A few decades back, if you wanted to have a serious dining experience in New York, you went to a French restaurant. Anniversary? Closed a deal? That's going to mean a table at Lutece or Le Cirque, with a chocolate soufflé for dessert. For lunch.
We don't say this to just to show you that we looked up a "Restaurants Featured On Mad Men" article, but rather to say that, obviously, things have changed. Restaurants are now considered exciting if they play hip hop, have mini farms in their back alleys, and have 12 chefs who "collaborate" nightly on a single gourmet burger.
This brings us to Vaucluse, the Upper East Side French restaurant from Michael White, the pasta prophet you know from other #fancy restaurants like Marea and Ai Fiori.
On the surface, Vaucluse has many of the elements of one of those classic French restaurants: there are white tablecloths, you can order a duck à l'orange for two, it's literally on Park Avenue, and you probably wouldn't want to show up wearing sneakers. The crowd predictably involves both suits and botox. But there's also a burger on the menu, and a bar where you can post up and drink cocktails, and the service isn't fussy at all. The place is fancy, to a degree, but it also feels modern. Think of it more as an update than a throwback.
Fortunately, the food we've eaten here has been delicious. The pastas are very tasty, as expected, but dishes like beef tartare and a deconstructed tuna tartare slash niçoise salad actually steal the show. And the bread is so good that nearly everyone in the restaurant seems to actually be eating it. If you build it, they will come, and if you hand-make the butter, they will consume it.
For us, Vaucluse is ultimately a bit formal for anything that's not a Special Occasion, without quite being at the level of a true Very Special Occasion destination like Daniel. So we're not sure how often or in what situations we'll be back. But should our lives involve some kind of turn that involves everyday upscale French dining on the Upper East Side, we'll take it, because the food here is really good.
An excellent steak tartare, with finely chopped beef and just the right amount of seasoning.
Translation: tuna crudo, niçoise style. This is kind of like a deconstructed salade niçoise without the lettuce. Everything's bright and fresh, and the tiny quail egg is, for lack of a better word, cute.
A little cup of chunks of lobster, sitting on top of celery root and green apple. It's pretty tasty, but it's also pretty small. It's not all that special compared to some of the other appetizers.
Pastas at any Michael White restaurant tend to be a delight, and that's definitely the case here. These little ravioli are filled with rabbit and creamy reblochon, in a black truffle sauce. The best way we can describe this: fancy French food that tastes great.
Salmon can get a bad rap for being boring, but the super crispy top and rich sauce below make this one something different. It's delicious, but also very rich and buttery, so don't exactly expect a light fish option here.
The big ticket item here is a duck for two, priced at $46 a person. Nearly $100 of duck is a lot of duck, but what you'll get does taste great.
Vaucluse shows it can hang with the cool kids by having a burger on the menu. With a big swath of cheese, tomato jam, and dripping dijonnaise sauce, this is a fine burger. But it's not the best burger, and despite all the accoutrements, wasn't as flavorful as we'd have hoped. There's enough delicious, expertly cooked stuff on this menu that you should save your burger eating for elsewhere.