For a quiet day in December, it was pretty busy at Aureole. The 15-year-old Charlie Palmer Group restaurant had been closed for nearly a month, undergoing a change not only in design but also in spirit. Construction was nearly done, the printer had just delivered the new menus, the wine table had just been set up, groups of wait staff huddled while learning about some new aspect of menu or presentation, and the kitchen readied. In a little over an hour, dinner would be served for the first time in the transformed restaurant. Showtime!

So, what does it take to institute such a change? Planning. Lots of planning. In fact, Charlie Palmer and his partners started nearly a year ago.

“We started discussing where we would be and where we think we should be. I’m a big believer in we can always do better. People are like, ‘It’s great the way it is. Why do we want to change it?’,” said Palmer. “We’re different than we were 15 years ago, constantly progressing to reinvent Aureole—not just the décor, but the restaurant itself—and really appeal to what people are looking for now, add a little excitement, because I think that what was exciting 15 years ago is not necessarily the same today. We’re looking at introducing ourselves to a different generation of clientele, which is important.”


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Over the next several months, Aureole’s change was mapped out, a date set for closure and reopening. Longtime Palmer collaborator Nancy Paolino was roped in for design, and everything was ordered and scheduled for delivery at the proper time. Even new appliances were ordered. In addition, a new executive chef was hired, one who was well acquainted with the old Aureole. Johnny Church is a name that might be familiar to food fans; he’s worked in several high-end restaurants on the Las Vegas Strip, and appeared in a season of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. Church more or less started at Aureole in his early career, so this is a bit of full circle for him.

Menu development and testing has occupied much of Church’s time during the last few months, and that’s resulted in a thoughtful menu that addresses many emerging trends with diners, from sharing plates to an awareness of food’s origins. What’s on the menu now? A “fritto misto” with a citrus spice, lion fish ceviche, a 48-ounce porterhouse and a raclette fondue, among others.

The wine experience at Aureole has also changed, said Palmer. “Such a big part of the restaurant has always been the wine and the wine tower; even that is changing and progressing. Now the focus is going to be on offering multiple tastings of wine, as opposed to bottles.” But don’t worry—diners who loved the old Aureole will still be able to order a prix fixe dinner or a bottle of wine.

Aureole’s transformation wasn’t without a few glitches, however—one wall sconce came in broken, so they had to FedEx another to be installed the day the restaurant reopened—but that preplanning phase resulted in relatively few problems.

Aureole may change more in the future, but now, Palmer said, “We’ve got a great plan, we’ve got an interesting approach to everything from menu format to how people dine. This whole sharing thing is not going away, it’s going to remain.

“You can never stop thinking how we can make something better or more current. The minute we stop doing that, we’re in trouble.”

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