The Big Splurge
Effete gastronomes may have raised farmer’s grub to the level of haute cuisine, but restaurant prices have never been higher in New York, and there are still all sorts of extravagant old-world establishments in which to fritter away your hard-earned cash. My current favorite venue for a discreet midtown feed is Gilt in the Villard Mansions, where early last year Daniel alumnus Christopher Lee replaced the temperamental Englishman Paul Liebrandt in the kitchen. Lee has a special fondness for white truffles (his restaurant paid $8,000 for one last fall), but his most inspired creations tend to be subtle reworkings of opulent old-school favorites. The ultrafresh yellowfin-tuna tartare comes with a little stack of crispy, piping-hot scallion pancakes on the side, and if you order the chef’s New Age version of beef Wellington to go with your $10,500 bottle of ’85 Romanée-Conti Grand Cru, you’ll find that it’s stuffed not with beef but with yellowfin tuna and is cut in little wheels like a decorative sushi roll from Japan.
Daniel Boulud’s long-awaited Upper West Side wine bar, Bar Boulud, finally opened this week, and Alain Ducasse’s endlessly delayed, tortuously named Adour Alain Ducasse at the St. Regis New York is soon to follow. But until those august wine-centric establishments find their footing, Cru, on lower Fifth Avenue, is still the place to drop $15,000 on a good magnum of Château Lafite. According to my deep-pocketed culinary spies, the latest seasonal taste thrill on Masa Takayama’s $400 omakase menu at Masa is the drained and deep-fried sperm sac of the deadly Japanese fugu fish. Across the hall, a whole variety of less perilous delicacies is available, for a mere $250, on Thomas Keller’s ever-evolving nine-course tasting menu at Per Se, and if you wish to spend a sizable amount of capital on the latest in haute Italian dining, I recommend you join the rest of the fat-cat wiseguys gorging on the little Kobe-beef “tagliata” featured on the $150 “Grand Tasting Menu” at that cavernous meatpacking-district institution Del Posto.
The price of the prix fixe luncheon at Le Bernardin has been bumped up to a hefty $64, which is still a relative bargain compared with the $55 they’re charging the swells at the Grill Room of The Four Seasons for a modest lunchtime helping of fillet of bison adorned with foie gras and truffle sauce. Dollar for dollar, the bar menu at Terrance Brennan’s Upper West Side establishment, Picholine, remains my favorite way to experience the sophisticated pleasures of the new Spanish cuisine. The elite “chef’s table” at Gordon Ramsay at the London is where many of my morose banker friends seem to be going lately to toast the good old days, but if you wish to show your millionaire friends what real cutting-edge Continental cuisine looks like, then take them to the bar at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, in the Four Seasons Hotel. The room still feels out-of-step with the food, but Robuchon’s pointy little baguettes are the best in the city, and if you want proof that fancy French cooking isn’t quite dead yet, order the eight-course, $190 “menu découverte,” which begins with spoonfuls of silky fresh sea urchin seized in lobster gelée and concludes, in a most dignified manner, with a simple cup of espresso and a selection of festively colored macaroons.