June 6, 2007 | BITE: My Journal

Guilt About Gilt 

 Rafael's stylized service makes you feel rich. Photo: Steve Richter
Rafael's stylized service makes you feel rich. Photo: Steve Richter


     I must apologize for getting so caught up with the demands of a new website that I did not get to reporting an exceptional dinner at Gilt this past June. It was Definitely-Worth-the-Splurge to me. Quiet. Romantic. Elegant, old-fashioned service. You might agree it’s worth the investment  if you’ve got $250 or so to leave behind for two economizing on the $78 prix fixe. (We didn’t want to spend the night so we resisted the chef’s “Grand” seven course marathon for $135.) I do believe the staff managed to serve five exquisitely arranged courses without a single “enjoy.”  That’s worth $5 all by itself.


     I had done my due diligence in 2005 when Gilt opened with the obsessively playful British ex-pat Paul Liebrandt in the show-off kitchen of the Vuillard Mansion at the New York Palace Hotel. I still get shivers remembering a bitelet suspended on plastic wrap, just one of his gambits, some of them quite delicious but ultimately silly, tedious and annoying.

Chef Lee paints plates alongside his sous, Justin Bogle. Photo: Steve Richter.

     Now Christopher Lee, long-time alter wisk of Daniel Boulud, had taken over the kitchen and was getting good buzz. In the shocking pink glow of the glorious landmark room with its plastic accents, not many tables are occupied. Beside us is a trio dressed in workout gear. That Las Vegas look invades Manhattan.  Except for an occasional too much ado on one plate, the food has gone from unabashed Byzantine to faintly rococo and mostly delicious. Modulated Marvin Gaye on the sound system fills the emptiness but still we find ourselves whispering.


     Even a palette of too many accessories on the edge of the plate can’t quite dilute the sensuous impact of diver scallop seviche wreathed in voluptuous sea urchin. With the kitchen dedicated to turning out pasta every afternoon, the delicate richness of sheep’s milk ricotta cheese ravioli is no surprise. Over the decades anything served á la
Lee embraces abstract art. Photo: Steven Richter
Wellington,” has had to overcome derision for retro frippery, but Lee’s yellow fin tuna with foie gras and porcini wrapped in spinach and thin leaves of pastry has the finesse to melt such snobbery. And the Road Food Warrior, who can be especially nasty when food gets too precious, had compliments for his lamb, the rack and a ragu of the shoulder served with a golden raisin falafel for comic relief.


     Fall dishes have already moved onto the menu since our dinner but pastry wizard David  Carmichael (ex of Oceana) will be exploiting the season – as they all like to say – with exceptional talent. His breads are excellent too: Don’t try to choose between his cake-like focaccia and a buttery fan of a roll. Have both. And when the dapper Rafael Jovel bows, playing the devoted family retainer, and slowly lifts the lid of a carved heirloom box of fabulous chocolates, take three.


     One of these days, that shocking pink glow and the plastic must go. Christopher Lee is waiting to be rediscovered.



The Palace Hotel 455 Madison Avenue bet. 50th and 51st Street.  212 891 8100.







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