The Four Seasons

March 1, 2007

The Four Seasons
99 East 52nd Street

On February 20, 2007, Linda and I dined at The Four Seasons. We were seated promptly on a nice banquette in the pool room designed by legendary architects Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson. We ordered two Kirs, which came with a slice of lemon peel as was done in American restaurants thirty years ago. We ordered our meal, including soufflés Grand Marnier for dessert. After asking twice, we were given the extensive wine list and ordered a bottle of 2003 Matanzas Creek Merlot. The bread basket had doughy little croissants, which seemed strange at dinner. There was a little bowl of olives. 

Our first courses were:
Maine LOBSTER, Perigord Black Truffle, Herb Oil
This was quite nice with a generous number of lobster pieces and a salad of small greens on top. There were enough truffles to make a real difference. 

Kabocha Pumpkin RAVIOLI, Porcini Mushrooms
The effect was quite floury and not satisfactory. 

For the main courses we had:
Breast of PHEASANT, Cranberry Sausage, Chestnuts, Port Sauce
This wasn’t bad. The sausage was a bit spicy which perked up the blandness of the other things. The pheasant was not overcooked or dry. 

Star Anise-Braised SHORT RIBS of BEEF, Soft Polenta
The short ribs were good and the polenta purée was unappetizing and so uneaten. 

The soufflés Grand Marnier were unrisen, doughy and inedible. 

I remember when The Four Seasons opened in 1959. Its name referred to the idea that they would change the menu four times a year to offer what was presumed to be in season. This was regarded as revolutionary in those days when lobster bisque, duck à l’orange, tournedos Rossini, Chateaubriand Béarnaise, etc were always on fancy menus. What a difference from today when the chefs have their pictures taken at their daily visits to the market before they compose their menus. Well, little has changed at The Four Seasons since 1959. There used to be a story at the stodgy Bank of New York that when its then head, Alexander Hamilton, left for his duel with Aaron Burr, he said: “Don’t change anything until I get back.”  

It was startling, and quite nice, to see all the men in gray suits and ties. It was pleasant to be able to talk at a low volume, like everyone else. It was fun to have a little food theater when the waiter prepared two steaks tartares with great flourishes at the table in front of us. We were intrigued when a nearby couple was served the duck à l’orange and the rack of lamb since both were offered only for two. The mystery was solved when half of each was brought to them in a large Four Seasons doggie bag. Diners celebrating a birthday were served an enormous cotton candy ball with a lit candle on top.

It was unusual to have a waiter who was twice the age of the unemployed actors to which we are accustomed. It was startling when he cleared the plates himself. There were no busboys in evidence. Unfortunately the prices have risen to the high end of today’s levels and are ridiculous when only half the food was acceptable. 

In short, we enjoyed a calm retro evening, but not because of the cuisine. 

One Response to “The Four Seasons”

  1. George Says:

    Michael, sorry to hear that the food disappointed. It used to be reliable. Ate there a lot when I was still on an expense account. As you probably know the place was owned at one time by a couple of Hungarians, although it wouldn’t seem likely that they opened it. Unless they were not refugees. I wonder if they are still involved. They would be pretty old. Maybe that’s why the fall-off.

    An item of curiosity. A number of years ago the same people purchased and re-opened a famous old restaurant in Budapest in the City Park, called Gundel’s. It is something like the Tavern-on-the-Green, except more formal with a lot of tradition. We visited. Same story. Exorbitant prices (for Budapest), inconsistent quality.

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