RESTAURANTS • First Person
When we were seated at Four Twenty Five, just after 5p last Tuesday, the restaurant was full only of anticipation, and we had a direct line of sight to chef Jonathan Benno surveying the dining room before service. (Was he staring us down? Maybe!) A few minutes later, Jean-Georges Vongerichten appeared on Benno’s left flank, the two main characters of this sparkling new production stage-lit in the glassed-in kitchen like the dramatic opening of a Broadway show.
It was clear we were in for a very serious evening.
As we admired the scene and our place in it, several staff members came by in succession to get us settled. Not a full course in, and our first server introduced us to another server, who would be taking over. Fine dining, it’s a contact sport.
By 7p, the dining room — the grandest to open in Midtown since the Four Seasons became The Grill — was at capacity, the crowd heavy on the Upper East Side, with a dash of downtown finance, and a healthy pinch of New York eccentric. At the table to our left, two women discussed their recent travels: “I was just in Belize. With my cat.” To the right, another woman asked for Jean-Georges before she had sat down: “Please have him come over.”
The food is beautiful and refined, from the amuse of a polenta cake with black truffle shavings to the dessert of caramel custard with banana, brown butter, and creme fraiche ice cream. The crudo and appetizers were especially elegant: scallop tartare with shiso leaves for wrapping, foie gras terrine with blood orange confit and spiced madeleines (the best dessert appetizer you’ve ever had), and sliced kampachi with a kick of aji amarillo. Immaculate, all.
After dinner, on our way back down the (long!) staircase from the second-floor dining room, we passed JGV, re-ascending. Perhaps he was on his way to make the rounds, to ask about traveling tabbies, to sign some menus, which already had his name in many places. He’d earned it. Oui, chef.
The first-floor lounge (above), empty on arrival, now bustled with 20-somethings making a serious dent in the venue’s average age while drinking JG Manhattans and nibbling bar snacks in polished sneakers.
We left them to it and walked back onto Park Ave., past the gleaming lobby of the restaurant’s namesake, a new Norman Foster-designed office building, where a party of four seventy-somethings had just circled through the revolving door and into the tower in search of the restaurant. For them, the show had just begun. –Josh Albertson