French chef Gabriel Kreuther must have beat a record for the fastest Michelin star awarded to a new restaurant. Kreuther opened his eponymous restaurant in Manhattan just three months before inspectors from Michelin paid a visit. Whilst Michelin stars are often an indication of overly formal dining, or arrogant staff, Kreuther’s well-placed mid-town restaurant defies both stereotypes. Located at the base of the Grace building, opposite Bryant Park and a short walk from Grand Central, the restaurant is accessible from the outside as it is on the inside. In fact, accessible seems to be the theme.
The staff are so warm and welcoming that whilst the food is, of course, memorable, Sam, the bar manager (who seems to oversee the entire place) and our server, Adalie, manage to become almost like family over the course of an evening’s birthday celebration.
Gabriel Kreuther is a veteran chef with twenty years of experience, but he only brought his Alsatian cuisine to the Big Apple back in 2016 – to immediate acclaim, making it onto multiple ‘top’ lists of restaurants in New York City. And, if you’ve ever been, you’ll know this town is full of tough critics – official and amateur. The New York Times, widely heralded as the last word on food, gave Kreuther three stars out of four (four is a rarity).
Back to the accessibility … whilst dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant doesn’t usually come at affordable prices, never-mind in the ‘big city,’ Kreuther has carved out a less formal, less expensive, but just as tasty (so we’re told) brasserie-style dining space surrounding the bar. No, it’s definitely not like eating IN the bar. Rather, it offers the best views in the house – of scenery, the décor (more on that soon), and both the casual and fine dining rooms. Menu prices are still ‘special occasion’ digits, but unlike other restaurants, Kreuther delivers so much at so many levels – from service to food to the atmosphere, you almost feel you’re getting a bargain.
Interiors are inspired by Gabriel Kreuther’s childhood. He was born and raised in the Alsace, France’s closest border with Germany. He reinvents the Alsatian environment, sharing a piece of himself and his home with you. Everything about the design, we’re told, has a purpose. A chandelier of flying storks in the centre of the room is a symbol of rebirth in the chef's native Alsace. The storks are repeated in etched glass that adorns one wall and the motif is also used as the door handle. Another wall is covered with floral wallpaper, hand-painted in France and used not only as a reminder of a meadow but of Kreuther’s grandmother’s home.
Large salvaged beams from Vermont separate the dining room from the bar/lounge area. The beams mimic the typical chocolate box homes found in the Alsace. Even the lighting resembles street lamps. Forest coloured tiles are scattered to symbolize the hearth. Everything about the seating is comfortable. The formal dining room is large but not noisy. The feel of a town square inspires a round tasting table next to the kitchen. Kreuther's vision for his restaurant was not only to serve fine food but also to create an atmosphere that makes the staff feel like family and they, in turn, treat the customer as a friend. They do this well.
It's easy to get excited about the menu – a choice of four-course prix fixe, or a la Carte. Maine Lobster Croquettes and a root vegetable salad topped with Parmigiano and candied almonds are perfect sharers. My favourite dish is a classic tarte-flambee with mushrooms and Comte, the likes of which rival one I recently tasted in Zurich. Caviar-lovers have a choice of three, but it’s the rustic that shines here: the smoked flat iron steak with potatoes and caramelized onions transport one to a cosy log fire with a view of the Vosges mountains. Dessert is a difficult choice. Kreuther is known for his beignets with pear spice marmalade, but you may wish to save room for a taste from his chocolate shop next door.
Gabriel Kreuther inventively recreates old classics into something divine. At the end of the evening, you will realize you just experienced fine dining in the most comfortable, welcoming setting. More than simply a meal, it’s a full-blown sensory event.