It's a question I get asked nonstop: What's your favorite restaurant? Depending on the day, my mood and a couple other X factors, I have a half dozen names that anyone who follows me on Instagram probably knows.
But if the question is, what's your most important restaurant? I have only one response: La Caravelle. The classic French dining room—with dreamy Parisian murals on the walls and a little lamp on every cloth-covered table—lived on 55th Street in Manhattan from 1960 until 2004, when it closed its doors. It was a fairy-tale world for me when I was growing up downtown, the only fancy restaurant my family went to. (It's the antithesis of the way I eat now: Keep moving. As opposed to, going anywhere else—Lutèce, La Côte Basque—when you're in perfect happiness where you are. ) We had a "connection" there: My father and La Caravelle's chef, Roger Fessaguet, had worked at the same summer camp at the same time; Roger got fired from his job as assistant chef for using too much butter.
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This week, I got to time travel back to La Caravelle when it popped up for two nights at Chefs Club by Food & Wine. (Full disclosure – I helped brainstorm the idea with La Caravelle's owners Rita and André Jammet, and Chefs Club's Dana Cowin, my former boss.) Chefs Club is a warehouse-styled space dominated by an open kitchen and a mammoth, glass-encased chunk of salt that hangs from the towering ceiling and has a street value of $100k. It's the absolute antithesis of what the softly lit La Caravelle was. And yet, when I walked into Chefs Club, there was the immaculately dressed André Jammet to greet me and escort me to my table; flashback. It's been a long, long time since I went to a restaurant and all the men were in suits, but there they were at Chefs Club. A lot of them had been La Caravelle regulars who texted Rita to ask about what to wear; her reply was "Dress up."