by Ron Bernthal
Since Aureole’s recent move from its former location in an Eastside Manhattan townhouse to the ground floor of the sleek, 54-story, glass sheathed Bank of America building, across the street from Bryant Park, it has been attracting the country’s food critics and New York’s many restaurant aficionados, to see how Charlie Palmer’s new place compares with his original landmark restaurant..
Although I had never visited the first Aureole, I thoroughly enjoyed the scene and the food at the Aureole II, from the initial walk through the crowded bar area, with its Palmer-signature two-story glass wine rack mezzanine, and up a few steps into the wood-paneled dining area where a well-dressed clientele were comfortably seated on brown banquettes (everything in the dining room, the walls, carpet, chairs, and tables are in various shades of brown, all conceived by noted restaurant designer Adam Tihany). The room was noisy with the loud, confident conversations of expense account parties, and everyone certainly looked important, or at least well-employed, a considerable asset when it came time to pay the bill. There were no media tycoons, sports celebrities, or young actresses among the crowd, as often happens during the first weeks of a New York restaurant debut, but big city energy flowed through the room, fresh flowers and French dinnerware dressed the table, and a white-coated waiter arrived within seconds with a basket of warm rolls and olive and rosemary bread..
My companion and I ordered the “parallel tasting” menu, a novel four-course dinner that offers two similar, yet slightly different, cuisines for each course, efficiently providing eight moderately-sized portions during the dinner. Served on unique shaped plates split into two geometric sides, the first course was a yellowfin tuna tartare with miso sake dressing on one side of the plate, and a yellowfin tuna tataki with quail egg and Mandarin orange oil on the other side. Both were excellent, paired with a dry Australian white. A wild European turbot with warm yellow beet vinaigrette was next, paired with a farm-raised Chilean turbot with sauce perigueux, served with a white Burgundy. Both dishes were perfectly cooked, moist and well seasoned. The fourth course, a prime New York strip loin with natural beef jus on one side, was paired with braised beef short rib with sauce bavaroise, but both dishes were somewhat disappointing. While the first four portions were unusually superb, not even an excellent Tuscan Brunello di Montalcino could enhance the ordinariness of the presentation. Dessert, however, again showed the innovative creativity of the kitchen, with a classic tarte tatin with Calvados cr?me Anglaise matched with a warm pear and red wine strudel with vanilla ice cream. A sweet dessert wine from Oregon was perfectly paired with both. .
Many restaurants that open with too much hype, and a huge reputation to uphold, fail to meet customers’ expectations. Not so with the new Aureole. The parallel tasting menu was, for the most part, memorable, and many of the tasting portions were offered on the main menu as well. Service was efficient and quick, perhaps too fast for diners who were hoping for a long, leisurely dinner, and why not extend the pleasure as long as possible for the price you will pay at the end. But this is a fast-paced, high-energy, midtown Manhattan restaurant, with Chef Christopher Lee carrying out the ideas and management style of his boss, Aureole’s founder and restaurant entrepreneur, Charlie Palmer, with both culinary expertise and an eye to the bottom line. The tasting menu described here will probably have changed by the time you read this, but Aureole will replace it with cuisine that is equally as innovative and delicious. For visitors not accustomed to New York’s restaurant prices, the moderately priced, three-course, seasonal prix fixe lunch menu is a great deal, and the extensive wine list offers terrific by-the-glass choices.
Location: One Bryant Park, 135 West 42nd Street, New York, NY 10036;
Phone: 212 319 1660; www.charliepalmer.com .
Prices: $34 three-course prix fixe lunch menu; $84 three-course dinner menu; $55 three-course pre-theater dinner menu, 5-6 pm only; $115 four-course parallel tasting menu. Prices above do not include wine, other beverages, or gratuities. Reservations for dining room required. Dress is business casual.
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