L’Avenue at Saks’ Star Power

The original L’Avenue, on the Avenue Montaigne in Paris, serves as a de facto hub for the global fashion elite. Located kitty-corner from a Dior boutique, and within stiletto-heeled strolling distance from Celine, Chanel, Fendi, Givenchy, and seemingly every other covetable brand, it draws diners who gather to see and be seen. It’s the place for the style set to power-lunch; an impossible table during Fashion Week.

The eighth-floor cocktail lounge Le Chalet. (Courtesy of L’Avenue at Saks)

L’Avenue’s new NYC location—the only one outside Paris—sits in even closer proximity to many of those labels: It occupies the ninth floor of Saks Fifth Avenue. One can, if one chooses, enter via the restaurant’s separate entrance on 50th Street, but one also can enter directly from within the store for some post-shopping sustenance.

From the elevator, stained-glass murals by the daughter of Philippe Starck line the runway-like hallway. At the restaurant’s entrance, you’ll find both the de rigeur host’s stand and also a counter peddling confections from famed Parisian pâtissier Pierre Hermé—the only place to get these treats Stateside. To the right, a curving staircase descends to the eighth-floor cocktail lounge, Le Chalet, seemingly transported straight from St. Moritz, offering creative drinks by star bartender Nico de Soto (also a French import, and the cocktail genius behind bars like Mace, in the East Village).

The hallway leading into L’Avenue. (Courtesy of L’Avenue at Saks)

Starck himself designed the restaurant’s interior, in a more contemporary style than its eldest French sister, employing colors from cream to chestnut and lingering on tones of honey and caramel. Expensively maintained diners clad in conspicuous designer logos occupy luxuriously well-spaced tables. Throughout the room, glass vitrines display clothing and other wares, lest you forget you’re dining within a department store.

The menu here hews closely to that of the Parisian original: vaguely French with Italian and pan-Asian inflections, full of crowd-pleasing dishes such as rigatoni aux morilles (morel rigatoni), saumon miso gingembre sésame (miso salmon), and risotto crémeux aux gambas (shrimp risotto). It’s all technically well-rendered, but you’ve had these dishes elsewhere a hundred times before. This is not food that will surprise you—but the unexpectedly generous portions might, as may the well-selected wine list with an especially fine sparkling section. It’s familiar comfort food for a certain class of restaurant-goer, calibrated so as not to distract from conversation or the restaurant’s real focus: observing your preposterously chic fellow diners.

The dining room at L’Avenue at Saks. (Courtesy of L’Avenue at Saks)

That is, until you get to the desserts by Pierre Hermé, and only a fool would forgo them. That’s when what’s on the plate steals the spotlight, when the conversation turns to what’s before you, when you’ll want to pull out your phone for a photo. Order the Sensation Chloé, and a server presents you with a sphere of chocolate, over which warm chocolate sauce is slowly poured until the shell collapses, revealing the decadent raspberry sorbet encased within. The “Costes crackers cheesecake,” described on the menu simply as “the famous one,” certainly deserves its reputation. “Is it heretical to bring a cheesecake to NYC?” I mused to my dining companion, thinking of the old saw about coals and Newcastle. “Not if it’s better than New York cheesecake,” he replied. This one was.

Spicy lobster pasta dish. (Courtesy of Melissa Hom)

Those desserts serve as an exclamation mark at the end of your meal. They’re game-changing for L’Avenue at Saks, largely because the food traditionally was kind of beside the point at the original Parisian fashion power hub. It’s the people-watching: the diners’ obvious glamour and influence, wielding the power to change the face of fashion—and also to nab a coveted reservation—that matters most. And by those standards, certainly, L’Avenue has another success with its NYC location.

Pierre Hermé’s famed Ispahan dessert. (Courtesy of Melissa Hom)