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Private Preview 2004: Dining: Flavors of the Next Months

Scott Haas & Sheila Gibson Stoodley

In letting us in on their plans for the coming months, some of the world’s best-known and most highly regarded chefs have whet our appetite for novel and exceptional dining experiences. Some will broaden their culinary repertoire by opening new venues, while others will bring their distinctive, well-established menus to new cities.

The Kings’ Court
The AOL Time Warner Center in Manhattan, a massive mixed-use complex designed to house numerous corporate headquarters, plush condominiums, and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, will also have its own version of a food court when it opens this winter. Supervising the stoves will be four of the world’s premier chefs—Thomas Keller, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Masa Takayama, and Gray Kunz—and, as one might presume, the fare will not include soggy chicken nuggets, gooey pizza slices, or chocolate chip cookies that are as large as hubcaps.
 
Keller is the chef and owner of the French Laundry in California’s Napa Valley, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s highly regarded restaurants draw crowds on three continents. Masa Takayama, sushi chef extraordinaire, reigned at the renowned Ginza Sushiko in Beverly Hills. Gray Kunz forged his reputation in Manhattan at the recently closed Lespinasse by combining French and Asian cuisines in ways that elevated both.

Far from being concerned about working in proximity to his professional rivals, Keller is eager to participate in the project. “When I first signed on with the developers, Jean-Georges was already involved, but I helped handpick the others,” says Keller. “I wanted to work with Masa and Gray. I was very excited about collaborating with colleagues and helping to create an environment where everyone will excel.”

While all of the restaurants will emphasize fine dining, most represent departures for the chefs involved. Keller, for one, insists that his new establishment will not be the French Laundry East. “My home is in California,” he says. “While we may have dishes from the French Laundry in New York, like our salmon cornet, it’s really our philosophy and standards that we’re bringing—like portion sizes, attention to detail, and level of execution.”

Vongerichten, famous for his Asian and haute French cuisine, is breaking from his past and opening a steak house. In contrast, Kunz says he plans to explore his roots. “At Café Gray, we’re going to serve classics like sole meunière, risotto, and short ribs. Whatever we do, it won’t be standard,” he says. “I won’t be using Asian influences either. I think people will be surprised.”

Unlike typical mall food courts, which are usually central to the shopping complex, the AOL Time Warner Center restaurants will be less accessible. Diners will board a private elevator, and when they disembark, a maître d’ will greet them and lead them to their seats. Keller’s establishment will be on the fourth floor, next to those of Takayama and Vongerichten, while Kunz’s eatery will be located on the third floor. Other well-known chefs could join the foursome before the center opens.

Confining big egos to a small area is not always a recipe for harmony, but Keller is confident that he and his celebrity neighbors will find strength in numbers, and in nearness. “We’re going to evolve,” says Keller. “We’re going to depend on camaraderie. That’s the appeal.”
—scott haas


Bright Light Fare
Las Vegas, where a hotel or resort is no longer considered complete unless it offers its patrons a variety of first-class dining options, is luring two more high-profile gastronomic geniuses to the Nevada desert: Bobby Flay and Thomas Keller.

The landmark Caesars Palace will house Flay’s first restaurant outside of New York. Due to open in spring of 2004, it will share the Mesa Grill name with its Manhattan predecessor and specialize in the Southwestern flavors Flay has mastered.

Keller, whose accomplishments have become a mainstay on Robb Report’s annual Best of the Best list, is expanding beyond his Yountville, Calif., establishment this winter to open Bouchon, a bistro-style restaurant in the Venetian hotel, and one of the new restaurants in the AOL Time Warner Center in New York.
—sheila gibson stoodley

Emeril in Miami
Food Network favorite Emeril Lagasse is applying the finishing touches to another of his eponymous restaurants (his ninth) at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel. Emeril’s Miami Beach, scheduled to open in November, will be his third restaurant in Florida and his first in the Miami area. Like Lagasse’s flagship restaurant in New Orleans, Emeril’s Miami Beach will feature Creole cuisine combined with a variety of ethnic influences. The restaurant will seat 180 in the dining room, which will feature a decor that reflects the Art Deco design of the hotel. —s.g.s.


Kunz’s Comeback
Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Gray Kunz, who will be neighbors in the Manhattan fine-dining food court, plan to collaborate on a new restaurant that will open in the city’s meatpacking district later this fall. Developer Phil Suarez says it will be the first collaboration between two chefs whose cuisine has earned four stars from The New York Times. It will also represent Kunz’s first foray into the restaurant world since leaving Lespinasse at the top of his game in 1999. Although the chefs had not settled on a name for the establishment as of July, they were certain about the atmosphere and the cuisine: casual and inspired by Asian street market food. —s.g.s.

C Food Special
Charlie Trotter, doyen of the Chicago culinary scene, tests the international waters with C, which is slated for a February 2004 opening at the Palmilla Resort in Los Cabos, Mexico. In addition to Trotter’s signature cuisine and an extensive wine list, the 110-seat restaurant overlooking the Sea of Cortés will offer diners a range of settings in which to enjoy their meals, including two glass-enclosed wine rooms, a private dining room for 10, a cellar dining room, and a chef’s kitchen table that seats eight by invitation only. —s.g.s.

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