The days of ‘Look at me, I’m at Noma!’, ‘Look at me, I’m at Eleven Madison Park!’ are over, they’re dunzo,” declared my friend, the Weary Gastronome, as we sat at Daniel Boulud’s new midtown venture, Le Pavillon, and watched the world go by. The great COVID-19 plague and its seemingly endless aftershocks had put an end to those self-indulgent glory days when food plutocrats leisurely toured the globe, ticking off top-50 destinations in their gold-rimmed notebooks. Snooty critics were abandoning their ridiculous “gourmet” star systems. Well-turned veggie menus and bowls of ramen were the coin of the realm these days, not Parisian soufflés or slabs of $200 côte de boeuf. “Are we ready for all this?” he said, waving his hands at the neat rows of linen-covered tables and Boulud’s wait staff rushing to and fro in their pressed jackets. “Not me. I’d rather be sitting at home eating pizza in my loose-fitting pants!”
Judging by the busy early-evening crowd piling into the tall, slightly awkward space at the bottom of a gleamingly new, possibly obsolete office tower next to Grand Central, not everyone agrees. And to be fair, big-money midtown chefs like Boulud have more on their minds these days than turning their multimillion-dollar investments into global dining 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 uptown dandies propped at the bar with silk cravats sprouting from their jacket pockets and dignified elderly couples discreetly sipping their pricey glasses of Sancerre. There are a few tourists seated at the tables, along with groups of serious-faced gentlemen in suits who may or may not have recently arrived from an extended plenary session at the U.N.buy new world coins
Le Pavillon features an elegant bar that seems to echo Philip Johnson’s famous square-shaped design at the old Four Seasons, but because of the strangely narrow dimensions of the room, somehow feels twice as small. There’s an impressive view from the bar of the ornate Grand Central façade and the silvery spire of the Chrysler Building towering just beyond it. The vaulted, cathedral height of the space is impressive, too, although a low-slung false ceiling is set over the rows of tables that are clustered toward the south side of the room. Given the echoey properties of the space, this is probably for acoustic reasons (and possibly the advanced age of many Boulud regulars), although on a crowded evening, with uniform gold mushroom-shaped lamps planted at all the tables and a profusion of lobby-style flora scattered here and there, it can feel a little like you’re crouched together in a random hotel restaurant or the first-class dining room of a newly built airport lounge.