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Restaurant Openings & Buzz

Week of Jan. 3, 2005: Employees Only, Mama Jean's, and Bistro du Vent. Plus, Philly cheese steaks in Hell's Kitchen, BYOB at the Modern, and more.

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Openings
Bistro du Vent
With all the crudi he’s been dispensing at Esca over the past four years, it’s easy to forget that before David Pasternack started slicing Italian seafood, he specialized in French cuisine, first at Prix Fixe and then at Picholine. So when the space behind Esca became available, Pasternack surprised partners Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali by deciding to revisit his culinary past. At Bistro du Vent, named for the windy theater-district locale, Pasternack, who’ll be heading both kitchens, takes his inspiration from the Côte d’Azur and makes maximum use of his French rotisserie on meats like chicken and lamb. Not that he’s abandoned seafood entirely: The house oyster, the Widow’s Hole, is cultivated in Greenport. And in an attempt to solicit post-theater business and attract local restaurant workers, he plans to stay open till 2 A.M.
411 W. 42nd St., nr. Ninth Ave.; 212-239-3060


Employees Only
One good thing about being your own boss: no Disneyesque restrictions on facial hair. A case in point is Employees Only, the cozy new West Village spot opened by a consortium of restaurant-industry veterans who wear chef smocks embroidered with titles like PRINCIPAL BARTENDER and favor the sort of long, sweeping mustaches and meticulously groomed whiskers worn by barkeeps of a bygone era, when “New York was the scene of the soundest drinking on Earth,” as Harry Craddock put it in the Savoy Cocktail Book. Despite a respectable kitchen and commodious dining room, the bar’s the thing here—a sensuously curving beauty, topped with brass and warmed by a steel-faced fireplace. The old-world feeling’s enhanced by a vaguely Deco-ish, backlit décor, rounded walls, and a romantic speakeasy feel. The cocktails, both classic and original, are masterfully mixed from infusions like lavender-scented gin and vermouth tinged with herbes de Provence. The juices are fresh-squeezed, the bitters housemade, and the garnishes dramatic (viz., the flaming orange peel). Considering how tipple-centric these employee-owners are, the staff meal must be quite a spirited affair.
510 Hudson St., nr. Christopher St.; 212-242-3021


Mama Jean’s
After 25 years cooking for a West Indian chainlet in Brooklyn, Dominique St. Hillaire (alias Mama Jean) was drafted back into service by her son, Fedner La Chapelle, and his partner, Nadine Mose. They’ve carved a slender nook of a dining room out of a former Hell’s Kitchen cell-phone store, adorned it with La Chapelle’s orchid photos, and infused it with a welcoming spirit that extends to the codfish crostini amuse-bouche and the heaping platters of Trinbagonian food (a Trinidad-Tobago mélange) that emerge from Mama Jean’s kitchen. The menu features island standards like roti, crispy accra, braised oxtails, and stewed chicken, served with sides like creamy callaloo and dense macaroni pie.
536 Ninth Ave., nr. 40th St.; 212-268-8924

Sides
Modern Movement: Little by little, Danny Meyer is unveiling his ambitious new MoMA restaurant, the Modern. On January 5, two weeks ahead of schedule, he’s opening the Bar Room—the Modern’s casual front space, featuring chef Gabriel Kreuther’s small-plates menu served continuously from 11:30 to 9:30—to the general public. Dishes like arctic-char tartare with trout caviar, and grilled quail with chive späetzle and lentils should whet the appetite for the more elaborate fare of the main dining room, scheduled to open in late January or early February. For now, the Bar Room’s pouring a limited selection of wines, but feel free to bring your own: Until January 19, Meyer’s waiving the corkage fee.
Bar Room
9 W. 53rd St., nr. Fifth Ave.; 212-333-1220

Raising a Pint: Il Laboratorio del Gelato’s Jon Snyder is thinking big. He’s just launched widescale direct delivery, both in and out of New York, and resumed selling prepacked pints in nifty new sealed containers at Dean & DeLuca, Murray’s Cheese, and Grace’s Marketplace. Order a four-pack for delivery, and he’ll toss in a T-shirt and some of the stylish spoons he discovered at a gelato festival in Rimini and keeps stockpiled in a warehouse in Rome (laboratoriodelgelato.com).

Candy Land: After eight decades, West Village landmark Li-Lac Chocolates vacates its Christopher Street home. Don’t despair—the new retail shop opens on January 12, at 40 Eighth Avenue. The other new addition to the Li-Lac enterprise: a Sunset Park factory, whence will come the famed fudge and bonbons.

Bread Line: Luigi Comandatore plans to open his third branch of Bread, home of the sublime sardine sandwich, this spring on the same East 4th Street block as Perbacco, Assenzio, and In Vino. This one will be open from breakfast through 4 a.m. and will feature a 70-seat dining room designed by AvroKO, the team behind Public, and cured meats and cheeses served by the piece.

On a Roll: Indian street food has become a legitimate New York restaurant subgenre, and the latest entrant in a newly crowded field, Bombay Talkie, is scheduled to open next week, with Aix pastry chef Jehangir Mehta as culinary consultant, Aix chef Didier Virot as wine director, and a menu of dosas and kathi rolls.
Bombay Talkie
189 Ninth Ave., nr. 21st St.; 212-242-1900


Object of Desire
In spite of what you might have thought, Philadelphia has more to offer, culinarily speaking, than scrapple and cheese steaks. There’s also the syntactically challenged but terribly addictive concoction known as the “Roast Pork Italian”—juicy pork sliced thin, sharp provolone, and broccoli rabe on a soft hoagie roll—to say nothing of the “Chicken Cutlet Italian” (same as above but with chicken instead of pork). For many discriminating trenchermen, Tony Luke’s is the go-to place for both, as well as world-class cheese steaks, all of which can now be happily devoured (standing up, as tradition dictates) at the first-ever Tony Luke’s spinoff in Hell’s Kitchen.
Tony Luke’s Old Philly Style Sandwiches
576 Ninth Ave., nr. 41st St.; 212-967-3055


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