It’s not easy to remake a smash hit, especially one as iconic as the Pool Room in New York City. So the stakes were high when Major Food Group relaunched the venue in 2017 as part of the group’s takeover of the Seagram Building space that housed the historic Four Seasons Restaurant from 1959 to 2016. The reincarnated version includes the Pool, the Grill and a Japanese brasserie called the Lobster Club, each with a distinct menu but a shared wine list.
The Pool Room and its counterpart the Grill Room were components of the original restaurant—though “restaurant” is an understatement. The status-driven Four Seasons was frequented by world leaders, industry titans and celebrities, not only for the sophisticated American cuisine, but also for the rarefied atmosphere.
In a space that’s essentially a Manhattan monument, Major Food Group returned the Pool’s focus to wine and food. Along with its distinctive decor and heightened sense of refinement, the Pool’s modern menu and deep wine list make it a Grand Award winner.
Everything about the space is extravagant. Guests enter through a gold-hued foyer, where a glass-enclosed display shows off part of a massive Château d’Yquem vertical back to 1811. The landmark-designated dining room retains the famous marble pool and window treatments that ripple like waves. Details lend a contemporary feel amid the nostalgia, such as sleek chairs that almost appear to be floating and a mobile sculpture hovering above the pool.
Tasteful nods to the nautical theme make a fitting backdrop for the menu by chef Rich Torrisi, who co-owns the restaurants with real estate developer Aby Rosen and Major Food Group partners Jeff Zalaznick and Mario Carbone. Nearly every dish is centered on seafood, but the menu is far from monotone. Preparations range from raw scallops to sea bass tartare to roasted monkfish to whole Dover sole filleted tableside. Global influences broaden the palate with dishes such as foie gras terrine and various pastas, as well as octopus and turbot dishes made in Spain’s a la plancha style.
Thanks to the efforts of corporate wine director John Slover, the wine list has been world-class from the start, only growing stronger since Brad Nugent joined as wine director in 2018.
“It was a little intimidating at first, not gonna lie,” Nugent says. “Taking over a building like this with this kind of history and landmark status, you have a lot of responsibility. We want the wine program to reflect that.”
Nugent has brought in $2 million worth of wine and completely reorganized the list, adding producer-specific sections to show off benchmark names like Domaine Roumier, Château Cheval-Blanc, Opus One and more. “Really, they’re producers that we love, is what it comes down to,” he says. The Pool now offers 3,100 labels supported by a 25,445-bottle inventory.
Burgundy is the biggest seller. The white-wine collection features coveted grands crus such as Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet 2015 ($2,250) and four vintages of François Raveneau Chablis Valmur. Reds are even more impressive; among the 34-page section are 46 picks from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and a six-vintage vertical of Roumier Bonnes Mares, including the 2011 ($2,500) and 2012 ($3,250).
A 26-vintage vertical of J.-L. Chave Hermitage back to 1983 ($2,400) anchors the Rhône, alongside less expensive gems like Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage 2016 ($130) and Domaine Courbis Cornas La Saborette 2016 ($225). Nugent plans to bolster Bordeaux, which already offers lengthy verticals peppered with collectibles such as Château Latour 2010 ($2,450) and Château Margaux 2005 ($2,650). California shows serious depth through blue-chip Cabernet Sauvignons such as Araujo to 1995, Bryant Family to 1992 and Harlan Estate to 1991.
Beyond Burgundy and California is a stunning array of Italian wines. Top producers are the focus here, with 18 Ornellaia labels back to 1994 and two dozen Sassicaias, including a pair from the 1980s. It’s undoubtedly a high-roller’s wine list, but if you’re looking to splurge, this is the place to do it.
Proper storage and service are of the utmost importance; the staff is deeply knowledgeable, the glassware is exclusively Zalto, and there are 10 Eurocaves to maintain optimal temperatures for the 25 wines served by the glass. The list is reprinted weekly, and in the meantime, sommeliers can access the digital inventory database through iPads at service stations.
Gone are the days when the Pool was mostly a backdrop to high-powered dealmaking. This historic restaurant is enjoying a second chapter and exceeding even the highest standards.
Read the entire 2019 Restaurant Awards package, including the cover story, “Sharing the Table," in the Aug. 31, 2019, issue of Wine Spectator.