NYC’s storied Four Seasons Restaurant is back in action after two years and a relocation — but the city’s critics are decidedly not dazzled by the tony dining destination’s comeback. The New York Times’ Pete Wells and New York Magazine’s Adam Platt filed reviews of the Four Seasons this week, each awarding it just one star.
After five decades of power lunches and playing host to countless celebrities, politicians, and the uber-rich, the Four Seasons was forced out of its original location in Manhattan’s historic Seagram Building in 2016 due to a rent hike and landlord squabbles. It was replaced by three equally exorbitantly-priced restaurants from Major Food Group (progenitor of other NYC hot spots including Carbone, Santina, and Sadelle’s), including the Grill, where diners have nonetheless flooded in to indulge in $92 lamb chops and $40 crab cakes.
But while the Grill, which made its debut in May 2017, was soon heralded as one of the city’s most exciting restaurants, the new Four Seasons, which opened in August, gets a resounding “meh” from the critics.
It’s not that the food is bad: Platt acknowledges that as far as the cooking goes, the Four Seasons has “raise[d] its standards to an almost unsettling degree,” thanks in part to the talent of executive chef Diego Garcia. Wells, too, has plenty of praise for the food, mentioning “flawless” Dover sole and delightfully indulgent sea urchin ravioli.
But the Four Seasons is dated, in more ways than one: Platt notes that its crazy-high prices ($25 cocktails, a $52 crab cake) and retro-in-a-bad-way dining room seem to be “a hit among the surviving members of the ‘plutocrats who lunch’ set,” implying that anyone who’s not a member of the ultra-wealthy elite will feel out of place among its pink marble bathrooms and “midtown expense-account prices.”
And more importantly, as Wells acknowledges at length at the beginning of his review, co-owner Julian Niccolini has been accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women (and in one instance, pleaded guilty to assault). In the #MeToo era, that history of assault will cause many to lose their appetites, including Wells himself: “Escaping from what’s inside... takes a mental effort that is beyond me and will probably be beyond many others as well, whether Mr. Niccolini is in sight or not,” he writes. (Wells recognizes that many in food media don’t feel that the restaurants of bad actors should get media coverage at all, but says he disagrees, asserting that “critics have the power to tell a story other than the one the restaurant is pushing.”)
But the Four Seasons largely caters to a certain sect of the rich and famous that certainly don’t care about high prices, and perhaps not sexual assault allegations either: Photos from various celebrities, socialites, and influencers litter the Four Seasons’ Instagram location page, and Martha Stewart, who was a regular at the original location, has also expressed her enthusiasm for the reboot. Like so many other things, it seems the Four Seasons is an experience best reserved for the ultra-privileged.