Vanderbilt Oysters at the Pavilion.
Photo: DeSean McClinton-Holland
On days of ‘Look at me, I’m in Noma!’, ‘Look at me, I’m at Eleven Madison Park!’ are finished, they are dunzo, ”said my friend, Gastronome Las, as we sat in Daniel Boulud’s new downtown business, Pavilion, and watched the world go by. The great COVID-19 plague and its seemingly endless aftershocks had ended those self-indulgent glory days where food plutocrats quietly roamed the world, ticking off the top 50 destinations in their gold-edged notebooks. The arrogant critics were abandoning their ridiculous “greedy” star systems. Well-curated vegetarian menus and ramen bowls were the currency of the kingdom these days, not Parisian soufflés or $ 200 slices of prime rib. “Are we ready for all of this? he said, waving his hands in front of the neat rows of linen-covered tables and Boulud’s waiters rushing into their ironed jackets. “Not me. I’d rather stay home and eat pizza in my baggy pants!
Judging by the busy early-evening crowd crammed into the large and slightly uncomfortable space at the bottom of a gleaming and possibly outdated office tower next to Grand Central, not everyone is Okay. And to be fair, big-budget downtown chefs like Boulud have more on their minds these days than turning their multi-million dollar investments into global foodie destinations. In this perilous, star-crossed time, the simple act of survival will do just fine, and for tonight, at least, the room is filled with a familiar assortment of Boulud regulars. There are upscale dandies wedged at the bar with silk ties sticking out of the pockets of their jackets and dignified elderly couples quietly sipping their expensive glasses of Sancerre. There are a few tourists seated at the tables, as well as groups of serious-faced gentlemen in costume who may or may not have recently arrived from an extended plenary session at the UN.
The Pavilion has a sleek bar that seems to echo Philip Johnson’s famous square-shaped design at the old Four Seasons, but due to the room’s eerily narrow dimensions it feels sort of half the size. . There are awe-inspiring views from Grand Central’s ornate facade bar and the silver spire of the Chrysler Building that towers just beyond. The vaulted, cathedral-like height of the space is also impressive, although a drop-down false ceiling is placed on the rows of tables clustered towards the south side of the room. Considering the echo properties of space, this is probably for acoustic reasons (and perhaps the advanced age of many Boulud regulars), albeit on a crowded evening, with lamps shaped of golden mushroom uniforms planted at all tables and a profusion of lobby-style flora scattered here and there, it can feel like crouching in a random hotel restaurant or in the first-class dining room a newly constructed airport lounge.
You’re not going to find the kind of precise, carefully prepared (and $ 125 per three-course prix fixe, not cheap) cuisine that Chef Boulud is famous for in most airport lounges, however, and the Pavilion menu contains high pleasures, especially at the start. We sampled the signature Vanderbilt oysters served on the half-shell, dressed in dollops of creamy chowder (“These taste like culinary school, but not in a bad way,” one of the cooks mumbled at the table), and a delicate onion pie decorated with tiny dandelions and sprigs of thyme. There were a few tasty but familiar crudos (if it’s back on the menu, get the lime striped bass instead of the usual tuna offerings), and the kind of opulent French veloutés you don’t see much anymore at downtown bar-restaurants – one made with late summer corn, the other with mussels and a rich mix of potatoes and watercress and dressed in spoonfuls of caviar.
I would have expected a little more overtly classic French cuisine for a restaurant named after the famous pavilion of the World’s Fair that launched the haute cuisine craze on an unsuspecting American public thoroughfare at the time, but like many chefs of his stature in these uncertain times, Boulud decided to throw his hat into the ring packed with vegetables ahead. Many of these creations (mushy grilled avocado with small spelled berries; beets bombarded with a little too much sesame seeds, mustard seeds, and carefully plucked blossoms, among others) seem a bit loaded and overproduced at this point. So I recommend taking refuge in the seafood portion of the menu, which includes buckwheat-crusted fatty scallops, generous cuts of grilled swordfish, and blocks of chewy ivory-colored halibut that the kitchen overlays with sliced shiitakes. finely and poured with an aromatic -and-barley mushroom consumes.
Like everyone else, Boulud’s restaurants have had their ups and downs during the great COVID crisis (several have just reopened in town), and when the chef comes out of the kitchen dressed in his mask and crisp whites, he looks a bit like a harassed, well-behaved doctor walking across the room on his way to sort out another patient. “The business is not yet finished, but we are hopeful,” he said. “Every week, we are one foot on the accelerator and one foot on the brake. In the meantime, let’s not forget to try the most French of haute cuisine disciplines: desserts. Soon they arrive at our table like postcards from a brighter and happier time: lemon pies with hidden layers of strawberries, creamy velvet hazelnuts and chocolate, a soothing peach soup with mini shaped meringue sculptures. of rose floating on top. Gastronome Las took a bite, then another. “They are really, really sweet,” he said.