Retail Spotlight: Made Nice

The fast-casual lunch competition in New York City is fierce, and it takes something unique to stand out from the crowd.  Made Nice, which opened in early April, is doing something unique.  Whereas many of the fast-casual and quick-service restaurants in NYC have adopted the Chipotle-style assembly line for expedient service and a customized experience, the Made Nice team is swimming in the opposite direction.  There are no substitutions.  There is no assembly line.  And you do not walk away with your food when you pay—you wait for it.

That’s because the team behind the Number One restaurant in the world is behind this concept.  Eleven Madison Park, and NoMad and NoMad Bar owners Daniel Humm and Will Guidara have brought their hospitality-first, fine-dining approach to the fast casual game, to great effect.  Guests enter a high-ceiling, warm-yet-edgy expanse with an open kitchen showing off a fleet of cooks in crisp chef whites using shining copper pots. Rather than registers, a team of servers greet people with iPad from aside a merchandise table.  The menu is hung, item by item, to the wall above the table listing $11-$15 salads; $6 soft serve; and tap beer, wine, and homemade sodas from $3.5 to $9.

In the evenings, to draw in a crowd with more expendable time, the kitchen cooks up a Chicken Frites—half of a roasted chicken with herb fries and a salad for $22.  As a light meal for two, it’s a steal for such quality in NYC’s price points.  Kirk Kelewae, an EMP alum, is running the enterprise, which is operating with a line out the door.

Those pots are polished nightly.  The head chef, Danny DiStefano, got his start with Chef Humm at Eleven Madison Park.  The dishes are prepared in custom bagasse plates and served on stylish, slim black trays, which 31 guests can take to eat in aside a Shepard Fairey mural.  Each dish is a version of an item from Humm’s tasty arsenal; salmon rosti with frisee, egg, and buttermilk vinaigrette; khao salad with hanger steak, parmesan, and crispy shallots; soft serve with honey brittle and oat shortbread.  From entering to eating, the concept is cool, calm, and collected, but also fresh, and exciting.

The Takeaway: The fast-casual category is evolving, and that creates dramatic shifts.  Made Nice is making room for itself in the middle—slower than price-point competitors like Dig Inn, but faster than quality-competitors like Made Nice’s sister restaurant, NoMad.  This gives the concept a healthy average check, and a worthwhile guest count.  As the lower-end segment of this market continues to saturate, we expect to see Made Nice take the lead on its front.  They’ve created a sharp space with the right food, design, and energy to lure customers in from lunch to dinner.

Retail Spotlight: Verde Curated Greens

 

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Their success…at some point or another we’ve all been faced with that grueling lunchtime dilemma. You flounder back and forth at your desk weighing your options. Do I want something light? Should I grab something quick and easy? You want to stay close to the office but everything feels worn and over played. The lunch struggle is real. At least it was real. Welcome, Verde Curated Greens. Sierra Tishgart of Grub Street describes Verde as the “fine-casual salad spot” that “could be a lunchtime game-changer”. I think she’s onto something.

The menu includes beautifully plated grab and go dishes with the perfect ratio of mixed greens and sophisticated, complex dressings and sauces (try the Pesto in the fingerling potato salad). The greens are not your run of the mill iceberg or arugula, we are talking a delicate arrangement of farm fresh mache, frisee, swiss chard, castel franco, and whatever else is in season at the Union Square farmers which is frequented almost daily. Salads range from $11 to $13.

While the salads may steal the show, it’s the protein sides that elevate these dishes to the next level. From in-house smoked arctic char to coconut shrimp ceviche to immaculately grilled NY Strip steak, these proteins knock it out of the park. Proteins range from $2 to $5.

That’s not all. You know those stealth menu items that seem to fly under the radar and always way under appreciated? Those items that once you are in on the “secret” you feel like you just joined some underground fight club. You smirk at the person behind the counter when you order it, they give you a head nod back to re-confirm your insider know-how. At Verde, this is their broth. It’s robust, flavorful and fresh. The broth is everything.

From the moment you walk inside you’re immediately immersed in a space that blankets the outside world into the abyss. The décor, smells, sounds, art work, ambiance and airiness all resonate with tasteful and eloquent design.

Stacked with culinary aptitude, founders Gonzalo Gout, CIA graduate and Cosme alumni, and Alejandro Porteny, hospitality expert and entrepreneur, these two set forth the perfect balance of culinary expertise and business acumen.

Take Aways…Verde Curated Greens is a breath of fresh air in a city that all too often gets caught up in the everyday minutia. Not only will your taste buds enjoy their stay, the atmosphere will leave you (spoiler alert!) wanting to post up with a glass of wine to relax with friends in good company.

Hours: Monday-Friday 11:00am – 8:00pm

Location: Verde, 22 W 25th St., between Broadway and Sixth Ave.

Phone: 646-838-0700

Ivan Ramen

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Their Success . . . When Ivan Orkin opened his first ramen shop in Tokyo, he was entering uncharted territory. In 2007, here was a man from Long Island, New York opening a ramen shop in its birthplace, and no one knew what to expect. After opening, Ivan Ramen only grew in popularity and soon thereafter expanded to a second location in Tokyo. The draw? Ivan Ramen offered a unique take on a classic Japanese noodle dish. From these ventures, Ivan Orkin gained quite some notoriety.

Mr. Orkin has since handed over the reins of his two Japanese ventures to his longtime chef and manager, Hisao Matsumoto. He is now entirely focused on his two New York City Ivan Ramen ventures, the Slurp Shop located in the Gotham West Market and the flagship location at 25 Clinton St. in the East Village.

The East Village location seats about 40 noodle slurpers and its aesthetic is a mélange of clean, refined décor and vivid explosions of powerful color. The space has both traditional table seating as well as two bar areas where diners can saddle up and enjoy Ivan Ramen’s offerings. The larger bar area looks onto the kitchen, which is exposed by a large cutout in the wall space. Above is a colorful mural, depicting diners thoroughly engrossed with their bowls of soup.

The food itself is Ivan Orkin’s own unique spin on the identifiably Japanese dish. Mr. Orkin combines the flavors of his Jewish heritage with the more traditional Japanese palate of taste to create something truly unique. The broth is rich and flavorful, and the noodles offer a decidedly earthier, chewy texture than of that found in more classic ramen spots. The Spicy Red Chili Ramen in particular perfectly combines the flavors of old and new, all the while offering heat that is not overwhelming.

The menu features cold and hot appetizers as well as a number of ramen varieties to choose from. Additionally, ramen add-ons are listed at the bottom of the menu, some of which are traditional and others more adventurous. While the space itself is not overly large, the kitchen is efficient and completes orders quickly. Ramen appears almost as soon as you have finished ordering. The bowls range from $15-$18, slightly expensive as far as ramen in New York City goes, but well worth it for Mr. Orkin’s unique take on the dish.

Take Aways . . . Ivan Ramen offers an experience that is simultaneously familiar and new to New York City ramen fans. The space is clean, inviting, and engaging, offering a great place to eat and hangout with friends, or quickly fill you up and get you out the door. Whatever you choose, be sure to slurp your soup for the full experience.

Ivan Ramen

25 Clinton St.

New York, New York

10002

(646)678-3859

Dizengoff: Israeli Hummus in Chelsea Market

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Their Success . . . Chelsea Market can be hard to navigate for the uninitiated. Between the masses of tourists and locals traversing the space every hour, and the various nooks and crannies hidden within the market, it can be a daunting place for even the most hardened New Yorker. However, if you are willing to brave the crowds, you can find some delicious food at the recently opened Dizengoff.

Your best bet for finding the restaurant is to enter Chelsea Market from the 9th Ave entrance. From there, simply head to the first set of food stalls on the left (directly across from the Chelsea Wine Vault), and you have arrived! Walk up to the counter, place your order, and take your order number from the cashier. From here, simply take a seat anywhere at the counter and observe the open kitchen while you wait for your food. Pitas are baked in an open oven directly behind the counter and its great fun to watch the process firsthand.

Food comes out quickly and is reasonably priced for the location ($10-$13) – perfect for a quick workday lunch or a mid-afternoon nosh. The menu features three hummus options: plain, vegetarian, and meat. While these three options remain the same, what you get when you order them will change depending on what is seasonal and available to chef Emily Seaman. Each hummus plate comes with a fresh-baked pita, chopped salad, and Israeli pickles. Feel free to buy an additional pita for $1 extra – it’s worth it and you might need it considering the sizable portion of hummus.

In addition to these standard offerings, Dizengoff also offers a Thursday night three-course family-style meal beginning at 7:30pm. The meal is $45 and, like the regular menu, constantly changes. The one constant of the meal is a good reason to try it out: all the pita you can eat! For an additional $21, you can add a wine pairing option to your meal. These dinners are already sold out through the end of the year, so make a reminder to keep an eye out for January tickets when they go on sale in December!

Take Aways . . . Part of the fun of eating at Dizengoff is watching the operations of the kitchen while you eat. If you can’t stay for the show, pitas and hummus are available in larger quantities for takeaway. The food is plentiful and satiating, but doesn’t leave you feeling heavy for the remainder of your day. Dizengoff’s model is a good one for the space – food that is easy to prepare in large quantities and can be served quickly during busy rushes. Because the menu is constantly changing, impressed diners won’t get bored and will be drawn back to see what’s new and how it compares to their previous orders.

Dizengoff

Chelsea Market

75 9th Avenue

New York, New York

10011

646-833-7097

Fany Gerson opens La Newyorkina on Sullivan St.

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Dough’s chef and co-owner, Fany Gerson, has opened the first brick-and-mortar location for her paleta (Mexican ice pop) concept La Newyorkina. The new store on Sullivan Street will offer new and old flavors of the homemade paletas. While Gerson’s pops were already being sold to over 30 restaurants, stores, and pop-ups around New York, they can now be purchased at a dedicated storefront near Washington Square Park. The store also offers homemade cookies and ice cream.

 

You can visit La Newyorkina’s website here.

Tara Paige Travels: Bacchanal, New Orleans

bacchanal-5.jpgAt Tara Paige, we love summer in the city – the patio dining, food festivals and street fairs (not to mention the reduced lines at some of our favorite spots). But we still need to hit the road occasionally, and check out the concepts that have people buzzing all over the country. Which brings us to this special travel edition of our retail spotlight, on Bacchanal – a unique concept off the beaten path in New Orleans, Louisiana. Located in Bywater (just over the canal from the Ninth Ward), Bacchanal highlights the vitality of a city where music comes from every street corner, and great food and wine require no excuses or white tablecloths to enjoy.

The heart of the concept is a simple but rarely imitated one; Bacchanal is a wine and cheese shop with a large backyard, where local musicians play sets from lunch till late night. Guests can browse the shop, chat with the knowledgeable staff about vintages and cheese pairings, and then grab their chosen bottle and an ice bucket and head for the back, where a selection of mismatched patio furniture offers about 100 first-come-first-serve seats for watching the band. Servers will put together a plate of your chosen cheese and charcuterie, and bring it out to the table while you sip and listen. For those feeling a bit more peckish, there’s also a full dinner menu, served out of a small window in the back of the wine store from a kitchen barely big enough for the two cooks working inside. The tables fill up early in the evening, but most are large enough to share between multiple groups of friends, inspiring conversation and new connections.

When they began, Bacchanal was primarily a little-known wine shop on the outskirts of the city. After hurricane Katrina devastated the area, they began hosting guest chef pop-ups with live music each Sunday – helping revitalize the city by bringing its residents together around great food and wine in a neighborhood setting. As their website and owners describe, the business model was not without its legal hurdles, since Bacchanal exists somewhere at the intersection of wine store, restaurant, speakeasy and block party, and was not always licensed to be all those things. We’re glad they took the risk though, and the concept remained intact after their day in court.

The food “is dedicated to the ingredients themselves and the wine that flows with them, it is focused Mediterranean minimalism.” This is somewhat in contrast with the big Cajun flavors to be found in the heart of the French Quarter, for which tourists rightfully travel from thousands of miles. There’s no gumbo on the menu, but there is a fantastic ceviche and a delicate, garlicky bucatini. Many items are seasonal, and local produce is prominantly featured. No matter what guests ultimately order, the Bacchanal experience still captures the spirit of New Orleans: an unpretentious commitment to living life to the fullest, come rain or shine.

Bacchanal is located at 600 Poland Avenue, New Orleans LA, 70117. Visit their website at http://www.bacchanalwine.com.

Retail Spotlight – Syndicated

657fa7862b12c5f91c449a4d83f058c5Their Success… Scrolling through the website for Syndicated, Brooklyn’s latest movie theater/restaurant mash-up, you might notice some curious contrasts. For example, there are the menus – half loaded tater tots/burgers/popcorn, half chatham mussels/smoked lamb ribs/fiddlehead ferns? Or click on their Instagram account, a mix of mouthwatering food photography and film stills that range from the artistic to the (literally) cartoonish. But move on to the calendar of movies and events for the clearest indication that Syndicated has embraced contrast to the fullest.

Syndicated’s monthly calendar is a grab bag of movies both classic and new. Each night features one or two films with up to 4 showtimes; some films run for a few nights, others are screened as one-offs or for special events. During the first week in May, each night is devoted to a single sci-fi flick, be it Mars Attacks or The Fifth Element. In mid April, the Coen Brothers had a week, as did Hitchcock later in the month. Sometimes an obvious theme ties together an entire week, other times guests may not even notice a connection, like the road-trip-week bookended by Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Dumb and Dumber.

Most of the movies listed on the calendar are screened in Syndicated’s single screening room, which comes equipped with a table for every two seats and a low-tech but easy ordering system. Theater-specific menus (think nachos, flavored popcorn and ice-cream sandwiches) are hung on clipboards at the tables, and guests can circle their orders. A server collects them and quietly brings the food around during the film, dropping the check shortly before it ends. Movie theaters have been making the majority of their money on concessions for decades, so it only makes sense to elevate that concession list and integrate the food and film experiences completely.

Outside the theater is the main bar/restaurant, a huge room with lofty ceilings and an art-deco aesthetic. There is a central bar with (almost) 360 degree seating, and generously-spaced tables along the edges of the room. Two large projectors on the far wall allow Syndicated to run additional programming (with closed captioning, of course) for guests who might not want to commit to a full movie, but still want the experience of dinner, drinks and a show. Sports bars may have been the first to figure out that guests will stay longer (and order more) if they can watch something while they do, but Syndicated is doing the same with the Oscars, presidential debates, and favorite TV show finales.

The thesis of this project is perhaps best summed up by their occasional “Hi / Low” movie pairings: two movies chosen because they express some underlying theme from very different rungs of the cultural ladder. (In May, for example, that means the dark and intense Shame alongside American Pie) “Hi/Low” is the best expression of what Syndicated aims to be – a  place you can eat great food that’s also junk food, catch up on classic film history or binge watch current tv, and have an extravagant date night that’s still just a casual dinner and a movie. Because sometimes a good night out looks like foreign films and a Spanish red, sometimes it looks like Bill & Ted’s Excellent adventure and a Narraganset, and sometimes it looks like all the above.

Take aways… Syndicated comfortably embraces contrast between the highbrow and the low, filling multiple needs in a playful way that keeps guests surprised and engaged.