“In this day and age, a lot of dishes are finished in the kitchen, and waiters are relegated to carrying from point A to point B,” says Charles Masson, the always suited-up French restaurateur best known for his time as general manager at La Grenouille in New York City.
He pauses over the phone.
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“We’re old-school here,” he continues. “We’re doing tableside, and it’s quite exhilarating.”
“Here” is his new project, opened Wednesday of this week: Majorelle, his French fine-dining spot in The Lowell Hotel in New York City’s Upper East Side. It’s his long-awaited return to the restaurant scene, which Masson thinks it could use a bit more flourish.
At Majorelle, the baba au rhum is flambéed before diners, whole chickens carved by the table. Though it’s not flair for fine-dining’s sake, rather it’s to maintain the optimal temperature and presentation for the diner. As you can tell, everything about service is meticulous; the initial crop of front-of-house candidates clocked in at 45 and now it’s down to the core of 16 in the dining room. No detail is left up to chance.
“The construction started quite a while ago, and the inspiration even longer,” says Masson.
He’s known the Chartouni family, the owners of the hotel, and their fondness for Mediterranean food. The conversation began years ago, and it immediately brought back Masson’s memories of Majorelle, a 12-acre botanical garden in Marrakech.
“My father talked about it as a nirvana of all the senses,” he says. “I was quite taken when I first saw it and never knew it would be such a big part of my life.”
Masson’s famed for his flowers, and he’s turned where compressors used to sit in The Lowell into a garden of his own. He also designed the kitchen with architect Mark Pinney and designer Michael S. Smith to have its own braserie for making broths and sauces that power the menu.
“We’re doing everything as we should be,” says Masson. “There are lot of details, and the reality is that the list never ends because it’s a moving piece of art. It’s not a job, it’s a vocation.”