Manhattan’s famed French eatery Lutece will sauté its final foie gras — with dark chocolate sauce and bitter orange marmalade — when it closes Saturday after entertaining the world’s creme de la creme for 43 years.
The restaurant had struggled to meet expenses since the World Trade Center attacks, and may also have alienated longtime patrons when it tried to update its traditional French cuisine several years ago, said Michael Weinstein, president of Ark Restaurants, which bought Lutece 10 years ago.
The restaurant’s final seating, a $125-per-person Valentine’s Day spread, will start with beluga caviar and end on passion fruit creme brulee — and most likely some tears.
“I’m crushed,” said Bette Klegon Halby, a regular patron since 1970, as she stopped by Wednesday. “It was always thought to be the absolute pinnacle of fine dining, was always fabulous and intelligent and exquisite.”
Lutece has served U.S. presidents, foreign heads of state and Hollywood stars next to tables where neighborhood regulars held court. Jacqueline Kennedy dined there and Bill Clinton has celebrated birthdays in the East 50th Street spot.
“Everybody wanted to get in — the whole world really came to us,” said Andre Soltner, the chef who presided over the restaurant for its first 34 years.
Those were the daysWhen it opened, Lutece provided each table with two versions of its menu — one for the “host,” which listed the prices (main courses were $8.25), and another for the other diners, who would not know the cost of, say, the roast veal with kidney or the signature foie gras.
Those days, the three-course prix fixe dinner cost $59.
Dr. Peter Teng, 75, remembers first dining there in 1966. “I will miss it like a family,” he said Wednesday, enjoying a last Lutece lunch of roasted rack of lamb.
Lutece thrived under Soltner, and was ranked by the Zagat guidebook as America’s best restaurant for six consecutive years in the 1980s.
Soltner left shortly after selling Lutece to Ark Restaurants. Lutece changed chefs two more times and never managed to regain its luster, Weinstein said. Its most recent chef, David Feau, tried unsuccessfully to update its rich Old World menu.
Ark opened a second Lutece in 1999, which is not closing, in Las Vegas’ Venetian Hotel.
Soltner is now a dean at the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan, but still owns the Lutece building and lives on the fourth floor. He said he was saddened by the closing and wondered what to do with the space.
“I have to digest that a little bit,” he said.