Just across the street from the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, you can go and sip cocktails from diamond-cut Baccarat tumblers, under the cool light of a
crinoline Baccarat chandelier, then ride the elevator up for a disco nap in your
Baccarat suite. ?????
Baccarat has manufactured crystal glassware in France for the past 250 years, but last month, in a gigantic feat of international lifestyle branding, the
company opened its first hotel. It’s a swanky palace built out on the first 12
floors of a split-level tower, with 114 rooms of varying grandeur and a spa run
by Estée Lauder-owned cosmetic company La Mer. When the 80-seat restaurant
Chevalier opens on April 13, it will fall toward the posher end of the brasserie
spectrum, with executive chef Shea Gallante in the kitchen.
You might not even notice Charles Masson, what with the towering chocolate soufflés, the glittering crystal and the flashy Gilles & Boissier design of
the hotel. The 60-year-old Frenchman in a pressed white shirt, jacket and
gleaming polished shoes is Chevalier’s director, managing the front of the
house. “I like to be discreet,” he tells me over the phone, “because the highest
level of service is discretion.”
But Charles Masson has noticed you. Masson is a legend in the restaurant scene and the former general manager of New York’s La Grenouille. He’s also one
of the last managers in New York to practice a particular style of French
service- elegant, composed, and yeah, a little bit old-fashioned-and he’s in
demand. His old regulars have already stopped by for visits. “It’s very
touching,” he says. “Very moving.”
When his father fell ill, and Masson was just 19 years old, he moved to New York to help run his parents’ French restaurant. He went on to do so for the
next 40 years. Masson’s parents had opened La Grenouille in 1962, in the middle
of a snowstorm, with just a few red roses on the tables and old linoleum floors,
upgrading the place slowly but surely until it became one of the city’s great
French restaurants-and a bastion of luxury.
Life is more beautiful when Masson is around. For one thing, there are always fresh flowers in water. Different water for different flowers, because Masson
knows about these things: Peonies like it sugary and cool; larkspurs need a
little dose of alcohol to feel perky; daisies thrive with peppermint oil; and
big, tough birds of paradise take well to a small dilution of vinegar. Masson
published a small book on the subject dedicated to his father, called simply The
Flowers of La Grenouille. It’s a must-read for anyone looking to extend the life
of their delphiniums, or to understand the care that goes into a bouquet. By
1984, La Grenouille was spending more than $80,000 a year on fresh flowers.