“When you come to a restaurant like this, it’s like a mini-vacation—an escape from the outside world,” Charles Masson tells me. The fabled restaurateur, of La Grenouille legend, is speaking about his latest culinary undertaking, Majorelle, which just opened in the newly revamped ground-level spaces of The Lowell, the Upper East Side’s jewel box of a hotel. “You want to create a shelter where people feel safe, and I think at dinner time, particularly, people will probably spend a lot of time here,” Masson explains.
Indeed, any New Yorker longing for an escape or mini-vacation need only dial The Lowell and ask for a table at Majorelle (okay, why not book a room for a staycation while you’re at it?). The space is a most welcome newcomer on the Manhattan dining scene. In an era that has been fetishizing wooden-box hipster spots with retro-font menus and 1920s-style speakeasies with dark, clubby spaces, Majorelle is an invigorating breath of fresh air. Conceived and named in honor of the artist Jacques Majorelle (whose teeming gardens are in Marrakesh, Morocco), Majorelle the restaurant is open, airy, and light—with all the understated yet indisputably opulent trappings of luxury. It’s more European in feel, but not cutting-edge Euro or preciously Parisian; rather, walking into Majorelle feels more like walking into the fabulous L’Orangerie at the George V in Paris, or La Veranda at the Four Seasons Milano. Like Masson says, this is poised to be the kind of place that patrons will linger in.
Majorelle’s opening is part of a larger three-year renovation and $24-million investment in The Lowell by its owners, the Chartouni family, who’ve just updated the hotel’s 74 guest rooms. They’ve also completely remodeled the first floor, which includes the lobby, Majorelle (with its adjacent Jacques Bar), and the Clubroom, a private lounge that’s exclusive to guests of the hotel until 4:00 p.m., when it then opens to the public at night.
Architectural aspects carry the room at Majorelle, including Mark Pinney’s dramatic vaulted ceilings and marble columns, which are complemented by Michael S. Smith’s interior-design touches of etched glasswork and alabaster chandeliers. The glass-covered garden’s lush plantings, fountains, and fireplace create a year-round oasis. Inside or out, Majorelle is sure to draw a crowd any time of year, especially given Masson’s expert influence (helped along by consulting chef Christian Delouvrier). The menu, executed by chef Mario Fortuna, is defined by authentic French dishes with a Mediterranean/Moroccan flair, such as thyme-roasted chicken and baby-vegetable tagine. Any foodie who’s been bred on Parisian baguette or pastries knows there’s that certain je ne sais quoi in French confections that, not for lack of effort, New York–based chefs just don’t seem capable of recreating this side of the Atlantic. (Is it something in the water or the humid Parisian air that affects the baking process?) Majorelle’s proposed solution seems to lie in its flour. Yes, pastry chef David Carmichael mills his own flour in-house, resulting in what are claimed to be lighter-than-air petits pains and pastries. Whether it’s the lighter-than-air pastries or the en-plein-air garden, there’s no disputing one thing: Majorelle is decidedly of the moment, but with major promise to stay.