Dining venues in department stores have a long history, especially in Europe, where Harrod’s in London, Printemps in Paris and KaDeWe in Berlin are both elegant and comprehensive. In the United States, every department store once had a restaurant, some quite spectacular, others elegant tea rooms for the ladies who had lunch. Outside New York, Marshall Fields, JL Hudson, Neiman Marcus, Bullock is a
others were all very different, and New York led the pack with highly individualized restaurants at Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, Bloomingdale’s, B. Altman, Best and Co. and others that defined their own style and clientele. whom they were addressing. And there was always attention paid to the bosses’ children. I fondly remember the one who had a milk bar with Graham Crackers.
These places lost their popularity from the 1970s, due to changing tastes and the slow disappearance of the department stores themselves. Fortunately, many of those that survived the 20th century gave the store’s restaurants a real renaissance, including Saks Fifth Avenue, which opened in 1924.
What was once a modest restaurant on the eighth floor is now a chic café and terrace Le Chalet – the Rock Center is across the street – and on the ninth floor is L’Avenue, which partners with the restaurant of the Costes group of the same name. in Paris gave New York one of the most beautiful and elegant spaces of the recent past, designed by Philippe Starck.
You enter East 50th Street across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral and ride a private elevator to a dimly lit tunnel that leads around the corners of a dining room where you are graciously received by a handful of hostesses stunning and shown at a table, past display cases of art in a modern French dining room in taupe and caramel tones, with carefully dimmed lighting perfect for seeing who comes and goes, while bright table lamps do the same for fine food and china.
Such elegance I did not expect; I actually didn’t know What to be expected, believing that L’Avenue could be an upgraded version of a traditional department store restaurant. I also wondered who would want to eat there, especially after six when Saks closes. Opened in 2019, then hit by Covid closures, L’Avenue had had little publicity or reviews. (God forbid New York Times Where New York magazine should cover such a fancy place!) Still, it clearly attracted a crowd, mostly young and many very fashionable. It’s a place where women really dress up, perhaps with the day’s shopping downstairs (there’s a Loubutin boutique adjacent to the Chalet); male customers show off their poor fashion sense by wearing lots of black t-shirts and dark jeans.
One would expect Executive Chef Cedric Domenech’s menu to be more or less modern French, but there are plenty of Asian dishes on it, as well as the ubiquitous burrata. Some so-called “classic” dishes are original to the Parisian dining room, in particular shrimp steamers “Lily Wang” ($23), in reference to the chef at the Hôtel Costes in Paris who created the dish for L’Avenue. It is a variant of har gow Steamed Chinese shrimp dumplings with shallots and crispy green onions served with chili dip and sweet black mushroom soy sauce.
Crispy Chicken Spring Rolls ($23) are Thai cuisine, served with lettuce-mint wraps and a bubbly ginger-chili dip. On the French side, a wonderfully creamy terrine of fresh duck foie gras that asks for nothing more than toasted country bread and fine butter. A yellowtail carpaccio ($38) is a refreshing sparkle as an appetizer, and Thailand returns to center stage with plump marinated prawns with pineapple-chili chutney and a velvety peanut-coconut sauce ($42) . (A little more spiciness wouldn’t hurt Asian dishes.)
The classic French masterpiece of simplicity – which takes a lot of craftsmanship to be perfect – is Dover sole”beautiful millerlightly floured and seared in lots of butter, then deboned and served with a tangy lemon beurre blanc ($90). I can never turn down a dish with fresh morels, and Domenech lavishes them on a bowl of cream-rich macaroni ($34). Organic chicken breast ($28) didn’t sound very interesting, but what arrived was a succulent poached chicken breast enhanced with curry seasonings and served with sweet chutney.
Pastry chef Stephanie Oliveira worked on the “Costes crackers cheesecake” from Paris, using lightly salted French LU Tuc butter crackers, first made in 1846, in place of the usual Graham Cracker in the crust, then end it with a cottage cheese ice cream. Also recommend his vanilla pie ($16) with poached rhubarb, strawberries and fresh cream ice cream, and a raspberry Panna cotta ($16) with coconut crumble, raspberries, and olive oil sorbet (which is labeled as vegan). Banoffee – a portmanteau of “banana” and “caramel” – ($18) is a gloppy British candy bountiful with banana ice cream, smoked caramel ice cream, rum caramel sauce and caramelized banana. The only nasty oddity was an overdone version of Girls Scout s’mores ($19) with chocolate mousse, toasted marshmallow and Graham Cracker ice cream that came under a glass. Bell filled with acrid smoke.
The wine list is solidly selected, not huge, with a good selection of wines by the glass ($15-$34) and a well-stocked cocktail list. Prices for bottles of wine can be steep, however, with some being marked up by 300%. Good to see a New York State Riesling there.
The Avenue has been a neat success which has obviously been built on word of mouth and subtle marketing, and if it remains at the level of occupancy and good taste it enjoys today it should be a role model modern and chic, the opposite of the tired Faux-clubbiness of a place like Ralph Lauren’s Polo Grill. L’Avenue looks like a real night out, with stunning views and a welcome nonchalance not easily encountered these days with such a level of cuisine.
THE AVENUE AT SAKS FIFTH AVENUE
80 East 50th Street
Open seven days a week from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.