Springtime at Gabriel Kreuther

Across the street from Bryant Park on East 42nd Street, on the ground floor of the Grace Building, is the eponymously-named Alsatian-inspired Gabriel Kreuther. Barely a year old, Guide Michelin has awarded it one star, with many patrons insisting it deserves better than that.

Having left The Modern after nearly 10 years at the helm, Mr. Kreuther has repeated the highly successful concept seen at MoMA of a more casual bar room adjoining a luxe dining room. The overall effect is welcoming, a bright and airy space in the heart of Midtown. A desirable addition to a street that's overloaded with fast food places.

Arriving on the early side for lunch, around 12:30 PM, we found the bar room much in demand. Here the French-German food—Gabriel Kreuther hails from Strasbourg—arrives on smaller plates with lesser tabs. Walk-ins are welcome. A la carte items run from $15 for a tarte flambée to $56 for the caviar and sea urchin. We headed for the main dining room, with its white table cloths and a lower decibel count due, in part, to the excellent spacing between tables. Then, too, there is the well-dressed clientele. At lunchtime, there’s a $52 two-course prix fixe and at dinner a $115 four-course menu. There is also a tasting menu at $195.

At first glance, I did not know what to make of the combination of the raw timber beams, the highly polished ceiling, and the dramatic wall-covering. But after a while, the overall effect of the light woods and the creme-colored banquettes and chairs felt reassuring, soothing.

In this chic space, there's no need to shout to be heard, as is often the case at many New York restaurants. There was a time when I accepted the din and raised voices as an indicator of fame and popularity, but now I think of it as the inevitable outcome of too many low tin ceilings, tiled walls, and hard-edged tables. At Gabriel Kreuther the floors are carpeted.

And the staff is warm and wonderful, the sommelier on-point. Noting that I was indecisive about the wines, she graciously offered a sampling. The wines, served in exquisite tulip-shaped glasses, the likes of which I had never seen, were fairly-priced with special consideration given the wines of Alsace (riesling, gewürztraminer, pinot gris and slyvaner). The wine list has been pulled together by Emilie Perrier, the former wine director at Ai Fiori, often called a ‘rising star sommelier.’ One oddity was that the staff, for each course, would place a knife and fork on a strip of leather to the right of the plate. What that was all about, I’m not sure.   

After an amuse-bouche came the first of three breads, a kugelhof served with whipped chive cheese. Although gluten-free, I could not resist nibbling. But when a crispy baguette followed, we turned it away, explaining we were, mostly, gluten free. A few minutes later, much to our surprise, the kitchen sent out a basket of the most delicious gluten-free bread, wrapped in a white linen napkin. The breads and the desserts are whipped up by the virtuoso baker, Marc Aumont, likewise, formerly at the Modern.

My first course was a salad of garden fresh greens with goat cheese, that of my companion a planked mackerel both delectable and oily. Raw fish is a must-have at GK. For the main course, we both ordered the squab–as rare as a duck magret, as tender as a chicken liver—that sat atop a translucent pool of sauce accompanied by a single leaf of Romaine lettuce sprinkled with seeds. Divine.

So divine, we ordered espresso, skipped the dessert, even though the choices were tempting: A strawberry rhubarb with buttermilk panna cotta, a decadent chocolate mousse with blackberry gellee and lemon verbena meringue.

Next time, we told the waiter, who promptly brought us a cacao pod filled with lovely hand-made chocolates, sitting atop tiny chocolate nibs. Upon leaving, a peek at the kitchen brought us face-to-face with a smiling Gabriel Kreuther, the master himself. We gave him four thumbs up.

The restaurant is open Monday to Friday for lunch and dinner and on Saturday for dinner only. Reservations recommended.