Celebrity-chef Palladin debuts NYC restaurant

Celebrity-chef Palladin debuts NYC restaurant

Paul Frumkin

NEW YORK — The location of Jean-Louis Palladin’s first Manhattan restaurant, deep in the heart of the city’s theater district, seems fitting, given the French-born chef s well-established star status in the culinary world.

Nevertheless, hearing Palladin describe the consciously casual 6week-old operation can give the impression that the namesake restaurant, Palladin, almost has more in common with a modest out-of-town opening than with the star-studded debut that many New Yorkers had expected and the chef still is promising.

“I wanted to start with a more casual restaurant in New York.” Palladin said of the 96-seat operation housed in the Adam Tihany-designed Time Hotel. “Even if you have a name, you need to prove who you are here. It is another beginning. Basically, I need to apprentice here first.”

Palladin, who for two years has been consulting chef at Napa Restaurant in the Rio Suites Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, said he is in the process of establishing a familiarity with the New York restaurant scene. “I need to understand the tastes,” he continued. “Every city is different. I need to be familiar with New York products. Fm still testing purveyors.”

But even while he employs the Manhattan operation as a sort of local learning lab, he claims to be on the verge of taking possession of the property in which he intends to open his long-awaited luxury restaurant. “We’ve put down escrow on the place, and we have 45 days to make up our minds,” he said.

Although he would not divulge the address, he said it is five blocks east of the Time hotel — located at 49th Street and Broadway — placing the proposed restaurant squarely in Midtown Manhattan. Financial backing for Palladin’s high-end venture will come from Rio Suites Hotels, and his partner in the operation will be Andrew Young, who is also managing partner for food-and-beverage operations at the Time Hotel. The restaurant is expected to open within the next 12 months, Young said.

“It will take some time to get there, though,” Palladin added. “I want to do it right.”

In the meantime Palladin and Young continue to fine-tune the Time Hotel-based restaurant. “It was hard to position the menu at first,” Young said. “People had expectations of Jean-Louis’s food, but you really can’t do a four-star menu west of Broadway. So we developed this ‘brasserie’ concept, which fits with the hotel.”

While the restaurant’s lunch and dinner menus can lay claim to a sort of international citizenship, Palladin’s fundamental cooking style is firmly rooted in his native Gascony, in southwestern France. Such full-flavored dishes as stuffed and roasted suckling pig, $24, and duck confit, $25, along with the lavish use of foie gras, form an integral part of Palladin’s gastronomic vocabulary — perfected back in France, where he was the youngest chef ever to be awarded two Michelin stars at his restaurant, La Table des Cordeliers, in the small town of Condom. The only other chefs in this country to have earned such a rating are George Perrier, Jean Banchet and the late Gilbert LeCoze.

Once he came to the States, however, Palladin broadened his gastronomic horizons — notably during the 17 years he operated the 42-seat gem Jean-Louis at the Watergate, in Washington, D.C. There, in the early 198Os, he learned to work with American products, a cross-culinary gambit that paid off in enthusiastic reviews and popular acclaim. “You need to adapt to what the customers want,” he observes, but then adds, “Still, my mind is automatically French.”

Palladin’s current dinner menu reflects the chefs global approach to cooking and includes such dishes as creamy polenta tart with Maine lobster and fresh corn coulis, $12; octopus ceviche with red chili and fresh grapefruit juice, $12; roasted Casco cod with bouillabaisse coulis and saffron poached Yellow Finn potatoes, $22; and roasted rack of lamb with hopping John grits and spiced red wine broth, $28.

Young, who also operates his own international consulting firm, Andrew Young & Co., worked with Palladin to develop the foodservice operations for the 193-room hotel, which is owned by the Chatwal family, who also own the Bombay Palace chain of restaurants. Located at street level, the 2,500-square-foot restaurant is open for lunch five days a week and dinner seven days. The lunch check average runs about $35, while dinner tabs climb to $60 per person, Young said.

Young, who has signed a five-year management deal with the Chatwals, projected that Palladin’s sales for the first year could hit $4.5 million. “Each seat should earn between $40,000 and $45,000 per year,” Young predicted. “The restaurant has a lease with the hotel and must stand on its own two feet as a profit center.”

Adding projected room service and bar sales, he estimated the hotel would do around $6 million annually in food and beverage.

For the time being Palladin plans to spend about three weeks per month in New York and one week in Las Vegas. “Napa is on cruise control,” he said. “Everything is set up.”

To run the 1,000-square-foot kitchen as executive chef, Palladin tapped Timothy Dean, who worked for him for nine years in Washington. The pastry chef is Sam Mason, who was with him in Las Vegas.

Although he has put Dean and Mason in charge, Palladin insists that he can’t sit back and watch the world go by when he is in the restaurant. “I cannot stay in the kitchen without doing anything,” he said.

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