Afternoons on the upper east side find flocks of well-heeled ladies who lunch clustered along a certain glass case gazing longingly at the temptations within. But this is no jewelry counter, although its contents are as alluring as bijoux—it's Payard Pâtisserie and Bistro, a high-ceilinged grand café where the warm yellow walls are accented with Belle Epoque mirrors and the pastries are delicate perfection. Adorned with swirls, tracings, and gold filigree, the 30 different pastries and assorted chocolates look too pretty to eat, but one bite reveals sublime flavor combinations like mandarin orange and Earl Grey. Behind this confectionary wizardry is François Payard, a third-generation pastry chef from Nice. He opened Payard after stints at two Michelin three-stars in Paris, followed by Le Bernardin and Daniel in New York, and takes the art of pastry very seriously. "In France, a pâtissier is judged by his napoleon," Payard says. "Inferior puff pastry is considered a crime." His own ethereal version has the tang of raspberry coulis. For something grander, order his three-foot-tall traditional French wedding cake, a croquembouche tour de force serving 150 ($2,000).
1032 Lexington Avenue; 212-717-5252.