I touched down in New York last week realising that I hadn’t been to the Big Apple for over two years. Constantly reading the updates from the usual, various food websites including my friends over at Infatuation – I got the impression that over recent years the NYC restaurant scene was in a state of fatigue. The crazy costs to setup shop has meant the new wave of talent have gone to secondary US cities like Austin and Charlestown and it seems the place to be when it comes to restaurants is currently LA.
After checking in at the Crosby in Soho and freshening up, we braced the January cold and headed around the corner to Frenchette – a place I’d been recommend by a number of people to go check out. It’s clear that the local Tribeca residents and the cool kids of the NYC dining scene had all been told the same.
On the first official working Monday at the beginning of year, despite festive season credit card debts and the joys of dry January the room was bustling. That sort of sizzle in the air that I still very rarely find in London. Think POLPO Beak Street in the early days. The music turned up, the cocktails flowing and people having fun. The food ticked all the boxes from a French brasserie with an American twist. Every restaurant in New York seems to serve a decent plate of pasta these days – it was a rich carbonara here - and the steak frites was just the sort of plate of food you wanted after being in the air all day. Although our neighbours roast chicken looked like the dish to order.
The wine list on the other hand was the start of a theme that lasted throughout the trip – that of natural wine. The list at Frenchette may as well have been written in a different language. I personally think natural wine focused bars and restaurants should at least be a little more helpful to customers – who mostly have no idea about the producers and wines. Give us some sort of hint, at least.
However, an industry insider in Manhattan told me that it puts everyone on a level playing field as most people are none the wiser. An interesting thought. Diner politics.
Hospitality Included – the Danny Meyer no-tipping policy – makes complete sense to me. I dined in a couple of places that have taken the jump to it and yes, menu prices look punchier in the restaurants that embrace this game-changing approach to how hospitality professionals get paid but ultimately you end up paying the same. It’s a mind-set. The haters will hate and there seems to be people rallying for it to fail. I even heard some hard-assed New York lawyers were trying to get it legally banned. What is it the Americans say, “douche”? Quite. I hope it eventually catches on and goes mainstream.
One final observation was the side-by-side seating setup for tables of two that look out onto the dining room. Apparently heralding from the mafiosa days when they wanted their backs to the wall for safety, this table set up is clearly not suitable for business lunches or perhaps certain acquaintances but is a cute dynamic for couples or good friends. A few more tables like this in London wouldn’t go amiss.
Other meals at Wildair (some of the best food during my trip), Pascquale Jones, Il Buco, Manhatta, La Mercerie, Nonono and the Grill (what a space, what a crowd, what a Martini) all did their part in reminding me that the New York dining scene is alive and kicking – just try and forget about the current exchange rate when having your dinner.