The middle tier of dining does not often come with culinary value. At the high end, the meals might cost upwards of $400/person but revelatory potential has no price. In the middle, you’re often stuck with restaurants trying to make up the overhead from their marketing and architectural expenditures. The food can be tasty, and even good, but it’s usually over-priced for what it is. You’re paying for the cool factor, the gathering space, and the stories (re: PR and advertising) that make it happen. Obviously, high-end restaurants are not immune to the same problems but it hurts so much less when they actually deliver.
The Thomas Keller solution for… something? Thomas Keller is a great chef but he’s a better marketer – the Alain Ducasse of America. It’s a tried-and-true formula – Michelin star chef + downscale restaurant = a license to print money. People that might eschew the haute temples will flock to the cheaper restaurants and eat the cuisine at affordable prices; never mind that it’s always watered down and/or bares little resemblance to the flagships. Get the right PR people involved and the media will fawn over the concept – the tail wagging the dog.