A few days ago, I returned to a restaurant that I’d never been to before. The place was—and is—Aureole. Back in the 1980s, after I moved to New York, my parents periodically came to visit me, and Aureole became our go-to special occasion place. My mom, an ardent foodie before the term was popular, was one of the first to appreciate Chef Charlie Palmer’s innovative American cuisine, ingenious in its combinations of flavors, gorgeous in its presentation. Many a birthday and anniversary, a new job or a new apartment, was commemorated there, in the smart Upper East Side townhouse (just the sort you’d love to live in) that was a swank stage set for the sculptural desserts and servers with just the right style of friendly formality. But nothing stands still—neither time, people nor restaurants. I married, drifted out of the Aureole habit. And Aureole changed its habits, moving to the lobby of a Midtown office building in 2009. I passed it often, yet never went inside. I was curious, yet reluctant. Scared to compare? Fear of disappointment—or memories? Finally, with the advent of a birthday, I opted to go. There’s definitely dazzle when you walk in, with a glass-enclosed wine cellar (actually, a wine mezzanine) perched above the bar room. The dining room is contemporary, yes, but somehow cozy too, with linear chandeliers giving everything a golden glow. And, ah, the food. Avant-garde, yet comforting. A broccoli and artichoke velouté—you got to eat your vegetables, baby—thick and luscious. Slow-cooked pork loin with apple purée. For dessert, this Kentucky girl had to have the Maker’s Mark ice cream with sticky toffee pudding. The plate came with “happy birthday” written on it, and a single lit candle. Different, yet the same. The same, only different. In the great debate between tradition and innovation, maybe that’s the ideal.
» Aureole, One Bryant Park, 135 W. 42nd St., 212.319.1660