A History of America's Premier Restaurant

By John Mariani with Alex von Bidder

Crown 205pp $35

Sooner or later, anybody who's anybody in New York eats at the Four Seasons, though that was hardly a foregone conclusion when it debuted in 1959. Then, only a few French and Italian restaurants served haute cuisine, and restaurant-goers ventured out to eat, not to be seen. No matter. The Four Seasons, an afterthought in the landmark Seagram Building, is now a landmark itself.

The restaurant blazed trails in design and service, fostered the power lunch, and helped foment the idea of dining as an important form of recreation and status-seeking. It also set financial records--costing $4.5 million and charging unheard-of prices. (Nowadays, a baked potato costs $9.75.)

Part scrapbook, part narrative, and part cookbook, The Four Seasons tells how it all happened. This paean is mostly fun, though it disappoints when it comes to tidbits about the alliances, snubs, and conflicts among customers. Readers must make do with, for example, a snide reference to Wisconsin conventioneers who compounded the sin of arriving without jackets by wearing plaid, short-sleeved shirts. There's also the revelation that Ronald Reagan ate two desserts after a complete dinner.

You can't make a meal of the biography of a restaurant, no matter how storied. Such a book is destined to be pudding. Alas, like many a Four Seasons dessert, this one's a trifle too sweet.

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