By Heather Bryce
Beautique located in Midtown Manhattan is a late night kind of place but we didn’t get the memo and arrived at the unfashionably early hour of 8 pm.
The bar was quiet and only a scattering of tables were filled in the chic black and gold dining room, but it was not laid back by any means. As we entered the street level lobby, we were met by a step-and-repeat back-drop and a posse of publicists handing out goodie bags to stylish attendees at a charity event being held in another part of the property. The after party for a film premiere, we hear. We are right next door to the Paris Theatre.
Holding the door open for us was a very polite doorman – a welcome and unsurprising touch of class. The venue is, after all, located in the heart of “Billionaire’s Row,” directly opposite the legendary Plaza Hotel, and was dubbed by the New York Post as the city’s “new playpen for millionaires.” As we discover, Beautique is a restaurant/nightclub that serves fabulous food.
The restaurant and lounge are down a mirror-lined staircase in a glamorous subterranean lair where a trio of sleek black columns do their part in holding up the building above. I know the part about them being weight-bearing columns because one of our party knows the space well: her cousin was the architect back in the late ‘90s when he carved a sumptuous refuge out of a nondescript basement. The original restaurant there was helmed by filmmakers Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, known for atmospheric movies set on the Subcontinent. Pondicherry, as it was called, served upscale Indian food.
Now the space is occupied by the trendy modern American restaurant Beautique, a dining and dancing destination. Over the course of the night a stream of well heeled, long-legged, and beautifully coiffed patrons made their way into the big room where we ate, and then through the kitchen into the “secret” speakeasy type lounge. Back there bottle service is the norm and plutocrats are surrounded by bevies of adoring model types, all sprawled on Jean Paul Gaultier-upholstered seating.
We don’t see any celebs during our visit, but we’re assured that the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Dylan McDermott, Kate Bosworth, Adam Brody, Iman, Uma Thurman, Eric Ripert, and Harvey Weinstein have held court there.
Not having planned for a late night, we stay only for dinner, a feast from the kitchen of acclaimed French chef Alain Allegretti. Ensconced in a posh corner velvet banquette, we oversee the room’s romantic décor, which the press release describes as “channeling the spirit of Coco Chanel’s house in Paris.” An international crowd filters in to inhabit nearby tables and top midtown hotel concierges send their a-list guests here. Some dandies nearby are downing shots of aged Macallan Single Malt at $500 a pop. We settle for a drink from the repertoire of cocktails created by James Beard-nominated mixologist Charlotte Voisey, “The Gabrielle” is a rapturous blend of Hendrick’s gin, ginger liqueur, lemon juice, and lavender bitters.
Their Sommelier, Brett Mendl is a font of recommendations from a healthy list of interesting wines. We savor a luscious earthy Grenache from Languedoc’s Chateau Maris – “one of the lowest carbon footprint wines I’ve ever seen,” he says. Even the label and bottle are made from recycled materials. The almost purple La Petite Ruche from winery M. Chapoutier in the Rhone Valley is a tour de force. We touch the label. It’s in braille. The winemaker’s daughter is blind.Onto the food. The crab cakes, served with a Onto the food.
The crab cakes, served with a celeriac and green apple remoulade, pickled grapefruit, and almond romesco sauce, were nicely seasoned but we would have preferred crisper. The fennel-infused tuna tartar slathered on chewy pistachio toast rectangles is a delightful juxtaposition of creaminess and citrus. The octopus, well seared, and enhanced with a dose of chili oil was an exemplar of piscatorial smokiness. Our favorite appetizer, shared by the table, was the fried potato gnocchi accompanied by a lemon-zest spiked ricotta salata. We christened the little gems, with their crusty exteriors and molten interiors with a hint of cheese, “upscale tater tots.”
The branzino was a succulent surprise: super crispy herbed and breaded filets served with a velvety cauliflower puree and winning shaved Brussels sprouts. The salmon with its complex accessories of fennel confit, artichoke, fava beans, black olives, and a citrus beurre blanc was deeply flavored. Alas, the short ribs, which we favor falling apart, were steak-y in texture. But our spinach side dish was melt in your mouth.
By the time we left at midnight the joint was, as they say, jumping. If we’d known, we would have arrived later and stuck around for the festivities. Next time. We surely will be back.