Food Writer's Diary

Aureole tries to go casual

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Aureole, chef Charlie Palmer’s flagship restaurant in New York City, has evolved a lot with the times.

Once a luxurious fine-dining restaurant in a super-rich section of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the restaurant was moved in 2009 to a much larger space farther downtown, on 42nd Street, about midway between congenial Bryant Park and touristy, touristy Times Square.

Few people seem to realize that Times Square and Bryant Park are a single block away from each other, because they’re so different culturally, but they are.

The now-four-year-old space has a giant kitchen, including a chocolate room, which is virtually unheard of in New York City restaurants, and spaces for private dining, which the original Aureole lacked.

Also, the main space is a high-end but still casual dining room and bar. Traditional fine dining is relegated to a separate room in the back.

It does a lot of pre-theater business.

The ostensibly casual dining room was pretty fancy today when I went there for lunch. Business was brisk, and most of the customers were wearing suits.

But Palmer’s hoping to change that fancy air, at least on Sunday night. So he invited me and a few other journalists to sample his new Big Mag Boeuf Sunday night menu.

New Yorkers don’t tend to eat anything fancy on Sunday, Palmer reasoned. They stay home and order pizza or Chinese food. He wants to create an atmosphere in which people can feel similarly comfortable.

It’s a set menu, available only in the large bar area, that starts with a salad, which will change seasonally, but currently has spring greens, fava beans, English peas and a citrus-Dijon vinaigrette. Next is a big hunk of côte de boeuf — the French version of a rib eye, basically — for two, with spinach and French fries. Dessert at the moment is a light cake with vanilla ice cream, crème anglaise and berries.

You only get one drink, but it’s Bordeaux, poured from a magnum. Currently it’s a 2004 Château La Vielle Cure Fronsac. Fronsac’s not the most prestigious part of Bordeaux, Aureole’s sommelier, Justin Lorenz, explained to me, but it’s still Bordeaux, it’s still delicious wine, and it’s something you can pour from magnums without bankrupting your restaurant.

The wine’s not all-you-can-drink, because that’s illegal in New York City, but let’s just say they’ll refill your glass unless you’ve reached an unacceptable state of inebriation.  

That’s the plan, anyway.

The price: $49.

Palmer said he wants people at Aureole on Sunday nights to feel comfortable coming in jeans and sweatshirts, relaxing among friends and eating more steak and drinking more wine than is really necessary: A fun, relaxing Sunday night.

Of course, if you look at it on paper, steak and Bordeaux is not a casual, relaxing meal. It’s fine dining, even if it comes with fries.

But it seems to me that that’s a sign of where food is in The United States these days. You can eat whatever you want in whatever setting you like; it just depends on your attitude.

April 12: This story has been updated with further information about the special and with a picture of the meal.

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Food Writer's Diary is a blog written by Bret Thorn, senior food editor of Nation’s Restaurant News, which covers culinary trends and his adventures.

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Bret Thorn

Bret Thorn is responsible for reporting on culinary trends in foodservice for Nation's Restaurant News. He joined NRN in 1999, after spending about five years as a journalist in Thailand, where...
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