New York City restaurants reopened indoor dining at 25% capacity on Wednesday (Sept. 30), welcoming patrons hungry for food and company in the pandemic with tight safety measures in candle-lit rooms and behind kitchen doors.
At Daniel, a two Michelin-starred French restaurant on Manhattan's Upper East Side, owner Daniel Boulud decided to do something different and debut a pop-up restaurant, Boulud Sur Mer, inside Daniel, to celebrate the start of indoor dining.
"This COVID hiatus of seven months was very painful, and so we should have a little party coming out of that," he said. "And 25% is not a big party, there's gonna be no fireworks, but at least there'll be a wonderful ambience. Boulud Sur Mer sounds like the south of France. Nobody went to the Mediterranean this summer and nobody went to the Riviera. So we brought the flavour of the Riviera, the cuisine being the driving force here."
At the start of his dinner service, Boulud greeted customers at the entrance and at tables that had been unoccupied since a lockdown was ordered in March in New York, once the U.S. epicenter of the deadly coronavirus.
"I'm very much excited to get back to normal," Jon said. "So this is exciting, of course, and it's my birthday, so it's an especially nice day to celebrate it. I could have been outside, but I wanted to eat indoors and this is one of the best."
"Kinda relieved, back to a little bit of normal, a little bit," Louis Eckert said.
Boulud said the past six months were "awful."
"It has been the worst time in my life," he said. "There was not a single day with a single break, from the minute you get up in the morning to late night. We went from 750 employees around that time when we closed, to, seven, eight people."
Boulud Sur Mer is sponsored by companies like Evian water, coffee group Lavazza and Daou Vineyards.
"We couldn't afford to do it on our own," Boulud said, on the companies donating material and money. Although he can't give the exact figure, the chef said it's in the range of "five figures."
"Five figures can be $10,000 or it can be $90,000," he said. "That's why the sponsors were able to join us to help us do that, either to buy the uniform or to pay everyone who has been working tirelessly."
Designer and architect Stephanie Goto talked about the room she designed and built.
"This oculus feature that's behind me, is meant to be an abstract view to a green sky, maybe an aperture of hope and future for somewhere that we can be and something that we can look forward to," she said. "All of this is meant to be a way to have fun and to dive into an experience and really, feel human again."
Boulud is uncertain of when Boulud Sur Mer will end and indoor dining for Daniel will begin.
"It could be two months, could be three months," he said. "We may go through the holiday or we might change for the holiday. We might take you to the mountain for the holiday. We have not decided yet."
(Production: Roselle Chen, Hussein Al Waaile)