When the Four Seasons’ Grill Room opened in 1959, it quickly became the dining room of choice for advertising and publishing industry executives.
The restaurant was located in a part of Midtown Manhattan that, at the time, was the epicentre of those industries. The Four Seasons was a sort of clubhouse where executives went to have their business lunches, earning it the unofficial title of the inventor of the power lunch.
The Four Seasons closed in the summer of 2016 following a rent hike and struggles with Aby Rosen, the restaurant’s landlord at the Seagram Building. But, just a few months later, it reopened under new ownership as The Grill, which is described as “a classic, reinvented” on the restaurant’s website.
We took a trip to the chophouse and chatted with Mario Carbone, executive chef of The Grill and co-founder of Major Food Group, about how the restaurant strikes a delicate balance between staying true to its history and staying true to the times.
The Grill was opened in May by Major Food Group, a New York City-based restaurant group that's behind high-end spots, like Carbone, that are known for both their extravagance and celebrity clientele. Major Food Group has also opened another new restaurant in a different part of the Four Seasons space, called The Pool.
Carbone and his team knew from the beginning that they would be restoring -- not renovating -- the space. The Grill is the only restaurant in the country whose interior is landmarked.
Carbone says it's this distinction that gives the space its charm and makes it so special. Everything from the furniture to the artwork is original, and he says he loves that about the restaurant.
'In my opinion, this the greatest restaurant space that's ever been created, so I was more than ok with just cleaning it and making it shine again,' Carbone told Business Insider.
Carbone says he spent over a year researching every great American restaurant that had existed in Midtown Manhattan in the past several decades.
Carbone was determined to create a menu that balanced what people ate back then and what people eat now.
'The Grill is definitely a period piece,' Carbone said. 'We tried to make a great American fine dining restaurant as a throwback to the late '50s and early '60s.'
Carbone says that, when it came to menu planning, the idea of the power lunch -- and the dishes that characterised it -- were not the focus.
But that's not to say that the restaurant doesn't still attract executives hoping to dine and do business. According to Carbone, The Grill serves a wide demographic: those who come for the food, those who come on business, and those who have been dining here for decades.
At dinner, it's all about dishes that are prepared tableside, something that Carbone says allows for personalisation and interaction between the diner and their captain, or head waiter.
You won't find those theatrics at lunch, though. 'The customers have a very finite amount of time with us,' Carbone said. 'They need to dine quickly, and we want to make sure we can execute it as best we can in the amount of time that we have.'
Lunch does, however, offer unique menu choices that aren't available during dinner, such as the wild mushroom omelette. It's Carbone's favourite item on the lunch menu, and a dish that he says is a nod to the Four Seasons' designation as the first restaurant in America to serve wild mushrooms.
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