Chef Charlie Palmer is reinventing Aureole, the first of his many restaurants and a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence winner since 2001. The Midtown Manhattan fine-dining destination closed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, but rather than plan for a reopening, Palmer is transforming the venue into a pickup and delivery experience called Aureole at Home.
Though the idea was conceived months before the pandemic, Palmer says it’s providing a safer option for clientele who are hesitant to dine out. “All you have to do is go online and order, and we’ll bring the experience right to your dining room,” he told Wine Spectator.
The offerings will be “a hit list of Aureole favorites” on a monthly changing menu, keeping with the restaurant’s seasonal American approach. Customers can choose from five first-course options, five main-course options and a few desserts. “Everything is culinarily engineered to travel well and be reheated,” he said.
In addition to shake-and-pour cocktails, there’s an abbreviated wine list of 15 bottles, but Palmer plans to expand that using Aureole’s extensive cellar. The $1 million-plus inventory includes strengths in Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne and the Rhône, plus California and Italy. Without the usual costs of dining-room service, Palmer said to expect some serious wine values. For a more immersive experience, customers can also book in-home dinners for groups of four to 25, prepared by an Aureole chef. The program is highly customizable, and can include cocktails and wine pairings as well.
Palmer hopes to open a Charlie Palmer Steak in Aureole’s former home by mid-August, and is currently working on redesigning the space without sacrificing its grandeur. “The space itself is incredible to begin with,” he said. “So I don’t want to lose any of what the design represents.”
He’s also planning to return Aureole to a brick-and-mortar location, likely in “a smaller, intimate” space on the Upper East Side, where the flagship originally opened in 1988 before its 2009 move. “It was always my intention to move Aureole to his next new home,” Palmer said. “I look at it, in some ways, as even maybe a blessing that we were forced to make a transition earlier than I wanted to, but I think it’s the right thing at the right time.”—Julie Harans
The team behind longtime Grand Award winner HMF at the Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla., debuted its newest restaurant, Henry’s, on June 17. The American-style bistro is the first spot to open in Via Flagler, a shopping-and-dining plaza located just down the street from the Breakers hotel, and named after the hotel’s founder, Henry Flagler.
The menu puts a spin on familiar comfort foods, with dishes like butter-crumb Dover sole and chicken pot pie, complementing the classically focused wine list of nearly 80 selections overseen by wine director Virginia Philip.
“This list had to reflect fan favorites, be priced competitively and maintain its Breakers style,” Philip said. The program highlights Italy, France and California and includes 19 wines by the glass that distinguish Henry’s from each of the Breaker’s other restaurants. “The idea is that if our guests are staying for a week at a time, every wine-by-the-glass program is different and allows our guests another experience.”
Philip is particularly proud of the list’s wine flights, grouped by rosés, red wines and a combination of whites, rosé and red that start at $16.
“These flights had to be different and unique, something a guest would want to come back for,” Phillip said. “Quite a bit of research and thought was put into these. Not just the wine selections, even the glassware that would be utilized and, in particular, the presentation.” Philip also mentioned plans to grow the wine-list selection in the future, depending on guest feedback.
In addition to a full-service salon that’s now open, other retail outlets and restaurants will join the shopping center soon.—Emmalyse Brownstein
On June 22, chef Ford Fry opened a Nashville location of the Optimist, after several years of planning and then delays due to the coronavirus pandemic. This adds another enterprise to Fry’s Rocket Farm Restaurants group, which includes the Optimist’s original location in Atlanta and Restaurant Award winners State of Grace, Marcel and St. Cecilia.
According to Fry, the new location adds a key component to the local restaurant scene. “Nashville was void of a solid coastal-inspired restaurant,” he told Wine Spectator via email. “The Optimist fills a void as a predominately seafood restaurant with an unpretentious vibe.”
Designed by New York–based firm Reunion Goods & Services, the restaurant’s aesthetic is industrial, set in a reclaimed warehouse with concrete counters, steel wall studs, an open kitchen and a patio which Fry has dubbed “Jacqueline” (a reference to Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou).
Executive chef Ryder Zetts’ menu is similar to the Optimist’s Atlanta counterpart, with a focus on shellfish and dishes like smoked fish chowder, Sapelo Island clams and deviled crab in a bearnaise sauce. But Zetts is bringing an original perspective to the location. “Ryder has spent the latest years in Napa so he brings a hyperseasonal, California approach to cooking,” Fry said. “Not unlike me, [he] enjoys classic preparations as they have sustained time and never disappoint.”
To join these dishes, wine director Eduardo Porto Carreiro built a list of 80 labels. “The Optimist's wine program highlights fresh, seasonal and honest wines,” Carreiro told Wine Spectator via email, “bottles that showcase versatility and can offer a very happy marriage to the seafood-focused menu.” This includes a hefty Champagne list, along with whites and rosés from Burgundy, the Loire, Austria and farther abroad. The Optimist’s reds vary in style, with Pinot Noirs and Gamays from France and Oregon’s Willamette Valley, as well as heavier options like California Cabernet, Barbaresco and Loire Cabernet Franc. “The aim of our list is to be dynamic and ever-changing,” said Carreiro, “We don’t want to overwhelm. We want to be able to hit the mark with a curated selection, but we also want it to be a place where guests can always look forward to finding a new gem every time they come in.”
“We are not taking ourselves too seriously,” Fry said. “We just want to cook the highest quality fish and shellfish well and sustainably!”—Collin Dreizen
Award of Excellence winner the Fishery in San Diego, a locally driven seafood eatery, reopened July 1 after closing for renovations in late May. Co-owner Annemarie Brown told Wine Spectator via email that guests can expect “a more youthful and brightly lit space,” featuring an updated bar and wine display. The restaurant also reorganized its dining room to meet California’s current social-distancing restrictions.
In the interim, the Fishery operated as a retailer, selling produce boxes from nearby farmers, locally caught fish, prepared goods and wine to-go. “I miss the swing of things—the reason we are in the business—to serve delicious food and wine,” Brown said. “I am ready to share everything we have been working on for the last three months with our guests, new and old.”
Brown also noted additions to the wine list overseen by Nicholas Lorenz, which already excels in California and France, including selections from François Raveneau and Domaine Roulot. Guests can now enjoy the Fishery’s 120 wine selections in the dining room alongside dishes like fresh oysters, local rockfish ceviche, and Maine diver scallops with yellow corn and shishitos.—Taylor McBride
Chef Daniel Stern’s R2L has shut its doors in Philadelphia’s Center City neighborhood. The Award of Excellence winner opened in 2010 on the 37th floor of Two Liberty Place with panoramic views, an Art Deco exterior and modern twists on early 20th century American cuisine.
A statement issued by the restaurant indicates that the effects of the coronavirus pandemic were too damaging for R2L to stay open. “Prior to the mandated COVID-19 closure, we had been actively planning to serve you all for another decade,” the statement reads. “That is not to be.” Managed by wine director Chris Simpson, the restaurant’s award-winning wine list focused on bottles from California, Italy and France, with a particularly strong Champagne showing. “While our closure is incredibly sad,” the statement continues, “we are very thankful for all of the love and support from our team, guests, clients and our city.”—C.D.
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