In this fickle, fashion-obsessed era, big-money restaurants change their looks as quickly as runway models at the Paris shows. To my wife’s quiet chagrin, the small, elegantly cozy room at her favorite Union Square restaurant, Tocqueville, has morphed into a vaulted, slightly sterile, double-height space, replete with gray silk curtains and a discreet, fine-dining skybox for private parties. This does nothing to diminish the quality of chef Marco Moreira’s fashionably rusticated compositions, however, like roast chicken with parsley-root puree and truffled Parmesan grits. At Eleven Madison Park, Danny Meyer has done away with the towering topiaries and giant medieval chandeliers and brought in a young chef named Daniel Humm to introduce the local corporate barons to the virtues of fancy European-style emulsions and foams. There are sweet Hawaiian prawns on the menu now, poached in butter and truffles, and delicate squares of foie gras squeezed between layers of crushed cherries, but if you order one thing, make it the suckling pig, which the chef pulls from the bone, simmers in duck fat, and presses into a Heath Bar–size mini-confection, filled with such crackly, porky flavor that you just might want to order it again.
Aquavit has an excellent new cafe menu (vodka-soaked herring, Swedish meatballs, blueberry cobbler), but the regulars who’d grown accustomed to the grand old Rockefeller townhouse that used to house Marcus Samuelsson’s great restaurant are still adjusting to the sleek, modern, and slightly claustrophobic room on the ground floor of a windswept skyscraper off Park Avenue. But that’s nothing compared with the traumas being suffered by the legions of opera loons across town at Picholine, where Terrance Brennan has done away with the restaurant’s timeworn motifs (thick brocade curtains, dark oil paintings, frumpy orange wallpaper) and painted everything in snappy tones of lavender and mauve. Brennan has streamlined his menu, too, adding inventive interpretations of old-style favorites (mashed choucroute garni packaged in servings of skate, great pouches of chicken Kiev filled with liquid foie gras) and introducing a radical new bar menu for the after-opera crowd, stocked, in accordance with the culinary fashions of today, with delicious, cutting-edge Spanish treats, like spring rolls stuffed with paella, and glasses of sherry-flavored sorbet stuck with plumes of crisp baked serrano ham.