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Old Posted Apr 13, 2021, 12:39 PM
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Inside Daniel Boulud’s new restaurant Le Pavillon

By Jennifer Gould
April 12, 2021

On Saturday, the city closed a swath of East 42nd Street because chef Daniel Boulud’s newest project, Le Pavillon, was expecting an unusual delivery: 10,000 pounds of black olive trees trucked in from Florida.

A massive crane hoisted the 20-foot-tall trees to a group of workers perched on a second-story platform at One Vanderbilt — a $3.3 billion office tower overlooking Grand Central Terminal that developer SL Green unveiled last fall. The trees were then funneled into the 1,400-foot-tall tower through a window that had been removed specifically for the purpose.

Once inside, the olive trees were placed in 3-feet-deep pits dug through the floor of the restaurant, where they will grow using special “grow lights” to mimic their natural habitat. Thousands of pounds of soil was brought in to fill the holes and cover their roots — one wheelbarrow at a time.
When Le Pavillon opens next month, the 11,000 square foot, 100-seat restaurant with a 30-seat bar, designed by Isay Weinfeld, will boast a flowering garden with trees bifurcating the glass dining room.

Even for Boulud — a world-famous chef with a restaurant empire that spans from New York to Dubai — it’s an impressive undertaking, one that has been three years in the making in partnership with SL Green.

“An opportunity to create a great restaurant like this comes once every 30 or 40 years,” Boulud told Side Dish during an exclusive tour of the eatery as it gears up to open its doors on May 25 for dinner service four or five nights a week, with lunch and breakfast service beginning in the fall.
Boulud is so gungho for the opening he invited legendary chef Jaques Pepin, 85, to talk to the staff on orientation day about what it was like to be a young chef working at Le Pavillon, which closed eight years before Boulud arrived in NYC from France in 1980.

“I like the fact that it was a long time ago and yet it wasn’t so long ago that I couldn’t be connected to people and stories from that era,” Boulud said.

And he insisted that the pandemic has not at all altered his vision for Le Pavillon, which has only been delayed by three months — even if his plan to build a garden inside a skyscraper is now on trend with the post-pandemic world.

“I always felt the space was so big we’d need to bring an ‘oasis of nature’ inside, while respecting the architecture of the building,” Boulud said of the trees.
The restaurant’s partners — SL Green, which is funding most of it, and Boulud’s company Dinex — declined to say how much the restaurant build out is expected to cost. SL Green called the expense a ‘nominal percentage” of its overall investment in One Vanderbilt, which is 73.7 percent leased.

The menu will be seasonal and focused on seafood and vegetables “from Maine to Maryland,” along with some simple grilled and rotisserie dishes. Boulud is also working on his own dish to rival oysters Rockefeller, which he will dub oysters Vanderbilt, and an updated chilled pea soup that Boulud first put on the menu when he opened Daniel in May 1993.
Standing outside of One Vanderbilt as its shiny glass facade reflected the image of the Chrysler building, passersby cheered Boulud as a photographer snapped away. For a moment he stared at a black cast iron Eagle — one of the originals from Grand Central Station — perched on a rail across from him.

“Maybe we’ll call it the Eagle Bar,” Boulud mused, picking up on an earlier conversation about-the-as-yet unnamed bar inside Le Pavillon.

What will his first drink be at the Eagle Bar?

“A Manhattan,” he said without skipping a beat.

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