On an ‘historic’ Tribeca restaurant site, formerly Montrachet (RIP), a lofty, spacious and calming new dining room, presided over – personally, on our visit – by leading local and international (Nobu) restaurateur Drew Nieporent; it offers notably prettily-presented modern American cuisine of consistently high quality.
Downtown NYC restaurant sites don’t get much more ‘historic’ than 239 West Broadway, where Nieporent opened Montrachet back in 1985. It broke the mould. In those distant times, fancy restaurants were still invariably found in Midtown, and the conversion of the Triangle Below Canal Street from a forbidding warehouse district to a trendy location for loft living was in its infancy. Yet, within two months of opening, the restaurant had received three (out of the possible four) stars from the New York Times.
The launch chef, one David Bouley, turned out to be very much more than a flash in the pan. (He fairly soon decamped from Montrachet, and has gone on to great things under his own name. Still very much in the news, he is about to move his eponymous flagship restaurant to 163 Duane Street, not far away.)
Also of note, as things have turned out, was the restaurateur, Nieporent, who went on to co-found first the Tribeca Grill, and then Nobu, entitling him to considered one of the most genuinely influential restaurateurs of modern times – first in New York, and subsequently across the world.
Nieporent is not too grand still to work the floor, though, and was very much in evidence on the evening we visited his relaunch of the Montrachet site. That’s not the only surprise. Those who remember the rather decaying crimson plush of the dying days of the old régime may find themselves wondering how the convoluted former space has evolved into the bright chamber we see today. It’s not a trick of the light: a former neighbour has been bought out, and the new room really is a much better shape.
The new room, light, airy and well-spaced, was already into a good swing after less than a couple of weeks in operation. Even though the room never approached being full, though, service still seemed a little stretched, or at least sometimes not there when you wanted it.
What was already firing on all cylinders, however, was the cooking. Chef Paul Liebrandt, an Englishman, seems to have made quite a name, albeit as something of a rolling stone through a number of the Big Apple’s better kitchens. Our food – they call it French, but we think we’d call it Modern American – was almost invariably of a very high standard and attractively, often geometrically, plated, without any adverse effect on taste.
Soups seem to be a real highlight. A Jerusalem artichoke velouté with crab was very good, and a broccoli-based shot glass – with an oyster at the bottom – was even better. Sweet things were also a hit, with an exceptional hot chocolate pudding, and moreish macarons and chocolates. That’s not to deny the existence of the occasional ho-hum dish – a squab main course, for example, was not very exciting,
For the most part, however, Mr Liebrandt would seem to be one Englishman in New York of whom we can be rightly proud. Perhaps indeed, we can look forward to the day when, like Mr Bouley, he will have his name up in lights, somewhere in the badlands, below Canal Street.