Comfortably ensconced under a dazzling crystal chandelier in the heart of the New York Palace Hotel, acclaimed chef Michel Richard, 65, reigns over his new restaurant, Villard Michel Richard, as if he had always been there.
He first landed in the United States in 1974, as a member of pastry guru Gaston Lenôtre’s team, set to open a pastry shop on 59th Street. When the shop closed, a few years later, Richard stayed on. After a stint in Santa Fe, he moved to Los Angeles where he opened his first restaurant, Citrus, in 1986. He imagined a California meets Côte d’Azur concept which became an instant success. Richard then settled in Washington D.C. and opened Citronelle, followed by a brasserie, Central Michel Richard, which he still owns today.
But now he’s taking on the Big Apple and biting hard. The New York Palace, formerly the Helmsley Palace now houses three Michel Villard spaces. This past summer, the hotel completed major renovations at a hefty price tag of $140 million. A sleek, modern glass tower boasts 55 floors and literally stands above a quasi-royal entrance, the former neo-Italian Renaissance residence of financier Henry Villard
With an entrance off 51st Street, the vibrant Pomme Palais pastry shop is mobbed. Spirited young waiters and waitresses sporting custom-made berets glide across the white marble floors in a strawberry-tinted décor. The shop offers a wide assortment of pastries, the best coffee éclairs in town and the “eggceptional” – a white chocolate egg filled with meringue and lemon curd. A savory selection of sandwiches and salads are a sure bet for the Midtown lunch crowd.
To get to Villard Michel Richard, you must first make your way through the hotel’s imposing entryway. The new restaurant combines two concepts: a rather casual menu and a gastronomic prix-fixe. And don’t be fooled, the composition behind the bar is not an optical illusion. It is a holographic montage that displays alternating portraits of Richard and Villard!
Amid the Baroque dining room with its historic gilding, “I wanted to create a Franco-American brasserie,” explains the chef. “Of course we serve hamburgers, but we also lamb burgers, tuna burgers and even lobster burgers.”
Crispy but tender fries, seasoned to order are delicious and the same can be said for the fried chicken. Cooked at low temperature, it is juicy inside and crumbly on the outside, and comes on a bed of Robuchon-esque mashed potatoes. A tuna and watermelon tartare adds a gust of cool.
Do leave room for dessert lest you want to offend he who learned straight from Lenôtre! Choose the chef’s interpretation of profiteroles, a gigantic scoop of vanilla ice cream incrusted with tiny puffs on which drops of warm chocolate are poured, or perhaps the airy millefeuille that stands almost as tall as the glass tower.
The 46-seat fine-dining area, named Gallery Michel Villard, is now opened in a majestic wood-paneled room. Patrons can choose from a prix-fixe or a vegetarian menu. “I hope to welcome gourmand food lovers,” says Richard, “and that people will appreciate our homemade cuisine.”
Photo: Susie Cushner
Villard Michel Richard, New York Palace Hotel, 455 Madison Ave, New York, 10022