Wednesday, June 16, 2021
HomeENTERTAINMENTLe Pavillon marks Midtown’s triumphant return

Le Pavillon marks Midtown’s triumphant return

Le Pavillon marks Midtown’s triumphant return

Just in time to celebrate the rout of COVID-19, along comes Daniel Boulud’s Le Pavillon. After 15 lonely months, the highly anticipated new restaurant brings a much-needed jolt of joy, glamour and greenery to Midtown. The intriguing yet accessible French and American menu is Boulud’s most creative work in years and gives the Grand Central area’s departed office dwellers reason enough to abandon Zoom meetings for a taste of mid-Manhattan energy.

Le Pavillon is the kind of place that “woke” food journalists like to call “plutocrat” — which really means it’s for grown-ups who aren’t necessarily rich but enjoy dining’s civilized pleasures. The restaurant’s name playfully nods both to the fabled, haute-cuisine temple that dominated French cuisine in mid-20th century Manhattan and to the new place’s design – a towering pavilion of sorts, perched on the second floor of office skyscraper One Vanderbilt.

Unlike the snooty old joint’s cream-laden meats – think pheasant in truffle sauce – Boulud’s menu is vegetable and seafood-driven. Service is warm and devoid of pretense.

Interior shot of Le Pavillon.
Le Pavillon’s dining room is awash in greenery.
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The space feels intimate despite monumental proportions under a 57-foot-high ceiling. Designer Isay Weinfeld and Kohn Pedersen Fox architects break up the void with ceiling-suspended platforms and an arboretum’s worth of 20-foot-tall olive trees and other foliage that seems to crawl in on all sides.

Tables set with dishware and wine glasses at Le Pavillon.
The space feels intimate despite the 57-foot ceilings.
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There’s no dress code, but I saw guys in jackets and ties on hot nights. The 120 dining room seats are spaced for comfort, and there are an additional 46 seats in the bar area. Tablecloths help mute the sound level to a sexy buzz, except when the occasional odd shriek out of the blue – “I love Miami mostly for the culture” – draws laughs.

Pinpoint overhead light fixtures put a shine on what you’re eating. The Chrysler Building’s glow streams in from the east, flattering faces at the four-sided bar under an eye-popping, hand-blown glass chandelier. Nina Simone shares the ever-changing soundtrack with contemporary lightweights.

The menu (a three-course, $125 prix fixe; no à la carte) reveals Boulud’s most arresting departures in a long time, paired with a few lovingly updated French classics. Several first courses, such as a Jurassic-size octopus tentacle, are substantial enough to be mains, while a few main courses, among them saffron-roasted cauliflower, might work better as starters. The lineup is constantly tweaked by Boulud and co-executive chefs Michael Balboni and William Nacev, so exact preparations may vary from night to night.

Chef Daniel Boulud in the kitchen with his team at Le Pavillon.
Chef Daniel Boulud is at the helm of the seafood and vegetable-forward menu at Le Pavillon.
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Some culinary sages argue that mussels billi bi originated at the original Le Pavillon, but Boulud says he first knew it at Andre Soltner’s Lutece. Who cares? The Maine specimens are steamed in the classic manner with white wine and shallots. White sturgeon caviar adds a new layer of luxury on top of assertively herbal broth.

Sinfully luscious oysters Vanderbilt might make the biggest splash since Boulud’s revolutionary $50 cheeseburger at DB Bistro back in 2003. The baked bivalves, soft enough to drink, are contrastingly crusted in gratinéed breadcrumbs, seaweed and parsley.

My favorite of all was champignon pasta – an intricate whirl of girella with a duxelles of morel mushroom, chives and Comté cheese between the sheets. It’s a vegetarian twist on an Alsatian pasta-and-rolled-meat dish known as fleischschnaka. I’d love it by any name. Of a half-dozen marvelous desserts, my favorite was the passion fruit and Cachaça-infused brioche.

Daniel Boulud's champignon pasta.
The champignon pasta with morel mushrooms is a standout on the $125 prix fixe menu.
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Problems remain that summer will hopefully give Boulud time to fix. A few dishes are too fussy for their own good. Citrus-cured fluke, cucumber, tapioca and peppers is a messy affair. Harder to remedy, the wine list’s esoteric “flights” seem more for Wine Spectator readers than for mainstream diners who crave a recognizable pinot noir. Most customers don’t want to be “introduced” to lesser-known makers, as the sommeliers say they aim to do, but to simply enjoy what they know.

Floor staff repeatedly asked if we were finished after we’d barely started eating. But at a time when help is near impossible to find, Boulud has set the ship to sea in remarkably sound shape.

Le Pavillon needs a few months to fully blossom, but it’s on its way to glory. Don’t wait for Labor Day. Reservations are already scarce, but they might be an impossible dream when Midtown’s millions come swarming back.

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