The supreme fiction of the old Four Seasons restaurant was that it would last forever—that this vessel of modernism, encased in walnut and Carrara marble, would sail into the mists of time and emerge unchanged in hundreds of years, businessmen still grinning behind brazenly pink skyscrapers of cotton candy. But a few years ago the space was acquired by the property developer Aby Rosen; last year, the old crew got the boot (they’re opening a new Four Seasons nearby, in November), and Rosen ushered in Mario Carbone and his team to take the helm. The shudder could be felt all the way up to Central Park North—what would this downtown ruffian make of one of uptown’s favorite haunts?
The Grill occupies what was formerly known as the Grill Room, where, as Graydon Carter once put it, “the mandarins of commerce and the arts” preferred to eat. The Pool Room, which Carter compared to Siberia, will reopen as the Pool in the fall. Rosen has filled the place with works from his extensive art collection (one regular at the old spot, Henry Kissinger, might be tickled to see the Warhol portrait of Vladimir Lenin in the bathroom), and Philip Johnson’s interior has been beautifully restored by the architect Annabelle Selldorf.
The new Grill feels darker and more polished: polished wood, polished silver, polished people. The Old Guard is gone, replaced by a younger, slicker clientele, all open collars and dark suits. As one former habitué of Studio 54 remarked the other night, “That table looks like it’s occupied entirely by a modelling agency.” Here, too, are bow-tie-bedecked waiters who’ll gush about the “cornucopia” of options at a buffet table (Continental ham, pickled sardines, goose terrine) and barmen trained in Vegas who’ll give you every last detail about your drink (Exhibit A: the frozen Martini, which is for some reason frozen for forty-eight hours in a crystal decanter).
Even nostalgists will agree that the new iteration has institutional potential. The food—which at the old spot was good but felt a little beside the point—is undeniably delicious. From a bread basket brimming with puffy pretzel bread to the Filet Peconic, filet mignon slathered in oysters, the menu is decadent, delightful, and wildly expensive. A particular standout is the mushroom omelette, prepared tableside, in which morels, trumpets, and truffles hustle and cluster with flavor. The other night, an Amish ham steak was perhaps a tad too chewy, but otherwise it was hard to fault Carbone’s contemporary play on the type of nineteen-fifties American Continental food that earned the Four Seasons its first stripes. The only thing that’s missing is that cotton candy: let us hope that when the Pool opens they’ll have it on the menu.