Daniel Boulud's new restaurant in the One Vanderbilt tower near Grand Central Terminal, Le Pavillon, opens on May 19—the same day that New York will allow its restaurants and bars to reopen at full capacity.
"If the governor does it, we better do it too," Boulud said during a tour of the 11,000-square-foot restaurant last week.
It's one of the largest restaurants for Boulud, who opened his Michelin-starred flagship, Daniel, on the Upper East Side in 1993.
The Central Park-inspired dining room includes live trees.
The wheels were set in motion for the project when SL Green—One Vanderbilt's developer—approached Boulud nearly four years ago, long before Covid shut down most of New York City. Despite dire predictions of the impending death of the city's offices and its restaurant scene, SL Green forged ahead with construction of the 1,401-foot-tall, 1.7-million-square foot tower.
"We are big believers in New York City," the company's chairman and CEO, Marc Holliday, said during a preview of the building's observation deck, which opens October 21. "New York is going to be back to where it was pre-pandemic, and I think it's going to go far beyond that. New York is a city that is constantly reinventing itself and reaching new heights and innovation, and I expect that to be absolutely the case in the coming year."
Boulud also never wavered in his commitment to the project, which also includes an Épicerie Boulud take-out market for building tenants. He said that traffic has already picked up at Daniel now that vaccination rates are up and restrictions are being eased.
"People want to celebrate, they want to gather, they want to party," Boulud said. Over the past year, guests at Daniel's sidewalk café have mostly been small parties, like couples. Now there are larger groups of people "seeing their friends, having fun, drinking good wine, and wanting to celebrate."
Poached halibut with barley, scallion, Martha’s Vineyard shitake, and consommé forestière
Le Pavillon will be another venue for celebration. The restaurant's three-course, prix-fixe menu ($125) focuses on vegetables and seafood, including Oysters "Vanderbilt"—oyster chowder with a hazelnut-parsley crust—a nod to the Grand Central Oyster Bar and railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, who built Grand Central Terminal.
Another dish, Moules Billi Bi, pays homage to a dish Boulud had at the classic New York City restaurant Lutèce. "When I arrived in New York City in 1982, one of the first restaurants I tried to go to was Lutèce," the chef said. "I tried to go for my 28th birthday in March of 1983 and they refused my reservation. They didn't have room for me because I was not famous—I was just a little chef at the Westbury Hotel."
Boulud eventually secured a reservation five weeks later, and the first dish Chef André Soltner served him was a Billi Bi, a creamy mussel soup with potato, leek, and parsley. "It always stuck in my mind, so I have a Billi Bi here in memory of André Soltner and Lutèce restaurant," Boulud said.
Also among the seafood offerings are grilled Dover sole, baked Maine lobster, and grilled black sea bass. The menu is Boulud's first to specifically highlight vegetables, although he included a vegetarian "potager" menu when he opened Café Boulud 24 years ago. (Café Boulud is now operating at Blantyre in Lenox, Massachusetts.)
"I have always been in love with vegetables," Boulud said. "I grew up on a farm [outside of Lyon France], and I live my entire life eating vegetables and always place vegetables as important as any other protein I prepare."
The restaurant’s interior design was led by Isay Weinfeld along with architecture firm KPF.
In addition to the food, the 120-seat dining room's decor is a draw. Its 20-foot-tall olive trees and lush greenery contribute to the feeling of an oasis that is removed from the bustling intersection of 42nd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue one floor below. An elegant bar area near the entrance has room for an additional 46 guests. It will offer à la carte options.
Epicures will recognize the name Le Pavillion and its significance in the city's dining scene. At the World's Fair in 1939, Le Pavillion Français was the restaurant in the French pavilion. Manager Henri Soulé opened Le Pavillon as as a standalone restaurant in Midtown Manhattan in 1941, and it went on to define French cuisine in the United States. Historian and Yale Professor Paul Freedman included it in his book of the ten most important restaurants in American history.
Le Pavillon’s chef team includes William Nacev, Daniel Boulud, and Michael Balboni.
Boulud isn't out to recreate Le Pavillon though. "I wanted the name to be a reference to New York City and to France," he said. "I have always admired French classic cuisine, and the name pays homage to the period of French dining in America that influenced restarurants all over the country."
The restaurant focuses on vegetables and seafood, including baked Maine lobster.
The chef also noted that a pavilion was historically found in a large park or on an avenue, offering its visitors "an enclave of entertainment."
The name feels right.
Le Pavillon opens to the public on May 20. From May 28, the restaurant will be open Wednesday through Saturday beginning at 5 p.m. for dinner service. Breakfast and lunch will begin in September. Reservations can be made by calling 212-662-1000 or visiting lepavillonnyc.com.
Contributing Digital Editor
Sam Dangremond is a Contributing Digital Editor at Town & Country, where he covers men's style, cocktails, travel, and the social scene.