Hold onto your passports because Chef Michael White, the man behind such iconic restaurants as Marea and Ai Fiori, has opened up a French brasserie that will make you feel like you’re dining along the Champs-Elysees. By Carly Petrone.
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Before you book that trip to Paris, make sure to stop into Vaucluse, the latest French restaurant to open up its doors on the Upper East Side. Chef Michael White and Ahmass Fakahany, of the Altamarea Group, have teamed up once again to revive the historic space located on the corner of East 63rd and Park Avenue. The spacious brasserie, which was once home to Park Avenue Summer, is large enough to seat 186 guests. The interior is clean and bright with soft yet vibrant accents, like the turquoise banquettes that line the tables along the windows and the modern geometric rugs that line the repurposed wooden floors. The tall windows and large mirrors make it feel like you’re dining in someone’s chateau in France. It’s so inviting that guests will want to grab a seat at the bar first before sitting down for their meal.
Chef Michael White knows a thing or two about serving up great cocktails. He suggests starting out with the Casino Royale (Stolichnaya vodka, Dolin blanc, Cointreau, suze). This $14 aperitif “is the perfect version of a martini and will get you going with a good buzz so you can order freely and try most of the menu, without being flavored. It’s neutral and elegant,” says Chef White. The Le Diplomate is another cocktail that’s sweet yet perfectly smooth. It’s made with Old Forester Bourbon, Lillet blanc, and elderflower and stirred meticulously in front of you by the bartender.
If you’re craving traditional French dishes like Boeuf Bourguignon or Canard a l’Orange (roasted Rohan duck and orange) this is the place to go. The duck is rich and filling while the small slices of orange add just enough citrus to each meaty bite. “I really like the rotating specials or the duck for two. The specials are all very French and it gives diners reason to come back or plan ahead to visit on particular days of the week,” adds Chef White.
Though you wouldn’t think of ordering pasta at a traditional French restaurant, the Petites Oreilles ($19) with fresh tomato, basil, and grated chevre is one of the best dishes on the menu. The simplicity of just these three ingredients combined with homemade orecchiette will leave you wanting seconds. The stand out item on the hors d’oeuvres list is definitely the Foie Gras Poele ($27). This seared Hudson Valley duck liver is accompanied with hazelnut gateau, endive, and strawberries, making it a decadent starter option. If you’re in the mood for something lighter, the Salade Truffee ($19) is an excellent choice. A mix of mesclun, mushrooms a la grecque tete de moine cheese, and black truffle, it’s both fragrant and perfectly tart. Add a traditional Crème Brulee ($10) or the decadent Souffle Chaud Chocolate ($14) for dessert and you’ve got yourself one meal to remember.
The presentation of the food itself is definitely part of what makes the dining experience at Vaucluse so unique. Each course looks like a work of art. “Plating is much like the experience, elegant and chic without super formality. I want people to want to eat here often, not just on occasion or for occasions,” says White.
The inspiration for the menu came about after Chef White, Fakahany, Rocky Cirino (Managing Director) and Jared Gadbaw (Executive Chef) traveled to France together last summer. “We did a ton of R&D with this project at front of mine. All of my past travels to France have inspired me as well as my culinary training in the South of France,” adds White.
Though this is a departure from Chef White’s typical Italian fare, we’re certainly not complaining. The Michelin-starred chef and James Beard Award Winner is once again proving why he’s the best in the business. He’s brought a little piece of France to the Upper East Side.
If you’re craving a French meal worth splurging your money on then head to Vaucluse. The service is outstanding and the atmosphere isn’t stuffy or pretentious. You may even see Chef White roaming around the restaurant, asking you how you liked your meal. “I’ve always loved French cuisine, although I’m predominately known for being an Italian chef. But I studied extensively in France as well as Italy. Altamarea Group wanted to create something like Marea, in Midtown, for our core clients and everyone else, that is approachable and fun. The address is historic, the kitchen is enormous, and it was an opportunity we just couldn’t refuse,” White concludes.
100 East 63rd St.
New York, NY 10065
Open Monday – Thursday from 5:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Open Friday – Saturday from 5 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.