Here’s some hard-to-swallow news for grinches who say the pandemic has doomed fine dining in favor of share plates, butt-busting seats and ear-shattering noise levels. On the contrary, restaurants are returning to luxurious creature comforts and classically inspired cooking — and the astronomical prices that go with them.
It might seem counterintuitive at a time when many are struggling and the Delta variant has made some New Yorkers afraid to step outside. But, “A lot of money has been made in the stock market and a lot of people had great jobs,” Christopher Pappas, CEO of premier restaurant-supply company Chefs’ Warehouse, recently told Grub Street.
The signs of lucre are proliferating. Daniel Boulud’s Le Pavillon, a white-tablecloth spot that serves a three course, $125 prix fixe of modernized French cuisine, is booked several months out. Masa, that temple to rarefied Japanese sushi at Deutsche Bank Center (formerly Time Warner), recently raised its starting meal price from $495 to $600.
But nowhere is the phenomenon more startling than at recently launched Les Trois Chevaux in the West Village and just-opened Saga in the old Financial District’s heart.
Les Trois Chevaux takes its inspiration from great French restaurants of New York’s past. In a stroke of daring, it requires men to — imagine! — wear jackets. The three-course, prix fixe dinner is $185 per person. You must tip in advance on Resy, the only way to book.
The romantic, softly lit and mirrored dining room and bar are cozy with plush banquettes. The service is warm and poised. The meal I had was superb. Chef and owner Angie Mar seems to have found her true calling after years at the steak-centric Beatrice Inn.
Mar said that formal restaurants were “a reason why I fell in love with the city 20 years ago. I’d get dressed up for a nice night out. But they are fewer and farther between.
“Even before the pandemic, the city was in this southern California casual vibe. It wasn’t what I wanted to do,” she continued. “It’s very important to dine — to be at a crossroads of culture and fashion and fine cuisine.”
She said the decision to take the luxe road came easily. “If I wanted to open another tiny bistro, there are 30 on my block.”
Diners appear to agree. Les Trois Chevaux’s 46 seats have been booked almost nightly since it opened in early July. People do want to dress up and have a grand meal, it seems. “Lots of people were home in pajamas for a year and a half,” Mar said.
Things are even pricier — and loftier — at just-opened Saga on the 63d floor of landmark downtown art deco skyscraper 70 Pine St., the former headquarters of AIG that was converted to luxury rental apartments.
James Kent and Jeff Katz, who are also respectively the chef and general manager of Crown Shy on the ground floor, offer one option: a $245 seasonal tasting menu. It’s “rooted in European cuisine,” Kent said.
The beautiful, 56-seat main dining room is appointed in the warm style of a globe-trotting bon vivant with brass furnishings, velvet touches and green marble. Certain courses are served on three outdoor terraces, depending on weather.
Like Mar, Katz believes that pent-up customers are eager to step out for dinner in the grand old style. He said, “If other New Yorkers are anything like we are, they’re looking for an excuse for a night out after almost two years cooped up in our apartments. Saga is meant to be an excuse to dress up.”
He expects locals will respond emotionally not only to the far-ranging skyline and harbor views, but also to the building’s unique atmosphere.
“We tried hard to make sure Saga feels distinctly like New York. The 1932 art deco detailing doesn’t hurt our case.”
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