*** Three Stars
Address: 135 West 42nd St., btwn. 6th & 7th Aves.
Vibe: Sleek, haute midtown
Occasion: Business lunch; Group dinner; oeniphile destination
Hours: Dinner; Sun-Wed, 5:30p.m..-12a.m., Thu-Sat, 5:30p.m.-1a.m.
Don’t Miss Dish: Pastrami pork belly sliders; Steamed branzini in lemongrass-coconut broth;Sweet corn souffle.
Average Price: Appetizers, $15, Entrees, $30, Dessert, $10.
Reservations: Reservations recommended.
Capsule: Aureole does upscale Vegas by way of Times Square.
Aureole used to be a sure thing. When everyone else was doing haute French, Charlie Palmer trailblazed haute American cuisine in the 90’s. Aureole became synonymous with fine dining, impeccable food, and a wonderful wine list. Eating in the restaurant — an elegant, Upper East Side townhouse —
felt like you were a dinner guest at Charlie Palmer’s house. But over the years, Aureole lost its luster. Even with Adam Tihany’s redesign, the food no longer dazzled and the
audience seemed to tire of the formal way we used to eat fancy food.
So Charlie Palmer picked up and relocated to 135 East 42nd Street, right between Bryant Park and the heart of Times Square. Bold move. The new Aureole looks nothing like the old one. Aureole 2.0 has a sleek, glass façade that looks out onto traffic, a broadway billboard, and the furious bustle of midtown. Inside, Adam Tihany has outfitted the space with a zinc bar, marble floors, and high gloss wood tables. The centerpiece is a magnificent, second-story wine cellar, built entirely out of glass, that floats over the barroom. The restaurant looks a lot like the Aureole in Las Vegas, which makes sense. After all, Times Square — with its neon lights and oversized eateries — is a lot like the Vegas of New York. The crowd’s a little Vegas too — an odd assortment of tourists in
ripped jeans, a business lunch crowd, Graydon Carter, and a guy in a
cowboy hat and boots.
Palmer put Chef Christopher Lee from Gilt in charge of his new kitchen. There’s an upfront bar room
with an a la carte or bar snack menu and a main dining room with a prix
fixe menu. The main dining room, tucked away in the back, has low ceilings, carpeting, and a slightly, stuffy atmosphere. I prefer the bar room. You
can order quite a few of the dishes on the prix fixe menu in the bar
room without the three-course commitment and the $84 price tag. Nowadays, a burger, sliders, and roast chicken are fixtures on almost every American menu.
sliders at Aureole are phenomenal — pastrami pork belly imaginatively
layered with raclette cheese, cole slaw, and russian dressing. The burger’s much more substantial than your typical fancy food burger. It’s a thick, juicy burger topped with a slab of bacon, cheddar, and a terrific ramp aioli. But twice, I had the roast chicken and twice the meat was lackluster, the skin crisp-less. Both the calamari a la plancha and the striped bass were average, but when I dine at Aureole I expect better than average. I
want something memorable, like Palmer’s seared sea scallops sweetened
with raw rhubarb and mellowed by mushrooms, served during lunch. I loved the steamed branzini in a fragrant, lemongrass coconut
broth and the heirloom tomato gazpacho with diced lobster, avocado, and
The wine list is better than ever, especially the selections by the glass. For dessert, there’s a wonderful corn souffle with blueberry chutney
and frozen yogurt and a great selection of homemade ice creams and
sorbets. But is it really necessary to deconstruct, never mind pan-fry carrot cake? As good as Aureole is, 42nd Street feels like the wrong location for Aureole. It’s on a block where nobody stops and diners feel like they’re sitting in a display case in a store window. The only other place to eat on the block is the Conde Nast Cafeteria.
Photo Credit: Pete Thompson