Mon-Sat, noon-2:30pm and 5pm-midnight; Sun, 5pm-10:30pm
1, 2, 3, 7, N, Q, R, S, W at Times Sq.-42nd St.; B, D, F, V at 42nd St.-Bryant Park
Three-course lunch prix-fixe, $34
American Express, MasterCard, Visa
So it’s no surprise that Charlie Palmer’s relaunched Aureole flagship restaurant in midtown (the original, overly ornate townhouse quietly closed in May 2009) appears to have been designed, to an almost depressing degree, with today’s profit-strapped restaurant market in mind. The boxy, double-height room occupies the shank end of the Bank of America tower on 42nd Street, just beyond the blinking, fluorescent glow of Times Square. To take advantage of business lunchers, haphazard tourist traffic, and the profitable cocktail hour, the perpetually clamorous bar area is twice the size of the main dining room, which is glassed off in a curiously stunted railroad-car-size space toward the back. Both rooms are appointed in featureless hotel-lobby style, with white and brown paneled walls and unobtrusive dun-colored banquettes. The most striking decorations are a twirling chandelier that hovers over the barroom and a series of tall, eighties-era twig-and-flower arrangements, which loom above the jammed-together little tables and block out the sun.
“I feel like I’m onboard the Norwegian Star,” said my friend the Food Aristocrat, as we peered out over our menus at the roiling bar scene beyond the glass and the coterie of old Aureole regulars sitting down to dinner in their pastel-colored outfits and formal gray suits. Palmer has chosen Christopher Lee to captain his new ship, and the talented, much-decorated chef (Lee won two Michelin stars last year at Gilt) has dutifully churned out two different menus, including one for the barroom that features a variety of trendy populist treats. Gimmicky, compulsively tasty pastrami pork-belly sliders are available on the bar-snacks menu ($15), and a Momofuku-style egg-noodle soup entrée ($25) was filled with soggy overcooked noodles when I ordered it for lunch one day. There’s a signature hamburger on the menu ($19), too, which Lee dresses in posh Greenmarket fashion with smoked bacon, artisanal Cheddar, and a relish made with pickled ramps.
But the more ambitious food at Aureole seems to be frozen stubbornly in the Charlie Palmer heyday of fruit-flavored entrées and too much foie gras. Lee is known for his facility with classical gourmet ingredients, including an elegant foie gras torchon that he served, at his last restaurant, encased in a thin, beet-flavored gelée. But the foie gras appetizer here is tepidly cooked and served with a barrage of pickled jalapeños, smoked corn bread, and blueberry purée. That aged warhorse tuna tartare is made to look vaguely new with a topping of yellow-miso dressing shaped like an egg yolk, but the consensus among the Food Aristocrat and her friends was that the showy sea scallop–and–foie gras “sandwich” could have done without its infusion of passion fruit. All the soups I sampled were very good (try the creamed corn in the dining room, and the gazpacho at the bar), but my “crispy soft shell” blue-crab appetizer was dank instead of crispy, and dressed with viscous dollops of rémoulade that looked like they’d been squirted, in great haste, from an old mayonnaise tube.Bar Room
The bar area features snacks, à la carte appetizers, and entrées, ranging from $9 to $38.
The Parallel Tasting Menu
The tasting menu, $110, condenses eight courses into four by plating two dishes on a single plate. See how chef Chris Lee plays up a theme, protein, or ingredient for the menu in Annoted Dish on Grub Street. Wine pairings are available for an additional $70 per person.
A $55 pre-theater menu is served nightly from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.
An abbreviated late-night menu is available Monday through Saturday until midnight.
Three-course prix fixe, $34.
The restaurant’s address is a bit confusing: The building is identified as One Bryant Park.
Sweet-corn soup or gazpacho (bar), pork-belly sliders (bar), tuna Wellington, chocolate torte (dining room).