Restaurants to the Rescue
The thrill of the grill begins to fade after Labor Day. A longing for grown-up restaurants starts to take hold. It’s back to school, back to work. The French have a word for it la rentrée.
New York’s word for it this hopeful year is reopening. A spectacular line-up of new restaurants from Manhattan’s celebrated chefs is taking reservations as theaters, museums, and attractions come back to life. Dinner is served!
Le Pavillon, the grandest restaurant to open in the city in more than a year, is being hailed as a symbol of the city’s recovery. The 11,000 square foot dining oasis opened in May in the Vanderbilt commercial tower across from Grand Central in midtown.
“It’s a lot of pressure,” admits uber chef/restaurateur Daniel Boulud in a telephone interview. “But at the same time, it’s exciting to do something new in New York.”
Though the name is an homage to Le Pavillon which began life at the 1939 World’s Fair and went on to define fine French dining in New York through the decades until it closed in 1972, the new Le Pavillon is modern French.
Diners will find a seafood restaurant with a substantial vegetarian component. And “an amazing roast chicken even if it’s a seafood restaurant. I have a wonderful rotisserie,” says the Lyon-born chef where roast chicken is king.
A signature dish is Oysters Vanderbilt named for the railroad magnate who built Grand Central Station. “Rockefeller had famous oysters named after him, but Vanderbilt never got an oyster,” says Boulud, with a hint of amusement in his voice. “It has a chowder base and a hazelnut, herb, and plankton crust. People love it.”
A monkfish with red wine sauce, wood-fired octopus, and yellowfin tuna dusted with fennel pollen also entice diners.
Eventually, Boulud would like to add breakfast. “Because of its location by Grand Central, it could be a power breakfast,” says the Michelin starred chef who already numbers movers and shakers among the customers of his flagship Daniel restaurant.
He’s confident that both workers and tourists will return to the city. “I don’t think tourism will resume entirely by September, but it will come back.”
Though Le Pavillon is the most spectacular venture, Boulud is not the only believer in the city.
Hotelier and nightlife impresario Ian Schrager of Studio 54 fame is putting his reputation on the line with his completely rebranded 28-story Public Hotel on the lower east side.
The headliner is a splashy Peruvian restaurant called Popular (meaning for the people) helmed by two marque chefs: Peruvian Diego Munoz, an alum of Lima’s acclaimed Astrid y Gaston, and New York City Michelin star chef John Fraser, who just launched his own reopening gambit Iris, a restaurant featuring Greek and Turkish cuisine. (John Fraser also recently took over the North Fork Table and Inn in Southold.) Fraser will oversee front of the house while Munoz dazzles with Pisco sours, made-to-order ceviche, and other Peruvian specialties such as lomo saltado (filet mignon with Vidalia onions, tomatoes and chili-soy) and sticky prawns. Adjoining the signature restaurant is a more casual Cantina and Pisco Bar with late night live Latin music.
“We put a lot of money back into this hotel because we knew things would go back to normal. Not the new normal, but normal,” Schrager said at the opening.
Newly appointed chair of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, super restaurateur Danny Meyer (Union Square Café, Gramercy Tavern, the Shake Shack burger empire) is an ardent Big Apple booster. The city is counting on his expertise to help revitalize the crucial restaurant/hospitality sector of the economy.
In 2019, the city welcomed 66.6 million visitors. Then, Wham! The pandemic struck. Zero. The goal is to recapture half of the 2019 numbers this year. Restaurants are one of the main drivers of tourism, so Meyer has his work cut out.
Meyer has been an enthusiastic supporter of outdoor dining and is even talking about adding an outdoor component to the Modern in MOMAs sculpture garden. In September, Meyer will make his own contribution to restaurant recovery with Ci Siamo, (loosely translated “we’ve arrived”) a sprawling 120 seat Italian restaurant in Manhattan West across from Hudson Yards. It will be helmed by Hillary Sperling, formerly of Vic’s, and feature a variety of pastas as well as items from a wood fired grill.
Another vote of confidence comes from Chicago’s Mexican food authority Rick Bayless who will make his first foray into Manhattan in September with Tortazo, his fast casual tortas chain, in the Flatiron.
Sona, a high-end Indian in the Flatiron backed by Actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas (The White Tiger) presents dishes such as tamarind BBQ lamb chops and green pepper halibut banana-leaf wrapped filets. Another menu item, Floyd’s Goan fish curry is a touching tribute to the late, great Indian chef Floyd Cardoz who passed away from Covid-19.
On the upper West Side, Dagon (named for The Phoenician/Philistine god of agriculture), from restaurateur Simon Oren, pleases the neighborhood crowd with dishes from “somewhere in the Mediterranean.” Think charred eggplant with buttermilk vinaigrette and tomato jam or Lebanese mushroom filled dumplings, with warm yogurt, pine nuts, and spicy herb sauce.
Andrew Carmellini (The Dutch, Locanda Verde) goes flat out carnivore with Carne Mare, an Italian Chophouse on Pier 17 in the revitalized Seaport District. This is one swanky joint with expensive steaks, tableside service, and plush Italian leather banquettes. Carmellini believes people are ready to Celebrate with a capital C.
Fingers crossed that he’s right.
Beverly Stephen, former executive editor of Food Arts, is now co-owner of Flavor Forays, a culinary travel company.