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Hold Tight to Your Favorites

Fiamma is long gone. Last week Lever House went away. This week it was Town. And while it’s hard to know how much of the blame goes to the recession, some surely does.

What’s been clear for a while and becomes clearer every day is that the economic downturn won’t spare many of the most ambitious, proudest restaurants. Some of your favorites are, or will turn out to be, among the casualties.

Could they hold on longer by being better or more sensible or more something? Maybe. But among the growing ranks of restaurants that have gone under are worthy places that deserved better. In the end it really is the economy that did them in.

Figuring out how to report on all of this is difficult for those of us who chronicle the New York restaurant scene, because naming the restaurants that are obviously endangered could do them more harm than good.

None of them wants to be publicly labeled a critical case. That’s why you’ll often see restaurateurs claiming in the news media that they’re just a few percentage points down from their usual business when their dining rooms, full of empty seats, tell a different story.

Don’t believe them. Don’t be lulled into complacency. And with those instructions I come to the point of this lugubrious post: if there’s a restaurant out there that you love, visit it. Eat there. Especially if it’s in the two-star or three-star category, where I sense some of the greatest vulnerability of all.

You may not be able to spend as much on dining out as you once did, and I’m not telling you to dig deeper than you can. Not at all.

But when you’re making a decision about where to spend increasingly precious dollars, don’t overlook the restaurants you cherish and respect most. Maybe even prioritize them, because if you don’t do that — and maybe even if you do — there’s a solid chance they won’t be around on the far side of these dark days.