There’s a reason chefs become celebrities…they start out being very good at what they do and Charlie Palmer was no exception. Trained at the Culinary Institute of America, he cut his teeth at the River Cafe where he earned 3 stars from the New York Times. He then created a new style of cooking at Aureole, reinterpreting classic European cooking using American artisanal products and small farm producers. Today he manages an ever growing empire, but is still very involved in cooking at his restaurants.

Housed for 20 years in an elegant old brownstone on the Upper East Side, Aureole moved in June 2009 to new more spacious digs in the Bank of America building at 1 Bryant Park on 42nd Street. I loved the intimacy of the original space, but there is a vibe here that was missing uptown. The bar area is spacious, with huge windows looking out onto the street and anchored at one end by a sophisticated bar that appears to have become a local favorite after work. It was packed at 6pm when I was there recently. Overlooking the bar area is a dramatic glass enclosed wine “cellar”. The main dining room, as in the original space, is beautifully decorated and elegant, yet infused with the vibrant bar scene viewed through glass windows separating the two rooms.

Executive chef  Gabrielle Carpentier continues the tradition at Aureole and turns out terrific food, beautifully presented. Service was crisp, friendly and efficient. To start I had the wonderful Bay Scallop Ceviche with chive broth, lily bulb, rice chip and followed that with Slow Cooked Organic Chicken Breast with  rainbow swiss chard, purple potatoes and parsley aïoli. The Variations of Dark Chocolate dessert looked tempting, but I opted for a cheese course (from Murray’s, the best cheese store in the world) and a glass of the Pinot Noir. If you like an after-dinner drink try the Aureole Elixir, their own delicious blend of of herbs and spirits.

The wine list is extensive, some 1700 choices and 15,000 bottles and includes all of the major regions, with a little heavier accent on French wines. There are also wines produced exclusively for the restaurant. 35 wines by the glass, start at about $10 and include sparkling, white, red, rose and dessert wines. There are about 25 1/2 bottles ranging from $38-$240. Plenty of white choices under $60 but few reds under $80.

ROMANTIC QUOTIENT: This is an elegant, sophisticated restaurant, equally good for an afternoon rendezvous as for dinner.

AAA Four Diamond Award
Wine Spectator Award

An “oasis of calm” in Times Square, Charlie Palmer’s “classy” flagship “sets the bar” with “exquisite” New American fare “presented like art” by a staff “with finesse”; the “beautiful”, “modern” dining room is a natural for “special occasions” and while dinner tabs are “over-the-top”, lunch is a relative “bargain.” ZAGAT