Long awaited and highly anticipated, the former home of the Pool Room at the Four Season’s has finally re-opened The Pool at 99 East 52nd Street in the iconic and legendary Seagram’s building – it’s a special place that looms large and fondly in my memory. This undertaking was done by the Major Food group (of Carbone fame) and they have respected the former space as well as The Grill restaurant which re-opened first. The room hasn’t changed much, except for some new carpeting, recovering of some furniture, now in silver, grey and navy tones, the ridding of the fake trees, the addition of a gorgeous Calder sculpture and some hanging plants along the windows. They also took the upper mezzanine room that was used for private parties and overflow and turned it into the Pool Lounge. It is now a very elegant bar area. When you walk down the narrow hall from The Grill to the Pool, you pass a living wall along with a fabulous Chateau d’Yquem cellar. They have just about every vintage in there, some dating back from the 19th century.
Many restaurants come and go but the Pool Room and Grill have stood the test of time and were always packed with a who’s who, and the privileged few of the business, society and celebrity world. This place had big shoes to fill. Now it is catering to a new, diverse generation of the successful.
This restaurant is very different from the original. It showcases mostly seafood, raw fish and fish. Richard Torrisi is head chef and co-owner along with Mr. Zalaznick and Mario Carbone.
The menu is divided into sharing, sashimi, toast, caviar service, appetizers, entrees and whole fish of the day. There is also a couple of meat items. You better hope you are invited or on an expense account. The wine list emphasizes whites, champagne, and burgundies and there is a whole Chateau d’Yquem menu as well.
To be honest I went with high expectations and I was hugely disappointed. Not only was the food expensive, it was mediocre. I don’t mind splurging when the food is outstanding, but unfortunately, it just wasn’t. It started off well with fresh warm baguettes served with creamy butter topped with salmon roe. There was no amuse bouche. The cocktails were drab. The $23 crudité plate tasted like it was an onion soup mix for the dip. Our waiter who wasn’t very helpful, but did suggest the Dungeness crab rice. The crab was fishy and dry. One appetizer I did enjoy is the venison tartare, oddly not a seafood choice. It came with an oyster sauce, some fingerling potatoes and coriander. The seared lobster tail in a citrus ponzu sauce is also nice. The fish entrées were on the tiny side. I wish we were told which dishes were the signatures, but our waiter was not very enthusiastic or descriptive and didn’t discuss any of the notable highlights. I used to love the waiters in the old pool room, they were sophisticated and made everyone feel like a somebody.
The dessert options were also nothing to write home about, and there is no chocolate or petit fors brought to the table.
The Pool room is very subdued, refined and an urban oasis, if you will, and more of a special occasion atmosphere, whereas the Grill is the opposite, busy and buzzing and a real scene.
They really have a lot to live up to here if they want to triumph. In this city people are jaded and have discerning tastes. You may be showcasing an elegant room, but people are also expecting a culinary experience as well. Let’s hope to see improvements very soon.