In the high-stakes culinary Thunderdome that is New York's power-dining scene, it's notoriously difficult to predict which promising contenders might burn hot and fizzle, and which will maintain a steady boil. But the The Grill, set to reopen next week in the legendary Four Season's space, is as close at you'll find to a sure thing. With its rosewood buffed, its brass polished and its décor updated, the room that saw fifty years worth of power lunches has been re-imagined as a midcentury American chophouse by Jeff Zalaznick, Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi, the trio behind Carbone and Dirty French. "It's very much a restored version of the original," says Zalaznick. "The whole idea was to revive this place for the next 50 years, to reinvigorate it both for the people who have been coming here for years and the people who have never been before." Downtown, meanwhile, the trio's red-sauce supernova Carbone is as hot as it's ever been, with a cast of regulars that includes Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, Taylor Swift, Chelsea Clinton, George and Amal Clooney, and Jay Z and Beyonce. Barack and Michelle Obama go every time they're in town and just took Malia last month (the former president had the lamb chops).
But the title of toughest table in town might belong to Le Coucou, Chef Daniel Rose's softly lit love song to classic French cuisine in Aby Rosen's 11 Howard hotel, which Jean-Georges Vongerichten describes as "one of the most beautiful restaurants to open in New York" in years. Since it debuted last summer, the James Beard finalist for Best New Restaurant has drawn a steady parade of bold-faced admirers - Henry Kissinger, Arianna Huffington, Calvin Klein, Michael Bloomberg, Brad Pitt and Emma Stone. "The restaurant is beautiful architecturally," says Sony Music Entertainment legend Clive Davis, "And you can actually hear everyone at your table!"
To the north on Lafayette, Indochine, "is forever a New York place," says designer Diane Von Furstenberg, who has thrown many dinners under its iconic palm fronds. "It is as hot now as it was in the '80s." Less formal, and with no hassle for a table, the sexy French-Vietnamese eatery remains a standby for industry people like Julianne Moore, Ethan Hawke, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jennifer Connelly, Jake Gyllenhall, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Huvane, Bryan Lourd, Brett Ratner and Iman. Owner Jean-Marc Houmard credits Indochine's implausible staying power partially to the lighting. "People look good in the room," he laughs.
Uptown, the billionaire set gravitate toward 77th Street and Madison Avenue, the city block with perhaps the greatest concentration of power-restaurants in the world. International art dealer Larry Gagosian's Kappo Masa has 82 seats, no windows, and sushi known to cause heart palpitations (for the prices) - but that doesn't deter Vera Wang or Woody Allen. Next door, The Mark by Jean-Georges shares the same high voltage, and across the street, the Carlyle Restaurant is a consistently chic insiders' den. Rounding out the nucleus is Sant Ambroeus, which remains one of the clubbiest stalwarts of the city's elite like Harrison Ford and Lenny Kravitz. "Everyone famous eats at the special table in the corner," says one Upper East Side screenwriter. "Tom Brady and Giselle were just there last week." Closer to midtown, the Polo Bar is where you're as likely to run into Kelly Ripa and Michael Caine as you are Showtime chairman Matt Blank. And of course, there are always the classics. "When I'm in New York, it's Le Bernardin or 21 for lunch," says CBS chairman Les Moonves. "And Michael's is still great when you want to see and be seen."
For Pete Holmes, the creator and star of HBO's Crashing, it's Babbo. Or more specifically, Babbo with his executive producer, Judd Apatow. "When you're shooting with Judd you go to some really good restaurants," says Holmes. "I'm a vegan and it's impossible to be a vegan when you're with Judd because they just start bringing everything out," he says of his most recent experience at the meat-heavy Italian restaurant. "So I'm in that situation where I'm like, 'It's already here, there might be some cheese on it,' but I have to eat it. You don't want to be an asshole, so you eat whatever Mario Batali sent out."
Of course, the city is still very much a power drinking town, too, which is why post-dinner many of the above head up the hidden stairs outside Cipriani Downtown to the revived Socialista, the best-kept secret in New York nightlife. The exclusive, Havana-inspired hideaway on the second floor holds about 100 people and is only open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, but if you're not Alessandra Ambrosio, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sting or Rihanna, your chances of getting past Nell's veteran Jessica Rosenblum's velvet rope are slight. "People are as comfortable here in black tie as they are in ripped jeans," says Rosenblum, the original producer of Puff Daddy's White Party. "And they actually sit and talk. No one's showing of their bottles. There are no sparklers."
A version of this story first appeared in the April 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.