Downtown Heats Up

The newest destination dining is at the very tip of Manhattan.

Chef Daniel Boulud, Le Gratin
Photo: Bill Milne

Abevy of Michelin star chefs is turning lower Manhattan into a restaurant hot spot. Uber chef Daniel Boulud, whose culinary empire stretches as far afield as Singapore and Dubai, fired the opening salvo with Le Gratin in the space formerly occupied by Augustine in The Beekman, a Thompson Hotel, an 11-minute walk from City Hall. “I had celebrated my birthday at Augustine and was familiar with the space,” the Lyon native says. “It has the look, the feel, the charm of a Lyonnaise bistro.”

“We have often done gratins but never as a highlight,” Boulud says. Gratins were a staple when he was growing up in Lyon. At Le Gratin, his mom’s potato gratin is a featured best-selling side dish. “‘Le gratin’ is also a funny way in France to refer to the ‘who’s who’ of a party and the life of the ‘see and be seen,’” Boulud explains.

Boulud is author of the menu in cooperation with chef Guillaume Ginther and corporate chef Jean-Francois Bruel: salade Lyonnaise, steak frites, sole meuniere, pike dumplings in a gruyere mushroom sauce. Wines are mostly French from the area around Lyon.

On Wall Street itself, Michelin star chef John Fraser, who trained in Paris, is on a mission to modernize French brasserie cooking at La Marchande, opened in June in the new Wall Street Hotel. The historic building was the site of the first stock exchange. The hotel is owned by the Paspaley family, Australia’s South Sea pearling family.

La Marchande Photo: Liz Clayman

Fraser says he always wanted to open a French brasserie but with a “fun, New York sensibility.” Executive chef Rick Horiike (Morimoto and Wild Ink) leans towards vinaigrettes and broths and away from heavier sauces. The grilled lobster here is a lighter take on lobster Americaine made with coconut milk instead of butter and cream.

La Marchande also showcases a classic New York raw bar serving a variety of oysters, saluting the restaurant’s proximity to Pearl Street and the Paspaley family, as well as creative tartare and rolls such as an outstanding blue crab lettuce wrap. Beverage director Amy Racine’s wine list is largely French but also nods to Australia. A list of French Vermouths, rarely available in New York, is an added attraction.

Chef/entrepreneur Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s The Fulton continues to celebrate seafood at the end of the Seaport District’s Pier 17 with jaw dropping views of the Brooklyn Bridge and the East River. And if you don’t like fish, there’s a Gruyere cheeseburger. 

Tin Building Photo: Nicole Franzen

The Fulton was joined on Pier 17 in August by the highly anticipated Tin Building by Jean-Georges, a 53,000 square foot culinary extravaganza. Eight years in the making, it reimagines the historic Fulton Fish Market now operating at Hunts Point in the Bronx. Designed by Roman + Williams, the glorified food hall includes 18 restaurants, bars, and casual grab and go options as well as specialty foods and home goods retail. Have a sudden need for Duke’s Mayonnaise? You’ll find it here. It’s the largest project to date in the Alsatian native’s world-wide empire of 49 restaurants, including Topping Rose House in Bridgehampton. The Tin Building is one of two surviving structures of the fish market which was dissembled and recreated 32 feet east of its original location at Pier 17. Vongerichten waxes nostalgic remembering shopping at the fish market when he was first a chef in New York in 1986. It’s no accident a fish counter is front and center at the entrance. There is a French brasserie in the complex but Vongerichten also embraces Chinese inspired dishes at the clandestine House of the Red Pearl, hidden away behind an Asian retail section. Overall, he views it as a “market that looks like New York.”

L’Appart — Agnolotti

And pssst!, a recreated Spice Market is in the cards in a building a few feet away.

At the Art Deco 70 Pine Street, the cuisine at Crown Shy has European roots too but is interpreted in a very American way and has gotten rave reviews since its opening in 2018. Here diners feast on charred octopus with ramps, citrus marinated grilled chicken and a crowd-pleasing loaf of pull apart bread stuffed with olive tapenade. Chef James Kent, along with restaurateur/ partner Jeff Katz, added SAGA in 2021. It offers a $245 tasting menu with breathtaking views on the 62nd through 66th floors topped off by the elegant Overstory cocktail bar. Nearby on the 60th floor of 28 Liberty Street, restaurateur Danny Meyer’s Manhatta has reopened with an emphasis on cocktails.

Not all the notable new restaurants are French inflected. Award winning chef Surbhi Sahni offers homestyle dishes and handmade mithai (sweets) from across India at Tagmo on Front Street in the Seaport District. Tagmo is the Bhutanese word for tigress, the symbol of feminine strength and empowerment in South Asian cuisine, a fitting symbol for her restaurant. She was previously a creative force behind Devi, Tulsi and Hemant Mathur Catering. Tagmo, her first brick and mortar enterprise, is an intimate jewel box decorated with the vibrant colors of India.

Chef Surbhi Sahni, TAGMO Photo: Brittainy Newman

The chefs are betting on the return of office workers and rebounding tourism, which is predicted to exceed pre-pandemic levels by 2023. “One of the perks of going back to work is you can add a two-hour lunch,” says Boulud who envisions Le Gratin as a power lunch spot like the now shuttered Augustine which was favored by Vogue editor Anna Wintour and Wall Street deal makers. “We are next to City Hall where people get married, next to Wall Street, next to the World Trade Center,” says Boulud ticking off the virtues of his new location. “Even if the percentage of returning workers sounds low, the people who do go back entertain.”

Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten Photo: Peter Marquez

One thing for sure: neither tourists nor FiDi office workers or residents are going to go hungry.

Beverly Stephen is a freelance travel, food, and lifestyle writer and co-owner of the culinary travel company Flavor Forays. 

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