Entries in Gilt (2)



Note: This is a review of Gilt under chef Christopher Lee, who left the restaurant at the end of 2008 to take over at Aureole. Gilt closed in late 2012. A new restaurant from French chef Michel Richard is expected to replace it, sometime in 2013.


Gilt was one of the most hotly anticipated restaurant openings of the 2005 season. The chef, enfant-terrible Paul Liebrandt, delivered a menu that lived on danger’s edge. It was at times dazzling, and probably exceeded the legal limit for ingredients per square inch. In the Times, Frank Bruni wasn’t wowed, awarding two stars.

I was a little more enthusiastic than Bruni, and awarded three stars. Yet, I can see why Gilt v1.0 ran into problems. Much as I appreciated what Liebrandt was doing, I wasn’t dying to try it again. I suspect others felt the same. And no restaurant can survive solely on first-time visitors. I also suspect that in that neighborhood, and in the same space that once hosted Le Cirque, a more conservative style was called for.

In late 2006, Chris Lee replaced Paul Liebrandt. Prices, though still expensive, were reduced somewhat. The three-course prix fixe that was $92 under Liebrandt now sells for $78. A seven-course tasting menu that was once $160 is now $135, and there is also a five-course tasting menu for $105. Bruni was more impressed with Gilt v2.0, though it received only a “Dining Brief,” not a full re-review.

Last week, I took a friend to Gilt for her birthday dinner. Truth be told, I was planning to order the standard three-course menu so that I could try Lee’s best known dish, the Tuna Wellington. But my friend rather liked the five-course tasting menu line-up ($105), and as it was her evening, that’s what we ordered, along with the sommelier’s wine pairing ($65).

This was the menu:

Wild Japanese Hamachi Sashimi
Watermelon “Margarita”, Cucumber, Jicama, Anise Hyssop Dressing

Soft Shell Blue Crab
Sweet Yellow Corn, Avocado, Lime Crème Fraîche, Spicy Tomato Broth

Crispy Black Bass
Piperade with Chorizo, Red Bliss Potatoes, Garlic Aioli, Saffron Mussel Broth

Smoked Prime Beef Tenderloin
Creamed Corn, Pickled Vegetables, Pancetta, Bourbon Sweet Potatoes

Chocolate Ice Cream Cones
Peanut Butter Chocolate, Mint Chocolate, Banana Brownie

There was a consistent quality level that could almost be called dull. I liked everything we tried, without loving any of it. There wasn’t any “wow,” but there were no duds either. Most tasting menus I’ve tried have a wider variety of extremes, both good and bad. This was a menu that could have offended no one. The smoked tenderloin was particularly good, and that is somewhat unusual at this type of restaurant. The wines, too, seemed to be chosen for their ability to blend with just about any diner’s sensibilities.

The early courses came out a bit too quickly. My friend and I are both fast drinkers, but when the third glass (of six) arrived, we hadn’t yet finished the first or the second. To their credit, when we asked them to slow down, they did. That point aside, the service was as professional and seamless as you’d expect for a restaurant in Gilt’s price range.

While I would have preferred a bit more sense of adventure in Lee’s choices, clearly he was hired as the conservative antidote to Paul Liebrandt, and he appears to have given Gilt’s owners what they wanted.

Gilt (455 Madison Avenue at 50th Street in the Palace Hotel, East Midtown)

Food: ***
Service: ***
Ambiance: ***
Overall: ***



Note: This is a review of Gilt under Chef Paul Liebrandt, who left the restaurant later in 2006. Click here for a review of Gilt under Chef Chris Lee. Those who were as impressed with Liebrandt’s cooking as I was can rejoice: in late 2008, he opened Corton in the former Montrachet space.


My friend and I had dinner at Gilt last night. Located in what was once the Villiard Mansion (and is now the Palace Hotel), in the space that was formerly Le Cirque, it is an opulent restaurant that is clearly trying to shoot for the moon. It doesn’t always get there. Chef Paul Liebrandt’s cuisine is adventurous, colorful, thoughtful, and frequently excellent. But there are too many dishes that fail to live up to their promise.

The menu at Gilt changes frequently, and is still clearly undergoing some refinement. Frank Bruni complained that practically half the dishes carried supplements on top of a $92 prix fixe. On last night’s version, I noted a supplement only on the Dover Sole ($12).

We chose the seven-course tasting menu, which is $160 on the website, but was $145 last night. There were, in fact, something closer to eleven courses, including two flights of amuses bouches, white asparagus, foie gras, skate, lobster, a palate cleanser, Berkshire pork belly, cheese course, another palate cleanser, and a degustation of chocolate. Every plating was a work of art.

I’m not adept at remembering ingredients, and Liebrandt puts more into each dish than any chef in town. We found the foie gras, the pork belly, and the cheese course spectacular. Especially notable was a decadent truffle butter that was brought to the table with the foie gras. But both fish courses disappointed. The skate was only about the size of a silver dollar, and it failed to make any impression at all. And there were just two popcorn-sized lumps of lobster. The white asparagus wasn’t as impressive as what Geoffrey Zakarian’s performance of it at Country. The chocolate degustation was terrific if you’re a choc-a-holic, but I think there should have been other options for dessert.

Gilt is clearly trying to offer four-star service, and at times it succeeds. For instance, Gilt was just the third restaurant I’ve been to (along with Alain Ducasse and Per Se) that has your coat ready when you leave, without the attendant even asking your name. But there were peculiar glitches. The wrong wine glasses were delivered to the table: a captain whispered, “No, the bordeaux glasses,” and the right stemware was quickly substituted. When you leave your table, the staff brings a fresh napkin. Or they’re supposed to. On one occasion, a new napkin wasn’t there immediately; on another, I had to ask for it.

Frank Bruni complained about the $1,000 glass of wine at Gilt. It’s still on the menu (a Screaming Eagle cabernet that’s ridiculously priced everywhere). When he first visited, wines by the glass didn’t come cheaper than $18, but there are now choices as low as $12 (though you’ll more likely pay at least $14). For wines by the bottle, there are plenty of choices under $100, and even a handful under $50. For a restaurant of this calibre, I can’t complain about that. My friend and I chose a Martinelli Reserve Pinot Noir at $122, which was out-of-this-world. It was more than we usually spend, but it was a night to splurge. Gilt does gouge you in other ways. Cocktails are $15 apiece, which is on the high side, and we were charged $9 each for capuccinos.

The room is small, elegant, and comfortable. The door to the kitchen is up a short flight of steps, and open to view, which detracts slightly from the magic of the occasion. The hard polished wood surfaces reflect sound, and when the restaurant fills up it gets a bit noisier than I’d like.

The bill came to just a hair under $500, including tax. We went home happy, and much of the food was as terrific as it should be, but at that price there should be a sustained excellence that was lacking. I can see why Frank Bruni awarded just two stars, but that seems almost punitive for a restaurant that aims as high as Gilt, and often succeeds.

Gilt (455 Madison Avenue at 50th Street, in the Palace Hotel, East Midtown)

Food: ***
Service: ***½
Ambiance: ***
Overall: ***