The Bar Before Broadway?

The Bar Before Broadway?

Aureole (©Eric Laignel)

Although I make my best effort to visit every fine destination restaurant in NYC at least every two years, I confess I had only been to Charlie Palmer’s Aureole twice before this most recent visit: Once, back in the early 1990s, I visited the original restaurant in its elegant townhouse off Madison Avenue. Then, about a year ago, I had the good fortune of being invited on a Midtown press dine-around at three of Charlie Palmer’s NYC venues: Aureole for champagne, wine and appetizers; Charlie Palmer Steak, his upscale surf 'n turf spot on E. 54th Street for dinner; and then cigars and after-dinner drinks at Crimson & Rye, Palmer's craft cocktail bar and lounge in Manhattan’s famous Lipstick Building.

I had been curious for awhile now, though, to go back to Aureole for dinner in the cocktail lounge, one of my favorite things to do in this city: Between great people-watching and fast service, dinner at the bar is a terrific way to revisit the restaurant and leave me enough time to get to the show I was seeing that night on Broadway.

I arrived at the restaurant at six: with its sheer Roman shades, soothing color scheme of gold and chocolate, plush leather chairs and muted noise level, it offers a comforting contrast to the mania of 42nd Street, where the restaurant is housed. I love the walk over to the bar, past enthusiastic diners, handsome tables dressed with fine china and, looking upward, an impressive view: the restaurants glass-walled “cellar," which towers atop the bar/dining room and juts out just enough to see the rows and rows of bottles that are housed in it.

A most cordial bartender immediately offered my friend and I both the bar and dinner menu, which was a perfect for a mix 'n' match for us. We opted for the yellowfin tuna tartar, beef carpaccio and a most unusual house salad, a generous serving of greens, grilled corn, housemade almond granola (to die for!), heart of palm and avocado, dressed with cilantro and chervil dressing so aromatic I was tempted to dab it behind my ears. The yellowfin tuna tartare was accompanied by coconut foam and black-and-white sesame seeds, and the paper-thin beef tartare, with caramalized onion and blue cheese, was all about light texture and dense flavor. Finally, a word or two must be said about the chosen dessert. The wild strawberry mille-feuille was all about the way things are supposed to be, according to Mother Earth: small, sweet strawberries that were not supersized due to modern genetic mutation (as my friend, a great chef herself, exclaimed, "strawberries grown the way they are really grown!"); a mousseline and lemon confit that had just the slightest sweetness to it; and poached rhubarb which added the final finish to a dessert that was light, full of suprise and flavor and lacking any sugary after-taste.

It takes a chef who is both gifted and mature to use his imagination to present unconventional spins on traditional dishes that actually work, and don't come off as either trying too hard, or just too over the top. It seems that executive chef Marcus Gleadow-Ware at Aureole got it right, yet again.

» Aureole, 135 W. 42nd St., 212.319.1660