December 2011, New York in blistering winter and there I was, loving every freezing minute of my trip to my all-time favorite city in the world. I made a brunch reservation – at least a month in advance, de rigueur for any popular restaurants in NYC – at Balthazar and was looking forward to catching up with friends who have recently moved back to New York after living in Singapore.
“Balthazar’s too touristy! Come, meet us at our neighborhood; let’s have brunch at Bubby’s….”
Wait a minute; I’m giving up Balthazar for Bubby’s? What and where is Bubby’s? I had to keep reminding myself to stay calm and remember it’s the company that matters. So I looked up the address but could not quite get my bearings right. It did not look like Soho or anywhere remotely downtown. It did not even look like it’s in Manhattan! DUMBO, where is that? It’s in Brooklyn! Right up till then, despite many trips to NYC, I had not stepped foot in Brooklyn, not even for the legendary Peter Luger Steakhouse.
But I decided to go with the flow, be adventurous, and hopped into a yellow cab to ‘Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass’, which pre-Uber, meant that frustration. I had to open up my apple iPhone map, and helped direct the cab driver to Washington Street, DUMBO. Hey, even a New York cab driver had difficulty moving around in DUMBO.
Fast forward to 2018 and DUMBO has been completely gentrified, and is now heaving with trendy spots. (Remember when the paragon of all things cool, Soho House, opened up in Meatpacking District, and what was previously a gritty ‘hood’ suddenly became an ‘It’ locale?) So, when they decided to set up shop in DUMBO, naming it DUMBO House, you know that neighborhood is now a bona fide hot venue.
Nestled right by the East River with prime waterfront position, DUMBO House offers a stunning vista of the Manhattan skyline. As with all their clubs, it is members-only. However, Cecconi’s on the ground floor is open to the public and their outdoor terrace is a perfect place for alfresco dining in summer, not least because of the gorgeous riverfront views.
Based in London, Cecconi’s has outposts across the globe from London to West Hollywood, and even Istanbul and now Brooklyn. With an all-day cicchetti (Venetian small bites) menu together with the pastas, salads, carpaccio, Milanese veal chops, and an elegant, dark wood central bar counter with leather stools and shiny crystal chandeliers, this is a sexy space for all-day wining and dining.
Even if the venue lacks a view – we’re talking a basement space with no windows at all – fret not as there is always a high-profile architect to come to the rescue. The newly opened The Lobster Club, by New York-based F&B player, the Major Food Group (of Carbone, saddelle’s, The Pool, The Grill and many others), at the iconic Seagram Building, was designed by Peter Marino, who is also responsible for designing the boutiques of major fashion houses Chanel, Dior and Fendi. This is his first restaurant design project in American, and he certainly did not disappoint.
Everything in the restaurant, from the uniforms to the plates, chopsticks, furniture, leather curtains, yes, leather curtains!, was designed and selected by him. The modern Japanese brasserie features a wide selection from classic sushis, sashimis, handrolls, and tempuras to yakitori and robata, much like a Nobu, Zuma sharing style repertoire. The seafood is flown in directly from Tsukiji market, and with Chef Tasuku Murakami, formerly from Tribeca’s Sushi Azabu at the helm, you know you will be getting the highest quality food. There is something for everyone, and with the colorful Jetson-ish interiors, this is a stylish space for a date night or just a fun time with friends.
Another design focused F&B concept that has recently joined the New York dining scene is La Mercerie Café, a collaboration between acclaimed furniture and design company Roman and Williams Guild and Starr Restaurants. It’s a match made in design heaven, judging by their other project, the highly Instagrammed, gorgeous and successful Le Cou Cou.
La Mercerie in Soho is just the kind of all-day café that well-heeled and fashionable ladies will want to be seen lunching in. The airy space with lovely foliage is pretty and light, just like the menu of smoked salmons, caviar, blinis, beautiful salads and fluffy pastries. Everything in the café is for sale. It is a retail restaurant concept where diners have the option of purchasing the tableware, furniture and even the flowers. The adjoining retail space houses everything from furniture by Roman and Williams Guild to household wares like Swedish linens, Japanese ceramics, specially curated and sourced by Roman and Williams owners, Standefer and Stephen Alesch. Guests are presented with an illustrated menu card, listing the items that are for sale. They are also encouraged to explore the retail space and grab anything from hand-blown glass vase to Japanese chopsticks, together with their take-away croissants. It’s taking grab-and-go to a whole new stylish level.
Where previously it was design-focused restaurants, the trend is evolving towards retail, design and restaurant. In fact, Italian lifestyle giant 10 Corso Como is slated to open in New York’s historic South Seaport district by end of 2018, in partnership with the Howard Hughes Corporation. Like its other branches, it will have a huge lifestyle section covering everything from art to books, accessories, and fashion with an on-site café.
As they say, if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. So perhaps the retail restaurant trend is slowly but surely taking over the world, one square-foot at a time.