After a series of setbacks, pastry megachef François Payard is back on the Upper East Side. Payard previously ran Payard Pâtisserie and Bistro, which operated for more than 10 years on 73rd Street at Lexington Avenue, but closed in 2009 due to a rent dispute with the landlord. Last year, Payard signed a lease for a corner space on Third Avenue and 76th Street, but the deal fell through. When the new location, on Third Avenue at 74th Street, was set to open officially at the beginning of the month, a storm named Sandy blew through New York and ground the patisserie's plans to a halt.
"People here on the Upper East Side didn't understand why we weren't open after the storm," Payard said. "We had power uptown. What people didn't think about was our commercial kitchen." That kitchen is located downtown on Houston Street.
"We lost everything there: all our product, our refrigerators. Our basement flooded. So we threw all that stuff out on the street," he said.
Luckily, Payard's team was able to pull together fairly quickly, and FP Pâtisserie, as Payard calls it, finally opened to the public on November 8th. The location is now the brand's flagship, and it looks the part: it's elegant and beautifully decorated, with a sleek, pared-down design.
"Me, I am not feminine, but this space, it is feminine," Payard said. "This space had to have my style. I make beautiful cakes—you know?—so this place had to be beautiful like my cakes." The store was designed by interior design consultant Linda Zarifi and architect Daniel O'Connor.
At the very front of the store, a glass case that faces the street houses elaborate full-sized cakes. "People passing by on the street should look in here and want to come inside," Payard said.
Inside, along the right side of the store, is a glass case that the chef likes to call "the Ferrari of cases."
"This was custom built in Italy," he said. "You buy with your eyes, you know? So a perfect, clean, fog-free case is important to showcase the cakes."
Inside the "Ferrari" are the small, delicate mini-cakes and tarts that are at the center of the new store's concept. There are a full 16 varieties, and only three of them are available at Payard's other locations.
"I wanted to do only new things here," Payard said. "But our customers, they missed some of their favorite cakes. So we put up a poll on our website and 6,000 people voted for the three pastries that we would keep on the menu."
The winners were the Louvre, which layers chocolate and hazelnut mousses with a hazelnut dacquiose; the George V, which features chocolate and vanilla mousses and a creamy, salted caramel center; and the Mont Saint-Michel, a coconut sponge cake with mango and passion fruit mousse. All of the tarts and cakes are colorful and intricately wrought. Payard's French macarons are also sold at this counter, and are available in 16 flavors such as pistachio, passion fruit, and the current seasonal flavor, pumpkin.
On the other side of the store is a wall of chocolates made with Valrhona Grand Cru chocolate, available in boxes starting at four pieces and going up to fifty. Jars of Payard jams and caramels are also available.
What makes Payard's new location so unique—and why he has named the space his flagship—lies at the back of the store.
"This is New York City's smallest restaurant," the chef joked as he gestured at a comfortable, 30-seat alcove. The new location is the only Payard space to offer seating, not only in this room but at the 14-seat bar just in front of it.
"We want to create an experience for customers who come here," Payard said. "We want them to not rush so much, be able to enjoy a meal or a tea in the afternoon." The restaurant opens from 12 to 8 p.m. daily, and offers a lunch menu of bistro classics, like salade Nicoise and croque monsieur, all day long. There's also a selection of wine and beer, available in the restaurant or at the bar.
Payard noted that there's a price difference at the new location: the small cakes run $7.50, and the verrines, or small layered glasses of mousse and cake, cost $8.
"This is not because we are on the Upper East Side," the chef clarified. "This is our flagship store, and we are presenting the best of our products, period."
Payard reflected for a moment, adding, succinctly, "when you go to Hermes, you want to buy Hermes."
Click through the slideshow to see Payard's cakes, tarts, and more.
François Payard Pâtisserie
About the author: Lauren Rothman is a Serious Eats intern, a freelance catering chef, and an obsessive chronicler of all things culinary. Try the original recipes on her blog, For the Love of Food, and follow her on Twitter @Lochina186.