Luxe Boîte Makes the Mark

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There was a time in New York when lunch achieved cult caliber: when it became such a thing that it jumped from mere noun to verb status: “lunching,” a sport of sorts. There was also a certain echelon of women who defined it, inspiring the phrase “ladies who lunch.” They were gorgeous, they were glamorous, and they kept their figures tiny but their hair and jewels large. They were the likes of Babe Paley, C. Z. Guest, Lee Radziwill, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and their preferred lunch spots were as select as their company: La Côte Basque, La Grenouille, Le Cirque, the Colony Club. Without jobs or anything pressing to rush back to, making an art of lunch became their calling.

Today, with fractured calendars and smartphones detonating like DJs to the tune of Dvorák or Daft Punk at every call, there’s barely time to change from your morning-workout Lululemons to your workplace Louboutins, let alone squeeze in a lunch date. In spite of all of this, “the high-society ritual still remains, though the culture of it has certainly evolved to accommodate the fully scheduled lives of women residing in New York,” according to Isabelle Hogan, chef concierge at The Mark Hotel. “While topics of conversation and highly stylish lunch attire remain consistent, the ‘ladies who lunch’ have adapted to new social norms.”

Hogan should know, since the restaurant at the hotel, The Mark Restaurant by Jean-Georges (as in Vongerichten), has become something of the new Côte Basque. It’s uptown, but not uptight, boasting a sophisticated yet stylish atmosphere (designed by Jacques Grange with equal parts chic, comfort, and whimsy). This, along with an innovative menu by Jean-Georges himself, attracts a “bustling lunch crowd,” as Hogan puts it. “Perfectly sized portions, farm-fresh ingredients, and simple yet flavorful dishes appeal to those seeking an en vogue lunch spot.”

She’s right on all counts, which might explain the nouvelle vague of noontime ladies who lunch. There are bona fide uptown coiffes aplenty (though less Mr. Kenneth, more Frédéric Fekkai—whose salon is only one flight up, and whose wife, Shirin von Wulffen, is a frequent lunch guest), a handful of hat-wearers, and several sunglasses-stay-on-even-inside types.

Still, the modern lady who lunches isn’t one to idle over espressos while the limousine idles out front. She’s more of a P&L-spreadsheet-checking power broker. That’s why the regulars here include Katie Couric, Tory Burch, Jemma Kidd, Lisa Perry, Kelly Ripa, Carine Roitfeld, Diana Taylor, Vera Wang, Barbara Walters, Diane Keaton, and Amal Clooney. “Who doesn’t love a little mid-day Jean-Georges?” explains Allison Aston, head of branding for the fashion line Veronica Beard. “It’s yummy, great ambiance, you always see a bunch of friendly faces—and it’s perfectly located.” Christie’s consultant Clare McKeon concurs: “It has great energy,” she tells. “I love the garden room at the back, which is a hidden sanctuary in any season. The crispy sushi is almost addictive… I order it every time!”

Other items are addictive as well, such as the hamachi sashimi, beef tartare with crispy potatoes, steamed shrimp salad, and lemon-and-pepper fettuccine. For summer, it’s hard to pass on the lobster roll with Napa cabbage slaw or the grilled tuna burger, perfected by a topping of yuzu pickles. The entrées have been curated almost as finely as the wines. The good ones are too abundant to list, but it would be misguided to miss out on a glass of white Burgundy: the supremely elegant Chassagne-Montrachet Philippe Colin 2012. It happens to pair beautifully with the angel food cake topped with berry compote and blackberry sorbet for dessert. Or skip another glass of wine and order a coffee with the Black Forest cake, which takes the childhood version you remember from the local baker to a whole new level. One morsel and you’ll melt in your seat, giving a hats off to The Mark Restaurant—and a hats on for the ladies who lunch.