Is an era of extravaganza back in New York City dining scene? What I’ve been hearing these days a lot are restaurant shutters due to rent hikes and rising minimum wages, or chefs who are migrating to fast-casual concepts that can appeal to the masses without substantial costs up front (following the leads of Danny Meyer, David Chang, etc.). Against all such economic pressures that have been seemingly shaping the landscape of New York City dining, the Four Seasons reboot by Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi’s Major Food Group almost seems like a badly timed anachronism. Yes, they have turned Carbone into an opulent retro Italian-American dining destination in the city, but have also opened more casual concepts like Santina and Sadelle’s in more recent years, and have certainly focused on expanding the footprints of their popular Parm joints throughout the city. The Grill, on the other hand, is not only expensive (right on the level of Carbone) but doesn’t look like a restaurant that people would be able to go every week for a casual meal. It has, however, been perhaps the biggest opening news in New York City dining this year, thanks to the iconic status of Four Seasons in the city’s dining history as a power lunch destination but also thanks to Major Food Group’s heightened status in recent years. So was this place worth it? My wife Jun and I had recently met another couple for dinner at The Grill, and the husband, who is also an avid foodie like I am, declared this place was the best among Major Food Group restaurants he had been to. And while there were some surprising kinks in services (more on that below), I do agree it is one of the best new openings of the year in the city.
Almost everything at The Grill’s retro continental menu is just as much about performance as about food. I still can’t forget the pasta a la presse. A staff comes out with a press cart where she inserts different poultries into the press and extracts meaty juice that then goes into egg noodles. There is no other ingredient on top of the noodles, but we all marveled at this incredibly smoky feel to the dish. At that point, I was really struggling to think of a better pasta dish than this one that I’ve had this year. A staff also prepares wild mushroom omelette on the tableside and it had an elegant balance of rich flavor that we enjoyed as well. Considering the restaurant’s name, we knew we had to go for at least three meat dishes. The highlight was without doubt the giant prime rib. First, a server brings out a cart with a humongous pile of meat and cuts a slab right in front of you. It was an absolute stunner, with awesome texture and balanced seasoning that I won’t forget in a long time. Have I had a better prime rib elsewhere? The wonderful prime rib at Cherche Midi that I had a couple of years ago immediately came to mind, and I might need to revisit the place just for the sake of deciding which prime rib reins supreme.
Compared to the prime rib, the other two meat dishes somewhat paled in comparison. The lamb chops were nicely cooked, but the curried flavors overwhelmed the meat more than I would have liked, and I didn’t see how mint jelly on the side was supposed to add to the equation. Larded squab with whole grilled preserved orange was also delicious (and certainly much more generous in portion than, say, the skeletal one we’ve had at Chinese Tuxedo earlier this year), but not probably our best choice for the meat fest at The Grill. Add some simple grilled asparagus and hunter’s style potatoes (the latter stood out on its own as a side dish), and you have one heck of a feast. The show doesn’t stop with savory dishes. A staff comes out again to mix up different ingredients into peach melba flambe (yes, there is actually a flame involved) that was quite delightful without being overly sweet. We were also pleasantly surprised with a slice of lemon chiffon that the served pulled from the “chef’s buffet” table on one corner of the restaurant.
Not surprisingly, it will be quite a challenge to secure a reservation at The Grill (I was barely able to secure a 5:45 p.m. spot on a Tuesday), so be patient and ready to plan way ahead in advance. There is full bar with potent old-school cocktails and huge wine lists (the husband from the other couple that dined with us discovered a very well balanced and affordable Italian red that only helped enhance our meal). I’m not sure how the vibe of The Grill will evolve over time but its location inside an iconic hotel in Midtown East means it won’t stop drawing expense-account type crowds anytime soon. For a restaurant looking to replicate the luxurious New York dining experience, the services were surprisingly sporadic. When, for instance, we tried to learn more about different meat dishes on the menu and specifically asked how the guinea hen Claiborne is prepared, the server stuttered as if he had no idea what he was talking about. We are paying a small fortune to dine here, so wouldn’t it be nice to know what we are eating? There were other instances of subtle awkwardness that took place but I’m inclined to let it go. In any event, The Grill represents a unique outlier in the growing “casualization” of dining experiences, and really backs up the hype with not only dazzling performance but awesome, decadent food. Next up at the Four Season reboot is The Pool, a seafood-centric restaurant from, yes, the same Major Food Group. Will get to that place in a couple of months.
- Creativity: 9.0/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.5/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 9.0/10
- Value: 7.5/10
Address: 99 East 52nd Street, New York, NY 10022
Telephone: (212) 375-9001