The Four Seasons restaurant has been a part of my life since I was a child and holds very special memories for me. It was one of the most magical and fascinating restaurants to me growing up and remains one of the most iconic restaurants in the City today. Walking-in is like stepping back in time – a time when dressing for dinner was de rigeur and food and service were always top notch. I even included one of my visits when I first started my site and featured it in my Quintessentially New York Gluten-Free series. It is also special because I have dined there both pre- and post-celiac diagnosis throughout my life — proving that living with celiac disease can be every bit as delicious and luxurious without gluten.
Alas, even this oasis of civility will be closing its doors come July 2016 marking the end of quite an era. There are rumors that it could reopen in a new location but it just would never be the same. The iconic Ludwig Mies van der Rohe Seagram Building is a true landmark and I always have images of Hope Lange or Joan Crawford walking into the building in The Best of Everything when I pass it every morning on my way to the office. The building itself is on the National Register of Historical Places mean even the most minute details must be kept the same — another reason why very little has changed over the years. The Philip Johnson design restaurant is essentially the same today as it was in my childhood. Of course there has been recently a (very) public dispute between the restaurant and the building owner – who went to far as to remove the Picasso tapestry that hung on the wall between the Grill and Pool rooms of the restaurant (affectionately known as Picasso Alley).
For my birthday this year I could not think of anywhere else that I would have wanted to celebrate my birthday. One last hurrah at the Four Seasons before it closes its doors. Well, that and the fact that one of my father’s last birthdays in NYC was celebrated at the restaurant and that coupled with all the previous memories.
Now on to the food. The Pool Room was still in Autumn mode and the menu reflected the bounties of the season. For my starter I had to indulge in the White Truffles with Risotto — now the ordering of that dish with truffles first is not an error. There was more truffles shaved atop the risotto that I actually think the truffle to risotto ration might have skewed towards the truffles. This was quite possibly one of the most decadent dishes that I have had in a long while. The risotto was cooked perfectly and was mildly seasoned so that the truffles were the star of this dish. My other half had the Roasted Heirloom Beet Salad with Burrata and Hazelnut-Orange Salsa which looked absolutely amazing and was beautifully presented. Alas, I did not sample it as I was blinded by my truffle epiphany and all of my focus was on savoring every bite (and yes, I did share).
It was a tough decision as to what to select for our main courses but I landed on the Braised Beef Short Ribs with Creamy Polenta and Broccoli Rabe. When we ordered, I explained my dietary requirements to our head waiter who made notes to check with the chef but the waiter himself had a good grasp on what would work best for me. I actually ordered the shorts ribs and the beef filet in case the short ribs would not work once he met with the chef. I truly appreciate that food allergies and other requirements (like celiac disease) are handled — much like the service itself — smoothly without a big deal being made (though they are definitely making a big deal about it behind the scenes) so that you can enjoy your evening like any of their many guests. The short ribs were perfectly braised and wonderfully tender. The sauce was rich and bold without taking anything away from the flavor of the beef. The polenta was rich and creamy and a small bit broccoli rabe added an interesting slightly bitter bite that rounded out the flavor profile of the entire dish. Everything on the plate was there for a reason and that reason was flavor perfection. My other half had the Pancetta-Wrapped Venison with Spätzle, Wild Mushroom, and Chestnut-Grape Ragout which he raved about and it was cooked to perfection. We also selected a couple of side dishes including the Brussels sprouts with bacon and the potato rösti — both were delicious — simple yet flavorful.
While we both were likely full from the first two courses, this was a special occasion so we pressed-on to dessert. Actually, the timing of the meal is spread out perfectly so that you are fully able to enjoy each course — dining here is an experience so you have to commit to being all-in and carve a few hours out of your evening to enjoy the full experience. Before the desserts we ordered arrived, a towering mound of pink cotton candy peppered with candied violets arrived with a birthday candle in honor of my special day. This is perhaps one of my favorite memories of years gone by. As a child I was wowed by the cotton candy and today it is just an elegant nod to how things used to be done. The other reason I love it is that it is presented in silence — no singing or fanfare — one of my person pet peeves is the singing of Happy Birthday which never appealed to me (even as a child).
I opted for the Whipped Rice Pudding with Poached Pear, Cranberry-Sake Sorbet, and Crispy Meringue for dessert. it was an absolute work of art and had such a unique taste and texture that was only elevated by the crisp meringue paired with a tart and tangy cranberry-sake sorbet. Being a complete chocoholic, my other half opted for the Famed Four Seasons Chocolate Soufflé. This individual souffle is presented in front of you as the server then pierces the top so that wonderfully warm chocolate can be poured inside.
I could not have asked for a better birthday. From the flawless service to perfectly prepared food and our expertly shaken cocktails — it was a magical evening. I am definitely sad to see the end of the Four Seasons on the horizon but feel privileged to have had it play such a special role in my life. If you are in NYC or will be visiting, do yourself a favor and get thee to the Four Seasons before it closes or you will have missed out on a true piece of New York City’s culinary past.