James Beard Foundation Honors NYC's Doomed Four Seasons Restaurant

The esteemed James Beard Foundation announced today the creation of a whole new category for excellence within its prestigious restaurant awards program. The Design Icon Restaurant Award will recognize "restaurants in the United States that serve as national standard bearers of outstanding design and design innovation," according to a press release.

And the inaugural award goes to...New York City's historic Four Seasons Restaurant, the iconic Philip Johnson–designed power-dining spot, which first opened back in 1959. "In introducing generations of diners to modern elegance and luxury, the Four Seasons forever changed restaurant design, even as it remained virtually unchanged itself," James Biber, chair of the foundation's Restaurant Design Awards Committee, said in a statement.

Unchanged for now, anyway.

The new award reads like a not-so-subtle poke in the eye of the Four Seasons' landlord, real estate mogul Abi Rosen, whose controversial plan to shake up the look and management of the landmark restaurant has been the subject of intense debate within New York's dining and historic-preservation communities.

Last year, Rosen hired the operators of popular NYC restaurants Carbone, Santina and Dirty French to take over the restaurant from longstanding proprietors Julian Niccolini and Alex von Bidder when their lease is up later this summer. In an interview with The New York Times, Rosen said he also planned to give the place "a fresh look." Rosen previously riled up preservationists by removing a famous artwork by Picasso from the restaurant.

The Beard Foundation's formal announcement curiously makes no direct mention of the controversy — only cryptically noting that "[t]he award will be accepted by the current owners and bestowed upon the restaurant remaining there as its operation changes over the next year."

The new award and many others will be presented during the foundation's annual gala at the Lyric Opera in Chicago on Monday, May 2.