More accessible today, France provided most Americans their first taste of their noted cuisine at "The World of Tomorrow."

What? No Wine?

Le Restaurant du Pavillon de France was THE dining experience at "The World of Tomorrow."

Jean Drouant, a famous Paris restaurateur, studied the preliminary map of the fairgrounds and determined the best place for his country's pavilion would be near the proposed nightly fireworks display in the international zone's fountain area. To that end, the pavilion's designers created a culinary experience masterpiece.

Three hundred and seventy-five guests occupied each seating. Every table, spread out over five semicircular tiers, looked out over the Lagoon of Nations toward the massive worker-statue towering over the Soviet building. Every table held a nickeled toothpick holder, equipped with a full quota of hygienically sealed toothpicks which many customers carried away as souvenirs.

Henri Soule, whom Craig Claiborne called the Michelangelo, the Mozart, the Leonardo of the French restaurant, served as Le Restaurant's manager. The elaborate table arrangement bothered Soule, not the view but that each had the same view, thus preventing the maître d'hotel from showing preferential treatment for certain guests, a true French tradition.

Sliding glass panels could be adjusted to meet climatic conditions. In cool weather the panels were placed so as to cut off prevailing winds. In warm weather they were entirely open.

Le Restaurant was eye-opening for most Americans. Soule insisted: "When I had arrived in 1939 there were not many American who knew anything about French food, much less haute cuisine." For American housewives attempting to duplicate the restaurant's complicated dishes at home, Soule suggested they purchase the best of everything and not hurry with the cooking, good food took time.

Soule was a strict task master. One employee said his stare curdled sauce Béarnaise. But the level of cuisine needed to serve 136,261 patrons over six months required precision.

The kitchen of Le Restaurant differed from most in France. The entire work area was on a single floor rather than scattered over several levels. However the New York heat often became intolerable and during the afternoon workers would slip into the air conditioned movie theater for a few minutes respite.

Initially the chefs faced a number of difficulties. The electric ovens brought from France needed adjustment to American wiring. Natural gas burners required a different set of skills than in French kitchens. American butter contained more moisture and affected the cooking style and taste. The cream was too thick. But to their surprise, the chefs found American beef to be terrific and the veal and lamb quite fine.

Lunch was served from noon until 2:30 and dinner from 6:30 to 8:30. To make the meal preparation as easy as possible, entrees served at lunch became the basis for the evening meal. Also, the plate du jour could be prepared in advance, anticipating half of the patrons would select it. Chopping, slicing, fluting and peeling began at 8:00 A.M. for lunch and continued in the early afternoon immediately following the lunch service.

Almost immediately Le Restaurant became the place for socially conscious patrons. Word got around that dinner there was A High Adventure. Anyone could dial Havemeyer 6-2780 for reservations. However acquiring a reservation could be a very frustrating experience.

The World - Telegram's food columnist stayed on line for an hour, only to be told there would be a week-long wait for a reservation. Determined to achieve a better date, the resolute writer phoned the following day to be told the wait was now a week and a half. While the Vincent Astors preferred to entertain there, Eve Curie, the darling of French society, could not immediately book a table.

However, privilege occasionally paid off.

One evening Eleanor Roosevelt unexpectedly stayed in her New York City apartment. Wanting to treat a friend to the Lagoon of Nations' evening light, sound and fireworks show, the First Lady phoned Le Restaurant at 7:30 requesting an 8:30 dinner reservation. Surprisingly, a table opened up. That evening's spectacular was "The Garden of Eden."

Prices at Le Restaurant staggered the American imagination. Letter writers to food columnists often asked how to emerge solvent after a trip to the fair's popular eating establishments, complaining the prices resembled the war debt. Often a wineless meal at Le Restaurant ran $3.00 ( $48.00 in 2016).

Americans' total lack of knowledge about wine tasting frustrated the French. An old adage inscribed over Le Restaurant's bar proclaimed: "A wineless meal is like a sunless day." Yet Henri Soule recalled Americans visiting Paris in the Twenties seldom ordered wine, preferring whiskey and gin.

A sizable number of French citizens traveled 6,000 miles for a wine tasting evening at the restaurant. And the wine steward nightly offered course-by-course suggestions, topping off the evening with champagne. All efforts failed dismally.

The bar tried to lure wine drinking by playing naughty French songs sung by Maurice Chevalier. The bartender admitted he still served five highballs or cocktails for every glass of wine.

The excellent seating arrangement and glass windows provided the best viewing of the nightly fireworks and music display in the Lagoon of Nations. Too many patrons took Walter Lippmann's advice to "be comfortable and remember what the struggle is for and contemplate the colored waters which play in the cool of the evening" literally.

The management barred standees after 8:30 (as the show began about 9:00). However wise patrons soon developed a counter – active strategy; select a table early in the evening and then nurse a single drink until the display began.

At the close of the fair in 1940, Soule and the restaurant's chef, Pierre Franey, remained in the United States as war refugees. In 1941 they opened Le Pavillon (referencing their world's fair background) at 5 East 55th Street and Fifth Avenue, across from the St. Regis Hotel.