Lutèce Restaurateur Andre Surmain Dead at 97

The eatery was once widely viewed as the best restaurant in America

Andre Surmain was known as the grandfather of New York City French dining.

New York City restaurateur Andre Surmain passed away on January 31 at his home in Saint-Paul-en-Forêt in the south of France at the age of 97. His death was confirmed to The New York Times by his nephew Peter Hurwitz. He is survived by his fourth wife Patricia Terno, two sons, a daughter, two sisters, 14 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

Surmain’s claim to fame was a fine dining restaurant in midtown Manhattan called Lutèce where elite customers came to feed on pricy French cuisine with dinner valued at $435 in today's money. After he temporarily moved back to Europe in 1972, he left the luxe establishment in the hands of chef André Soltner until he sold it in 1994. It operated for more than four decades before shuttering on Valentine's Day in 2004.

The restaurant’s decline isn’t attributed to poor performance, but rather the negative effects on tourism following the September 11 attacks. In fact, prior to its downfall people often had to reserve a table months in advance, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Soltner’s menu featured classics like onion tart, crab cassolette, salmon en croute, and orange-chocolate cake, and Lutèce earned a maximum four-star rating from acclaimed Times critic Mimi Sheraton. Bryan Miller, another critic for the Times, opined that, “Since the early 1960s, when truffles and foie gras were as rare as ponytails on men, Lutèce has represented a level of gastronomy that stood up to anything found in Paris.”

Julia Child called Lutèce the “best restaurant in the United States” and Zagat ranked it as the best restaurant in America for six years in a row during the 1980s.

It even played a prominent role in pop culture. In season two of the AMC show Mad Men, several scenes take place at Lutèce, and the restaurant was shown or mentioned in multiple other productions.

mad men

Carin Baer / AMC
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While Surmain has other colorful accolades, Lutèce is his legacy. Its golden drapes, crystal stemware, and Victorian fireplace made it one of the most beautiful restaurants in the world.