This has seemed like four-star dining week, what with all the talk of Les Nomades and L2O and especially Michelin, for whom the tiny slice at the top is sort of like the famous Saul Steinberg map of America consisting largely of a few blocks of Manhattan. But the reality is that traditional white tablecloth, Frenchy-fied dining is on the wane, as even the big hotels, where it has long been as essential as valet parking, step away from it. Now on the heels of the Peninsula closing Avenues, the Park Hyatt casualizing NoMI, and the Public Hotel opening with a newly laidback Pump Room, Steve Dolinsky reports that the Four Seasons is closing Seasons, its 22-year-old fine dining spot, converting the space into a ballroom. He talks to hotel executive chef Kevin Hickey about the changes in diners' tastes, and how that will drive a new restaurant concept that will open elsewhere within the hotel.
“I think fine-dining has evolved. I think the customers have changed what they want, and what they expect from a dining experience. The formality and the multi-hour commitments are gone," Hickey tells Dolinsky. As for the new concept, "It will be more approachable, more fun. You’re gonna have the same passionate level of excitement - great quality, locally-sourced ingredients - but it will be at a more accessible price point.”
Our experience with Hickey on a recent Key Ingredient shoot perhaps points to the reason he seems eager to make the change. To be honest, we weren't even sure that Seasons, which we last heard much about in the early 90s, still existed. Yet Hickey proved not only to be a sharp and obviously highly talented chef, but one who was buying the same local and artisanal ingredients as all the chefs who get talked about all the time— or maybe even better ones (the squab in his Key Ingredient dish was outstanding). It may seem funny to talk about a chef with one of the most prestigious gigs in town as being underappreciated, but if your clientele is mainly visitors, it's easy for your own town to not really know what you're up to.
Even if the Four Seasons' future idea of more casual is unlikely to be as casual as most people's, if a new concept within the hotel is able to draw locals on par with other restaurants in the vicinity, it will undoubtedly mean more visibility for Hickey and his team and the kind of food they make.