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40th Anniversary

The Haute-est Cuisine

What are the most important restaurants of the past 40 years? The assignment asked for ten; I asked for a dozen. Being a food writer, I meant a baker’s dozen. But then, I am insatiable—so there are fourteen.

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1. Lutèce:
With Alsatian André Soltner in the kitchen Lutèce set the gold standard for what a French restaurant should be in America.

2. The Four Seasons:
Austerely luxurious, staunchly American in a fancy-French era, an early booster of California wines, and the inventor of the power lunch.

3. Maxwell’s Plum:
The first scene. Presided over by Warner LeRoy in wild plaid taffeta suits, it was both a mating bar of mythic reputation and a restaurant whose eclectic American menu won four stars from Craig Claiborne in the early seventies.

4. Shun Lee Dynasty:
This uptown, upscale Chinese restaurant arrived at a time when Chinese was only cheap and introduced New Yorkers to subtle, elegant Asian cooking.

5. Le Cirque:
Sirio Maccioni’s A-list eatery has been both a club for defrocked presidents, the jet set, and the ladies-who-lunch crowd, and a serious eatery.

6. Windows on the World:
Restaurant visionary Joe Baum’s instant landmark signaled a financial turnaround in the city and revitalized downtown.

7. River Café:
A romantic riverfront view looking back at Manhattan, plus chef Larry Forgione championing fresh and local ingredients.

8. Quilted Giraffe:
Outsize service plates, the first “degustation,” Japanese small plates, and sous vide; Giraffe introduced nouvelle cuisine trends to New York.

9. Odeon:
Lynn Wagenknecht and the McNally brothers Brian and Keith helped create a trendy neighborhood and made a faded Deco cafeteria the American-bistro prototype.

10. Gotham Bar & Grill:
Alfred Portale bonded French technique to an American sensibility, setting a new casual-but-crisp tone that became the modern New York restaurant standard.

11. Le Bernardin:
Parisian siblings Gilbert and Maguy LeCoze’s minimalist approach to seafood forever changed the way Americans cook and eat fish.

12. Lafayette at the Drake:
Jean-Georges Vongerichten launched a flavor revolution here based on vinaigrettes, perfumed oils, and vegetables juices.

13. San Domenico:
Tony May’s 1988 take on upper-crust style and regional taste inspired Italian cooking citywide and set the stage for the empire of Babbo.

14. Nobu:
Impresario’d by Drew Nieporent, Nobu arrived in 1994 with ice-cold sake, Peruvian-Japanese fusion, and the lure of partner Robert De Niro.


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