Restaurant Editor Bill Addison is traveling to chronicle what's happening in North America's dining scene and to formulate his list of the essential 38 restaurants in North America. Follow his progress in this travelogue/review series, The Road to the 38, and check back at the end of the year to find out which restaurants made the cut.
More than any other American luxury restaurant, Grace sits at the intersection of fine dining's past and present. At first glance, the place has an almost impersonal, pre-1980s serenity: creamy, hand-stitched leather club chairs; milk chocolate-colored tablecloths; art that brings to mind asymmetrical inkblot tests. After the eyes acclimate to the dim room, once a pickled herring factory, it's easier to appreciate the elegant grain of the brown ash wood paneling and the voluptuous forms of the columns built to resemble wine decanters (and, indeed, fitted with discrete stations for beverage service).
But the design also leaves no doubt about the real atmospheric centerpiece: the kitchen, gleaming all white and steel and viewed through glass. Tables are angled for maximum observation of the more than 20 cooks assembling your dinner with balletic concentration. The setup reinforces all the modern notions about dining as an event, as participation theatre.