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2024-03-20 00:00:00 Avenue Magazine Two Legendary Chefs Breathe New Life into Fine Dining

Two Legendary Chefs Breathe New Life into Fine Dining

Park Avenue prime
UPSTAIRS/DOWNSTAIRS A view of Four Twenty Five’s street-level bar area and the staircase in front of floor-to-ceiling windows that leads to the dining room.
Photo by Nicole Franzen

Nested discretely on the ground floor of the new Foster + Partners office tower on the corner of Park and 56th Street is the latest jewel in Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Manhattan crown: Four Twenty Five.

Like a private club, the entrance is unmarked and brings you into the handsome street-level bar and lounge. Men in suits crowd the long bar, fetching drinks for their dates who lounge on sofas near the 45-foot floor-to-ceiling windows framing the Park Avenue nightscape. The room is — to put it simply — sexy. As you drink in the scene, including the 24-foot painting Hunch by Larry Poons hanging above the bar, you may reflexively utter the word “Wow,” quickly followed by, “This place is chic.” Go with it, because it is.

A stunning staircase fit for a mid-century modern remake of Auntie Mame leads guests up from the bar to the mezzanine dining area.

The dining room feels like a warmly lit glass jewel box, with windows draped in sheer curtains on three walls and the fourth featuring an open view to the immaculate kitchen. It’s an elegant space. If there isn’t a dress code, it certainly feels like there should be. This is a place with a sense of occasion.

I’ve spoken to others who’ve dined at Four Twenty Five and the comparison to the original Four Seasons Restaurant has come up more than once. Before Four Twenty Five had even started serving lunch, people were calling it the new power-lunch spot. Both restaurants are large, airy, high-ceiling rooms that occupy corner spaces on bustling Park Avenue, and both have a mid-century aesthetic. The iconic Four Seasons was designed by Philip Johnson and Four Twenty Five was beautifully appointed by the legendary Lord Norman Foster and his team. Despite all the comparisons, Four Twenty Five is very much its own thing. And the timing for a new instant hot spot smack on Park Avenue in Midtown could not be better.

RISE AND BRINE From raw plates and pasta dishes to entrées and appetizers, there’s something for everyone at Four Twenty Five
Photo by Hallie Burton

In a city where the restaurant scene can seem like blood sport, where one new place screams to redefine the art of dining as it climbs over the last hospice-bound place that tried to do the same, there are some spots that seem to quietly and effortlessly “get it” without hitting us over the head. Four Twenty Five is one of those places. It’s a space that welcomes you with an air of understated elegance and sophistication that feels as if it’s been there for ages.

That sophistication carries over onto the menu. Between the raw plates, the appetizers, the pasta dishes, and the entrées, accommodating lovers of meat, poultry, or fish, there is something for everyone. The Spanish mackerel with beech mushroom aged-sherry vinaigrette, or the foie gras terrine served with blood orange confit and spice bread madeleines, are delicious starters. Entrées include the seared Wagyu beef tenderloin complemented with broccoli roasted with pistachio crumbs; pan-roasted sea trout with pumpkin seed gramolata and butternut squash confit; and many other terrific creations. Even plant-based guests, who tend to be forgotten or get tossed compromised experiences on traditional menus, have a wonderful celeriac francese with tender leeks and Calabrian chili. For dessert? Dive into the dark chocolate mousse, the caramel custard, or an haute spin on a Mister Softee favorite: the pomegranate creamsicle.

Four Twenty Five offers an exquisite cocktail and dining experience in a glamorous setting. As for lunch? According to recent rumors, the power breakfast is back. And there is an open lane on the power-meal highway. With Four Twenty Five, Jean-Georges seems primed to take it.

And while we’re on the subject of famous French chefs making a splash on Park Avenue, let’s talk about Daniel Boulud’s recently resurrected Café Boulud. The 20-year-old restaurant has moved from its original location at the Surrey hotel, which closed during the pandemic in 2021, to 5,000 square feet at the new address 100 East 63rd Street, just off Park.

The dining room at Café Boulud
Photo by Bill Milne

The prime location has had numerous (ultimately failed) incarnations, from Michael White’s clubby Vaucluse, to Voisin, to Park Avenue Café. Some say the space is jinxed. But Café Boulud’s interior design, by Jeffrey Beers, is going for a timeless, not trendy, vibe with a harmonious blend of warm, neutral tones (the pale gray walls are like the redone Daniel nearby), judicious pops of soft color, and plush upholstery. The space is instantly inviting, with velvet and leather seating in blue and amber, striking a balance between refined luxury and relaxed comfort.

The eclectic two- or three-course dinner menus offer gastronomic journeys that reflect Chef Boulud’s commitment to culinary excellence with meticulous attention to detail in the seasonally updated signature sections: “La Saison” (seasonal fare), “Le Potager” (vegetables), “Le Voyage” (dishes from around the globe), and “La Tradition” (the classics). Along with prix fixe, dishes are also available à la carte.

Start with a salad of lobster, artichoke, potato, and mâche, and continue with a roasted sasso chicken breast in buckwheat butter, onions, fingerling potatoes, and mushroom fricassée. Or go for a citrus-grilled salmon with smoked roe, jalapeño, and avocado dressing, followed by a pan-seared rainbow Arctic char. In a vegetable mood? Try the curried rainbow carrots with shallot compote then segue into the creamy rice polenta with vegan black caviar and fennel-orange compote.

DREAM TEAM From left, executive chef Romain Paumier, Daniel Boulud, and pastry chef Katalina Diaz
Photo by Bill Milne

For now, Café Boulud doesn’t serve lunch during the week, but the weekend brunch is beloved in the neighborhood, featuring classics by executive chef Romain Paumier like fluffy pancakes as well as a full menu of staples like smoked salmon, eggs benedict, and a perfect croque monsieur.

Café Boulud’s commitment to a great dining experience extends beyond the plate. The attentive, knowledgeable staff provide a level of polite service that is professional and personable — hailing back to when the customer always came first. Truman Capote’s swans would feel right at home.

In its new home (soon to include a buzzy bar and the New York headquarters of Maison Barnes, the international real estate company from Paris and Daniel Boulud’s new partner), Café Boulud continues to be a dining destination that transcends the ordinary. And that classic black sea bass? It’s still on the menu after 35 years.

And on the subject of dress codes in this increasingly casualized world, it was refreshing to see the following policy posted on Café Boulud’s website: “Business casual attire is strongly recommended. Athletic or leisure wear is not permitted, and gentlemen are not permitted to wear shorts or sandals in the dining room. Baby strollers and prams cannot be accommodated in the restaurant.”

As if we couldn’t love Café Boulud more.

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