Charlie Palmer is one of America’s most acclaimed chefs, with restaurants in New York City, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Reno, and Northern California that run the gamut from upscale steakhouses to cocktail bars. His flagship restaurant, Aureole, remains his most famous, however, and a recent visit to try out the recently revamped menu from chef Gabriele Carpentieri (who’s been with the restaurant since 2013 but was promoted to executive chef last year) reconfirmed that it really is the epitome of Michelin-star dining.
Aureole was Palmer’s first restaurant, and he opened its original iteration on the Upper East Side in 1988, at age 28. In 2009 it moved to its current location on 42nd Street just off of Times Square, and it’s a modern, elegant space with dim, romantic lighting and flower arrangements on every table and on a large centerpiece. It’s directly adjacent to the more casual Liberty Room at Aureole, which also includes a lively bar and à la cate offerings. The restaurants’ size and proximity to Times Square (as well as large windows that look out to the 42nd Street sidewalk) imbue it with a subdued but lively energy that’s hard to come by.
Aureole’s menus now change completely on the first of every month; while guests may still encounter one of the restaurant’s signature items from time to time (like the black cod, wagyu carpaccio, and roast chicken), two visits a month apart will offer completely different experiences.
Aureole offers only tasting menus; guests have the option of a three-course ($96), five-course ($125), or seven-course ($148) menu, and we decided to opt for the five-course. The menu was recently revamped for spring, and Carpentieri and Palmer spent months reformulating it with a goal of showcasing healthy, simple, seasonal ingredients in straightforward preparations.
After a light amuse, the meal started with diced yellowfin tuna tartare, formed in a ring mold and topped with finely diced spring vegetables, vinaigrette, tarragon, sea beans, microgreens, edible flowers, and a quenelle of ossetra caviar. The larger-sized cubes of tuna really let the flavor and texture of the fish come through, and the caviar and sea beans lent just the right amount of salt and brine. Up next was a dish of house-made cavatelli with chunks of Maine lobster and sliced sugar snap peas in a creamy black truffle and ricotta sauce. It was hearty and comforting, with plenty of lobster and truffle flavor and textural contrast from the snap peas.
Then came a perfectly-cooked piece of Nova Scotia halibut in a pool of light fish stock, on a bed of smashed minted peas and surrounded by shiitake mushrooms and a few small, sweet clams. Up next were two perfectly-cooked slices of New York strip from Double R Ranch with green-tinted potato purée, buttery fresh peas and favas, and a jalapeño demi-glace. The demi-glace was the only misstep of the evening; the jalapeño added an unnecessary vegetal spiciness that in my opinion didn’t jibe with anything else on the plate, though that addition did make this one of the more unique steak dishes I’ve encountered. For dessert, pastry chef Renaud Besnard topped meringue with a pile of wild strawberries imported from Spain that were quite possibly the most flavorful I’ve ever eaten; yogurt sorbet and raspberry marmalade perfectly complemented them. Service was friendly, knowledgeable, and professional, and wine pairings were creative and spot-on.
It’s rare that a restaurant sticks around for more than a year or two; to last for nearly 30 years requires the ability to stay on top of dining trends and the ability to reinvent yourself when required. Aureole doesn’t just stay on top of trends; it transcends them, and a meal there is about as ideal a fine-dining experience as you’ll ever have.