When you learned that All Good Things would have a restaurant downstairs, you might have expected something casual, a place to grab a bite to eat—a natural compliment to the market itself. When Ryan Tate, formerly of Savoy, came onboard as the chef, you might have assumed the restaurant would head in a semi-homespun direction. But the restaurant—known as Le Restaurant, or perhaps just Restaurant—has something else in mind. It’s prix-fixe (“5 or 6 courses,” says the website), with no substitutions, and $100 a head. It’s only open Thursday through Saturday, at least to start. You reserve by emailing your credit card info at least five days in advance.
Adam and I went to Le Restaurant on Thursday, a couple of days after dining at Pearl & Ash, a new restaurant on the Bowery, where we marveled once again at the high-low trend in dining, with prices and ambitions that are grand and service that’s somewhat formal, in a setting more cool than fancy. Le Restaurant is a great example of the trend: For a price not far from Corton‘s, you might find yourself hanging your coat on the wall, sitting on a flat wooden banquette (although most tables have chairs), staring at a paper tablecloth (handsomely cut, but still). Or take the menu, presented at the end of the meal: It’s handwritten, in a herky-jerky cursive. Are we a long way from Chanterelle, with its calligraphy and original artwork, or what? Then again, the high-low trend is everywhere these days, from fashion to art to interior design, so perhaps it’s time to get over one’s reservations and jump into the swing of things. Fogeyism is cold comfort.
Le Restaurant’s speakeasy vibe is certainly appealing—no sign outside or by the stairs (adjacent to the bar in the rear of the market), just a kooky chick with a clipboard standing at the bar. And then, as we descended, Le Restaurant subverted expectations again: Where the upstairs is made to look old, rich with patina, the downstairs is somewhere between Spartan and Scandinavian. It takes a moment for the personality to pop: the gorgeous metal staircase, striking wooden chairs, a stack of wood along one wall, delicate flowers from Polux on each table…. (Do check out the delightful matchbooks and coasters—see the pig one below—which incorporate Donald Sultan artwork.) The tables seat 38, and there’s a bar with a dozen stools.
Adam and I were a little on edge. Too many restaurants with hefty ambitions can’t live up to them, let alone on opening night. So the amuse bouche—chocolates filled with duck liver and brandied cherries—came as a fantastic relief: The combination was almost obscenely funky. We sat up straighter for the rest….
• Homemade bread with homemade butter
• White asparagus with egg whites and smoked trout roe
• Black “rice” with celery oil and a poached quail egg
• Barely cooked ruby red shrimp with date purée, Cerignola olives, and walnut crumble
• Pork loin with morels, roast chicory, and pig-trotter jus
• Valdeon cheese with apple mille feuille and sorrel
• Compressed kabocha squash with milk chocolate sauce, huckleberry compote, and micro cilantro
• A bar of 80% chocolate infused with saffron
• Takeaway pieces of chocolate, wrapped in foil and tied with red-and-white string
I’d give seven of the ten items an A- or better, and the lowest grade would’ve been a lone C. All in all, pretty impressive! The menu and wine list will change constantly, depending on what looks good—the food will not be sourced from the vendors upstairs, as previously indicated—so it’s hard to tell from our meal which dishes are more representative of the typical experience. The presence of foam in the asparagus dish and the squid chopped to resemble risotto hint at inventiveness, while the pork was downright rustic in comparison. And the service was perfect; the chefs bring out and introduce the food, so if you have questions you can seek answers straight from the experts.
I don’t have a problem with the rigidity of the menu, even though I try to be vegetarian. I love having someone else decide what I’ll be eating; I would never have ordered the cherry-liver chocolates on my own. And I’m intrigued by the range, hoping that Tate has the stamina to let his imagination take him wherever the ingredients want to go, particularly if it includes the occasional down-home treatment. (For all I know, the pork involved molecular gastronomy, but it looked and tasted more like something from la grand-mère‘s kitchen.)
When Adam went to the restroom, I eavesdropped on the table next to ours. “It’s the new Upstairs at Bouley,” said the man to his companion. “It’s casual, it’s light, but it’s really serious food.” I wouldn’t call the experience casual or light, but then I can always sit at the bar, where you can walk in and enjoy three courses for $60.
Recent New Kid on the Block/First Impressions articles:
• Steven Alan Home Shop
• Crave Espresso Bar
• DeRose Method Tribeca
• The Dead Rabbit
• The Lounge at Atera
• American Flatbread Tribeca Hearth
• Rosie Pope
• Bikini Bar