These days, much of New York’s dining scene reads like a copy of You Can’t Go Home Again, Thomas Wolfe’s thirties novel exploring the notion of returning to a place from your past—and being disappointed. Last month, the homecoming of The Four Seasons Restaurant, Midtown’s venerable 1959 institution from impresarios Alex von Bidder and Julian Niccolini, signals quite the opposite.
Like all good theatre, the entrance is a discreet, darkened affair giving way to the sunken Bar Room that pockets elements of the old Philip Johnson-designed digs (where a 2015 tabloid-splashed standoff with developer Aby Rosen resulted in the restaurant’s relocation). Brazilian architect Isay Weinfeld’s first stateside effort uses dazzling materials; an elegant 20-seat bar wrapped by a gold-leaf glass top, Edward Wormley’s sexy swivel chairs and curtains made from hand blown glass beads. It’s also an exercise in cinematic, amber-hued lighting; both masculine and romantic—and ideal for mezcal Negroni.
Don’t linger too long. Lunch awaits. A meditative corridor of oxidized brass links the bar to the Dining Room; a teak-toned affair dotted with silver bowls atop cloth-topped walnut tables and paired with leather banquettes. And overhead, a Michael Anastassiades brass lighting constellation lends organic symmetry.
Follow the orchestral motion: a seductive bustle, clinks of champagne flutes, a discerning sweep of rolling trolleys pushed by a dapper staff in charcoal Joseph Abboud threads. And, while the spirit of A-listers past lingers (JFK, Kissinger, Wintour, Buffet) so does the fashionable cast and crew—notably the Tuscan-born Niccolini (dressed in Thom Browne suits) and von Bidder, who work the room with confident aplomb. The room is heavy on rarefied players in dark banker blue suits and women working the double kiss, but, there’s also a younger crowd looking for some semblance of gastronomic personality.
And then there’s the food. In a day when Gotham’s dining feels largely void of charm—and married to saturated restaurant empires—newcomer Diego Garcia (Le Bernardin) adds elevated riffs to signatures: tableside steak tartar, Caesar salad, crab cakes, and Dover sole. He’s also accelerated delicate fluke crudo with watermelon radish and seaweed vinaigrette and little neck clams with cannellini beans. Stay for dessert, former Obama White House pastry chef Bill Yosses is in charge; try the pistachio puff.
Only a New York comeback story feels this quaint and ultimately, authentic. The secret to staying timeless? “There’s no secret. It’s about thinking how to eat fresh food and visiting the people that grow food for you. The rest is easy,” says Niccolini.
Maybe Wolfe was wrong; you can go home again.