In the olden days, ambitious restaurants used to update their looks in all sorts of exotic and attention-grabbing ways. But as the no-frills Greenmarket sensibility continues its inexorable march across the fine-dining landscape, menus are being simplified, waiters are dressing down, and rococo red-and-gold color schemes are being replaced with muted grays and browns. At Alain Ducasse’s stripped-down new venture, Adour Alain Ducasse, at the St. Regis New York hotel, for instance, the waiters wear brown suits, not tuxedos, and when you ask for a pour of non-bottled water, it’s dispensed with minimal ceremony from what looks like a handcrafted porcelain milk jug. The formerly baroque dining room in the St. Regis has been refashioned in soft tones of burgundy, and the compact, two-page dinner menu reads like Monsieur Ducasse has just returned from an earnest listening tour of upstate farm stands. There’s no denying the impeccable country freshness of the foie gras terrine, or the technically perfect, Greenmarket-approved Berkshire-pork tournedos, plated here with pork belly and a wheel of loose, freshly made boudin noir.
The gold medal for the most outlandish new design of the year goes to the Belgian restaurant chain Rouge Tomate, which has recently turned the former Nicole Farhi boutique in midtown into an elaborate two-level dining space complete with waitresses dressed in tomato-colored outfits and towering backlit photographs of trees. And if you never made it to Dubai during the boom years, join the rest of the jet-lagged business travelers at Kerry Heffernan’s giant, mosquelike dining establishment, South Gate, in the Jumeirah Essex House, where the “Meat and Fowl” section of the menu contains a good, if pricey, selection of boutique farm meats, and the excellent chocolate mille-feuille dessert is flecked, in nostalgic high-roller style, with shavings of gold leaf. For a slightly more sedate experience, my wife and I like to visit that old plutocrat watering hole Daniel, where the designer Adam Tihany has recently scrapped the room’s pompous, retro-Vegas look for an elegantly muted color scheme of beige and brown. On our most recent visit, the potted palm next to our regular table by the kitchen door had been mercifully removed, so we could gaze out at the new room, with its acres of brown carpet and new pearl-colored chandeliers. If you have the cash for the $105 three-course prix fixe meal, you can’t go wrong with executive chef Jean-François Bruel’s sleek renditions of classics like the crunchy-topped tête de veau and the ivory-colored block of slow-baked Dover sole, which my wife enjoyed between sips of a newfangled mixologist cocktail called the Dr. Stormy, made with house-brewed ginger beer and Rémy Martin cognac infused with Lapsang Souchong tea.