by David Farley
The Henry Villard Mansion, attached to the New York Palace Hotel, was buzzing like the days of yore on Wednesday, October 9. In the space that once housed esteemed eateries like Le Cirque 2000 and Gilt, the gilded-aged rooms of the mansion were packed with revelers to welcome chef Michel Richard.
Richard has opened Villard Michel Richard here, one of the most anticipated openings in New York this year. The restaurant, which will serve a la carte and prix fixe menus (including Richard’s signature lobster pasta), was redesigned by Jeffrey Beers. Gone is the ugly futuristic bar during the Gilt era; in is a majestic glass wine “room” inside one of the three dining rooms, displaying bottles of wine and housing a table inside.
“There’s little you can do to a place like this because its preservation is protected,” said Beers when I talked to him at the party. “The challenge is to take a room that was not originally made to be a restaurant and make it seem like it was always meant to be a restaurant.”
Which he’s done quite well. One dining room boasts plus-sized portraits of celebrities (including Catherine Deneuve). “I love her,” confessed Beers, as we sipped white rum cocktails while servers passed by with trays of caviar on short bread and tuna ceviche.
A few minutes later, ambling through the three dining rooms, I turned a corner and there was the man of the hour himself: Michel Richard. I was curious to know what his particular challenges were for opening a restaurant in New York.
“This is a great restaurant space and I want to make it fun. But my challenge is to be the best — the best in this city of very great restaurants.” Then he paused and looked over my shoulder. “Speaking of which, there is the best right here,” he said. And then suddenly Daniel Boulud was standing with us.
“I love this man,” said Boulud putting his arm around Richard. “This will be a great restaurant.”
Michel Richard patted Boulud on the back and smiled, the party in full swing, hoping — nay, knowing — it certainly will be great.
You can click on each photo to enlarge.