Having long been devotees of the legendary Four Seasons restaurant — scheduled to reopen in a new space in spring 2018 — we returned to its former home, the Seagram Building on Park Avenue, with misgivings. But to our surprise, THE GRILL proved a worthy successor. Elsewhere in the United States, we enjoyed the contrasting experiences of molecular gastronomy in Portland, Oregon, and classic seafood at an old favorite in Key West, Florida.
Banner Elk, North Carolina
Artisanal is set on the grounds of the Diamond Creek Golf Club. A rustic barnlike structure features a stunningly beautiful dining room with soaring ceilings, hardwood beams, three-tiered chandeliers, a massive driftwood horse sculpture and an open kitchen gleaming with copper pots and pans. The boisterous bar area offers a menu of unique handcrafted cocktails, but it was the calm environment of the main dining area that delighted us. The restaurant formed a partnership with the nearby Springhouse Farm a few years ago, and its fresh seasonal fruits, vegetables and herbs are used in every dish. We loved our roasted-peach-and-heirloom-tomato salad with Little Gem lettuce and whipped burrata, while the Maine lobster and crab “cocktail” with an avocado espuma was exceptional.
1290 Dobbins Road. Tel. (828) 898-5395
New York, New York
Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone, the chefs who run New York City’s trendsetting Major Food Group, have accomplished something very impressive with their new trifecta of restaurants in the Seagram Building on Park Avenue (formerly home to the legendary Four Seasons). While preserving the iconic Philip Johnson interiors, they repurposed the midcentury space into three new establishments: THE GRILL, THE POOL and The Lobster Club. THE GRILL, which unapologetically caters to the same international power crowd who made the Four Seasons their canteen, is the best of this trio, with a couldn’t-be-anywhere-but-New-York atmosphere created by a mix of corporate and creative titans, plus the occasional famous face. The menu is a roster of sophisticated modern comfort food like crab gumbo, roasted guinea hen with black truffles and a Madeira-boosted jus, lamb chops brushed with curry oil, and lemon chiffon cake.
99 East 52nd Street. Tel. (212) 375-9001
In February, chef Ryan Fox found a permanent location for his molecular gastronomy restaurant in Portland, and already it enjoys a deserved reputation. Its small Ash Bar serves inexpensive à la carte dishes, and at tables in the restaurant section, guests dine on a multicourse tasting menu. We booked a seat at the U-shaped counter facing the open kitchen. At $135 per person, it’s one of the best values for this sort of menu anywhere in the world. Some of the most beautiful dishes we tried included surf clams with ribbons of compressed cucumber, brown butter crumbs, jalapeño foam and ice plant; lutefisk-inspired salt-cured halibut in decadently rich halibut cream with garlic meringue chips; and red wine-braised oxtail with blackberries under a veil of Parmesan cheese with shiso and magenta leaves.
575 NE 24th Avenue. Tel. (503) 206-4085
Key West, Florida
In 2016, this longtime Key West favorite moved into a strikingly modern new home, with sharp angles that stand in contrast to the dainty classic architecture of the island’s nearby conch houses. A huge video screen showing calming aquatic scenes dominates the interior. The high caliber of the food is unchanged. If you like crab cakes, you will be thrilled by those here, which are crisp and plump and served in a ginger-garlic sauce. The Thai curry snapper is a specialty of the house, with the impeccably fresh fish topped by a perfectly balanced curry.
921 Truman Avenue. Tel. (305) 296-2777