To seem savvy in the city, it’s vital to stay on top of the ever-changing restaurant scene. Welcome to “Food for Thought,” which aims to tickle your culinary curiosity and keep you up to date on new dining options. March is a storm of culinary activity.
How many chefs does it take to open a highly anticipated restaurant? Three in the case of Majorelle, the elegant new Moroccan-influenced Mediterranean set to begin serving this month in the Lowell Hotel. Charles Masson, one of the city’s best-loved maitres d'—who left his family’s restaurant, La Grenouille, two years ago and spent a hot minute at the Baccarat hotel’s brief-lived Chevalier—will front the place. He first brought in acclaimed French toque Christian Delouvrier to create the menu. Now, Delouvrier will act as consulting chef, while former Grenouille sous chef Mario Fortuna has been brought in to oversee the kitchen along with Giovanni Beneduci, who worked at Le Bernardin, EN Japanese Brasserie and Morimoto and has an affinity for lighter fare.
François Latapie knows a thing or two about bistros; he was a partner in the legendary La Goulue. He’s now opened a cozy Yorkville spot called Little Frog, and it’s already packed. “There is a little bit of a renaissance in this area thanks to the Second Avenue subway,” he observes, but it doesn’t hurt that the food is being prepared by Xavier Monge, previously chef at Minetta Tavern. A recent special of diver scallops came perfectly seared a la plancha, and resting on a chunky butternut squash purée topped with hearts of palm shavings, frisée and fava beans, while a duck for two is flambéed to crispy perfection tableside.
It’s been years in the making, but Jean-Georges Vongerichten has finally unveiled his vegetarian mecca, abcV, in the ABC Carpet and Home building, where he already has two other restaurants. The stark white dining room adorned with modern art began offering breakfast and lunch, and will be adding dinner soon. Most of the menu is organic, and there are many vegan options. Vongerichten is even making his own healthy version of soda.
The Empire Diner is not down for the count. The Art Deco icon in Chelsea had a momentary revival under Amanda Freitag’s watch, and now John DeLucie is at the helm, and he will unveil the renovated room with a new marble bar this month. “I like to find spaces that were once something and try to make them something again,” says DeLucie. The restaurateur was a partner at Waverly Inn and The Lion, Crown, and currently has Bedford & Co. On the menu at Empire? “It’s brighter and happier now, and I’m doing classic American dishes like a great pork chop and burger along with lots of sides—nothing fussy or overhandled.”
21, too, has had an update, and a visibility boost to go along with it due to regular patron Donald John Trump, whose recent visits have whipped up a media frenzy. The entrance jockeys have been restored, the lounge given a facelift and new salons put in place for private dining. There is also a new carving station to properly display truffled chicken for two or flaming baked Alaska, and executive chef Sylvain Delpique has added spring dishes including Burgundy escargots with artichoke velouté, fennel butter garlic chips and farm greens, and spring lamb porterhouse with cream of morels.
Le Cirque has always been a haven for the “ladies who lunch,” who should prepare for a bit of a cultural shift: new chef Tom Valenti whispered to us that he plans to lighten up the vibe of both room and menu. “Lunch will be a little dressed down and more casual,” he says. “Instead of rack of lamb, for instance, I will serve gnocchi with braised lamb neck.” Valenti is best known for a stand-out stint at Alison on Dominick Street decades ago, and for bringing great food to the Upper West Side with Ouest. He’s also having his way with Le Cirque’s dinner offerings. “I’ve changed 90 percent of the dishes, but held on to the real classics,” he explained. Among his additions: roasted California squab with lentils and foie gras jus, and a stew of lobster and oysters with bacon, potato and garlic.
You won’t have to fight for a good seat at Ikinari Steak, a new Cooper Square restaurant, which is standing room only, literally. That’s a concept that’s big in Japan; there are 100 locations throughout that country. This one will have room for 40; the idea is that you can get great steak quickly and economically. Three cuts of meat will be available, varying in price from 9 cents per gram for a ribeye to 11 cents per gram for a filet. Other menu items include soup, salad and rice, and despite the speedy nature of the dining experience, there will be a wine list. Bring a folding chair if you dare.
21 West 52nd Street
210 Tenth Avenue
90 East 10th Street
One Beacon Court
151 East 58th Street
322 East 86th Street
28 East 63rd Street
38 East 19th Street