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Palais by Perfect Pie – LOST GEM

Palais by Perfect Pie – LOST GEM

134 East 61st Street
New York, NY 10065
Established: 2019

“I never imagined becoming a chef. Unlike many others, I didn’t learn at my mother’s apron strings. I loved books and reading. It was not until I was in a French professional kitchen that I got inspired.” Thus, began my delightful conversation with Bill Yosses, owner and chef of Palais by Perfect Pie. Opened in the fall of 2019, Bill described his East 61st Street Palais address as right in the middle of midtown on a cozy, tree-lined street. “Being on a side street – it is what is charming about Manhattan.”

The location had a seventy year history of French restaurants and is owned by one of Bill’s mentors, Jean Jacques Rachou. After seeing the space and then learning its history, the Perfect Pie team knew that this was serendipitous and it was where they had to open their pastry shop and restaurant.  And at age eighty-four, Jean Jacques continues to be a great source of inspiration.

Bill’s own culinary background began when he got a job in a restaurant while working on his masters degree in Paris. He was there for studies, but in order to make some money, he took a job in a restaurant – “and it has been a love affair ever since.”  Initially, Bill was drawn to French culture, history and literature, but he quickly learned that food is such an essential and integral part of living in France that food became his passion. “Here in the States we don’t look at food and eating in the same way – it is a celebrated event in France – three times a day.”

This concept caught Bill’s attention and made him want to learn everything he could about food. He would get up at three a.m. and go to the farmers market – Renges. “It is a huge place that looks like an airport where inside is the best quality food, perhaps in all of Europe. It has products from all over the continent.  Today, I feel, here at Palais, we have come full circle. Now I go to the Union Square Farmers Market four times a week, and bring back whatever interesting items I can find, and cook them.”

After leaving Paris, Bill came back to New York where he spent a long part of his career at Bouley in Tribeca. He also, however, managed to spend time working in Southeast Asia and Japan. It was here that he enjoyed spending time in a bakery that wanted to develop a “New York style dessert.” Following this, he traveled up to Westport, CT and joined Paul and Joanne Newman in starting a farmer’s market and opening The Dressing Room restaurant.

Oh, and then there was the time that he spent at the White House. Bill was hired by Laura Bush to be the pastry chef, and stayed on when the Obama’s arrived. It was a “thrilling eight years with many interesting times.”  When he moved back to New York, once again, he ran a successful catering business in Long Island City, “but then we decided that we wanted our own kitchen and dining room and to be able to serve people without having to transport the food more than a few feet, so we opened Palais.”

“I would like to consider our restaurant a small mom and pop place, although it is my husband and I who are partners, so I guess we are a pop and pop – along with chef John Wu,” who shares the kitchen with Bill.  To the three of them, they are a “chef driven business, one that concentrates on the quality of the food, the quality of the ingredients, as well as the quality of the service that we hope to give our customers.”

Of course, Bill and his team anticipated many of the challenges of owning a restaurant, and he was quick to tell me that he felt that after only a few short weeks, they had already been adopted by the people on the street and the surrounding neighborhood. Why wouldn’t they, as the kitchen produces magnificent (and delicious) pastries, pies and cakes on a daily basis.  And, for the dinner menu, Bill was pleased to relate that there were already favorites with his repeat customers – Coq au Vin, salmon with couscous and Steak Frites. “These items will remain on the menu, even as we continue to experiment with other interesting foods that we discover at the markets.”

When I asked Bill what aspect of owning his own business he found most rewarding, his response was thoughtful, but came with ease. “When you have your own business, you never go home – it follows you around wherever you are – but it is very satisfying at the same time to see your vision accomplished, to see its success.”

I was delighted to learn that Bill had already established a friendship with his neighbor Suzanne Newman – owner of Suzanne Couture Millinery. “I love Suzanne – she’s adorable.” He then went on to say, “Pastry is not a necessity in life, nor are fashionable hats, therefore we realized that we were kindred spirits – neither of what we do is the sort of thing that people think of for a stable business, but, hopefully, we can both continue to make it work.”

As Bill was walking me up the few steps to the front door, he paused to elaborate on the design of the space. He had me turn around so that I could experience the full splendor of his restaurant. People always appreciate a grand entrance and this allows for just that. One can stop before descending the stairs, and take in the impressive counter where the scrumptious pastries are displayed and then the eye moves you to the soft palettes of the dining room.

Upon saying my goodbyes, Bill added that the building dates back to the 1880s, and that he and his team had constructed the place themselves. “We stripped it all the way to the bricks and beams. It made me appreciate the true value of maintaining these beautiful Manhattan buildings. Our hearts are in the walls.”  And then I offered Bill the chance to share anything else that he would like to convey to the reader. He instantly replied with an explanation for the name of the restaurant: It has two meanings: “Le Palais means palace, but it also means palette, as in flavor on your tongue and so we are playing with the meaning of that word – the palace of your palette.”

Although I might have been one of the first to have had the lovely opportunity to speak with Bill Yosses in an effort to share his story, I have absolutely no doubt that many more will follow – and as the word spreads, it will not only be people in the neighborhood who are seeking him out. Palais by Perfect Pie is certain to become a destination for New Yorkers and beyond.