L'Avenue in New York: Bienvenue!
It would be a chance to lunch with the ‘glitterati,’ or so I thought, as I headed for L’Avenue, the newly-opened restaurant at Saks Fifth Avenue. Advance press told me it was not your typical department store restaurant, far from it.
L’Avenue at Saks has been modeled on L’Avenue in Paris, which stands at the intersection of boutique-lined Avenue Montaigne and rue François Premier. As tony as it gets. The restaurant is the star in the crown of the Costes Brothers’—Jean-Louis and Gilbert—empire of restaurants and hotels. When we lunched there two years ago, we found ourselves at a window table overlooking rue Montaigne, and, for two hours, contentedly watched the high-fashion crowd coming and going.
A Simple Formula
L’ Avenue Saks Fifth Avenue will follow the same formula that made the Parisian restaurant the talk of the town: Attractively presented dishes—French standards, including little pots of escargot and le club sandwich with frites—served in a luxury habitat with a top-drawer location. One goes to L’Avenue Paris to see and be seen, not necessarily to eat. Hopefully, the same will prove true for L’Avenue at Saks Fifth. In keeping with tradition, the portions will be kept small, as they are in Paris, at what is the first restaurant in the States for the Costes brothers.
L’Avenue Saks Fifth Avenue has its own entrance on East 50th Street, which stays open after the store has closed for the day. When you step off elevator on the ninth floor, there’s a dimly-lit carpeted corridor lined with dramatic stained glass panels that leads to the bar and the main dining room. Arriving without a reservation, willing to take my chances, I was initially perplexed by the quiet.
At the entrance to the bar stood the Pierre Hermé patisserie and chocolate boutique. The lovely young woman behind the counter said that L’Avenue would not be serving lunch until the first of April. But they are serving dinner, with the restaurant opening at five o’clock. Reservations for the Main Dining Room open 1 month in advance and are only available through Resy.
What tempted me that day was the rose pound cake (see above) with raspberries and litchis at $25.00. The Pierre Hermé boutique will be providing the pastries for L’Avenue, so you can always drop by and pick one up to go. Or click the link above and order by mail.
Who Is Pierre Hermé?
She explained that he’s world-famous for his cakes and chocolates. That this is his first boutique in New York, and everything is flown in from Paris. The glass case was lined with chocolates and macaroons in all colors and a number of small cakes. In a pamphlet, I found the following from Monsieur Hermé : ‘Mon chocolat, je le eux viviant.’ That is: ‘I want my chocolate to come alive.’ And alive it does. Maybe it’s because he ‘uses sugar like salt, in other words, as a seasoning to heighten other shades of flavor.’
Was I disappointed that my timing was off and I’d have to come back another day for lunch? Not at all, as it gave me a chance to walk about and take photos without interfering with other diners. The only faces I saw that day were those of the trades people in the bar area, all intent upon business matters related to the restaurant.
Designed by the top-flight designer Philippe Starck, the dining room is light and airy, in shades of ivory, beige and caramel. In fact, the entire store has undergone a multi-million dollar making if a much brighter place. The ambiance of L’Avenue is that of a salon, the leather banquettes and tables interspersed with glass curio cabinets. In the curios there were a number of curious items—including the vintage Dior white and les beaux chapeaux, exquisitely detailed. The walls are hung with classic black-and-white fashion photos, always timely, always in good taste. And the use of the glass curio cabinets is excellent in that they provide privacy, creating little nooks, while not interfering with the view of other diners. If you look at the photo above of the Dior suit, you are looking through the cabinet at the table and chairs. Through the glass brightly.
And the views are delightful. On one side are the spires of St Patrick’s Cathedral and on the other, the handsome Art Deco buildings of the inimitable Rockefeller Center. I was charmed by symmetrical rooftop gardens—each with evergreen plantings, paved walkways, a patch of grass, and even a small reflecting pool— atop two of the buildings across from Saks. Nestled in between, a glittering Prometheus statue watched over the skaters zipping around the ice rink.
A staircase brought me to the eighth-floor, to the main bar which looks like a chalet in Gstaad or Lake Placid. There was no one there. No one. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. There I was in the middle of Manhattan…in the middle of the day…on the eighth-floor of Saks Fifth Avenue…with a cozy chalet all to myself.
An Alpine Hideaway On Eight
I took my sweet time examining the zinc-topped bar. The hanging lamps with silk-pleated shades trimmed with fringe. Two stone fireplaces to take away the chill. The mix-and-match chairs, some covered with a down-home floral chintz, others in antelope. Amusing touches abound: a mounted deer head dripping with pearls; crutches propped against a wall; a carved Bavarian wooden clock with a swooping eagle and a hare; parchment lampshades signed in French by make-believe patrons; poetry books in French, design books in English, and postcards from all over the world. I’m definitely going back when the in-house mixologist, Nico de Soto, is there. Maybe this summer when they just might open that door that leads to the terrace.
It seems to me that so often ‘Desperately Seeking Paris’ leaves the house intending to do one thing, and ends up doing another. L’Avenue a case in point. If I had been looking forward to gawking at the fashionistas over lunch, I ended up having a day filled everyday folks and happy surprises. Only in New York!
Well, that’s all for today mes amis. Hope to see you back next week when I’ll have the coffee ready. By the way, have you heard the good news about coffee this week? Research shows it’s good for your sex life, good for your exercise program, and good for your brain. Go ahead, have another cup…Until we meet again, may life be good to you.
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