as one of Pittsburgh's most up-and-coming neighborhoods, I think that there's still a negative perception that may have hurt a restaurant relying on a very well heeled clientele.
A larger bar area might have helped attract more customers, not just for drinks but also for the flexible style of dining that can make a restaurant more attractive to different dining sets. I don't know if I would have felt comfortable sitting at a table and just ordering appetizers, or ordering one main course to share.
Many of my favorite dishes were actually the least expensive ones: Hot & sour soup, seafood rice noodle soup, crispy scallop, bean curd sheet, and many of the noodle and rice dishes. As much as I wish I'd gotten another chance to go the restaurant, and as much as I'll miss it, I can't help but be excited to see what they decide to do with the space.