Matt Reina Won't Be Replaced by an Electronic Waiter at Aureole

"We have over 700 bottles and we have the electronic wine list."
Photo: Melissa Hom

On Friday and Saturday, Charlie Palmer will celebrate the twentieth anniversary of his flagship, Aureole, by preparing "20 years in 20 bites" — signature dishes from each year broken down into a $300, eight-course tasting menu with wine pairings. The No. 1 dish to try, according to floor captain Matt Reina, “is the scallop sandwich: sea scallops, a crisp potato crust” with saffron pan juices. The sandwich is from 1988, but Reina landed at Aureole just three years ago after earning a degree in restaurant management from the Culinary Institute of America. We asked him about the restaurant’s anatomically mispronounced name, how industry folk can score discounts at the restaurant Palmer designed to be the American version of Lutèce, and Aureole’s big move to midtown next year.

Do you get a lot of people mispronouncing the name Aureole [or-ee-ole]?
Absolutely; most of them are too scared to even try. They’ll ask me: "One last question before we leave …" [We get] ‘Arielle,’ ‘Areolay.’ [The meaning] is halo. It’s Latin.

Is there a cheap way to eat at your expensive restaurant?
What we do offer is, on Monday nights, for anyone in the industry (waiters, cooks, anyone), a tasting menu for $45. It has been going on since early summer and we’re carrying it on until we move in the spring of 2009. It changes based on what the chef has available. Five courses and no corkage fee.

How can you prove that someone’s in the industry?
Our rule was that your general manager had to call ours. [If we don’t recognize the restaurant] they still come in; we don’t really have any phonies. Most of them you can tell how they eat that they’re from a restaurant, that they love food.

Has your regular clientele been ordering differently in the bear market?
People are still enjoying white truffles; we’ve actually be selling out. It’s $95 to start to add onto the appetizer and double for the entrée. Some people do share the portion. It depends on the size of the party. The [regular] tasting is $115 without wine. [To add truffles] for one person, it’s $45.

Does your electronic wine list undermine the need for a sommelier?
For the most part, people like to choose for themselves, but if they have any questions we refer them to the sommelier, who’s always available. There aren’t tasting notes in the wine book. It’s basically a faster way to view, like, a California Cab. You can just pick the region and what we have from that region.

How often is Charlie Palmer at the restaurant?
It depends, but he’s always a phone call away. He’s here a couple of times throughout the month, but he has eleven properties. He’ll be cooking for the anniversary.

Aureole moves from the townhouse into a vast new space in midtown's Bank of America Green Building come spring. What will change in the new building?
We’re going to have three different venues throughout the restaurant: The formal dining room will be just as beautiful with fresh flowers; the private space; and the more casual area, which gives the opportunity to stop in quickly off the street. That will be a sit-down area as well, but I don’t think you’ll need a reservation.

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