The renaissance of 151 East 82nd Street as The Simone and 239 West Broadway as Bâtard demonstrates two fundamentals of what it takes to create a successful restaurant.
The first is that a trio of individuals can make it work, but only if they bring together complementary talents. At The Simone, sommelier Tina Vaughn generates friendliness and warmth from the reception desk, while her chef husband Chip Smith has the culinary expertise. Robert Margolis provided the financial nous that brought this unassuming couple to their Upper East Side home a year ago.
Downtown at Bâtard, meanwhile, restaurateur Drew Nieporent has supplied the location and a cracking wine list (particularly for Burgundy lovers) alongside John Winterman, ex-Daniel, as the genial front-of-house, working with Austrian-born chef Markus Glocker.
With names that doff their caps to French viticulture (Bâtard Montrachet Burgundy and the Provençal wine estate Château Simone), both restaurants also underline a personal and totally unscientific hypothesis: that a restaurant’s walls absorb the good times its customers have enjoyed over the years.
Each of these restaurants is now in its third incarnation. Bâtard began as Montrachet almost 30 years ago, before a short spell as Corton, whereas the doors at The Simone originally opened as Chez Pascal, before a period as Girasole.
In fact, turning into 82nd off Lexington Avenue, nostalgia seemed to overwhelm me, so reminiscent was the view of New York 20 years ago. There was a long green awning above the steps that led down into The Simone’s dining room. Inside, Vaughn greets one and all, keen to ensure that her customers have a very good evening.
I ordered a sherry as an aperitif; it was poured into an old and elegant glass, once belonging to the chef’s grandmother, the waitress told us. As Vaughn explained each dish on the large handwritten menu, her admiration for her husband’s cooking is obvious.
Two contrasting first courses highlighted Smith’s talents. The first was described as “terrine de maison”, a thick slice of pâté de campagne with a pork loin running through the centre, its richness offset by the most precise topping of sea salt.
A daily special of Maryland jumbo crab with capers, herbs and avocado was fresh and appetising.
There was a similar contrast in our main courses — a bright piece of flounder flatfish with spinach, golden chanterelles and almonds, and a darker thigh and loin of rabbit with pearl onions and lardons. A more obvious sense of harmony prevailed in our desserts, a pear bavarois and a lemon cream tart that brought our meal, most reluctantly, to a refreshing but sweet finale.
Although different in style, Glocker’s cooking shares one very important trait with Smith’s: both understand that to maximise the flavours of most ingredients, they have to be cooked to the limit. “Farm to table” is a noble expression of freshness but the best chefs add so much more.
And here again it was the first courses that demonstrated this skill so strikingly. A cauliflower soup, the classic French crème du Barry, was poured from a white jug into a white bowl, at the bottom of which lay some curls of onion with just their tips a deep brown. Pure elegance. By contrast, a terrine of octopus was far more complex and, lying on top of a thin layer of Meaux mustard, packed a hefty punch.
This thread of seemingly simple, ultra-professional execution continued with a savoury strudel packed with diced Granny Smith apples and sweetbreads, Chatham cod with fennel-seed pasta and, in true Austrian fashion, luscious desserts, particularly a happy combination of pear, warm fromage blanc, schnapps and sage ice cream. Glocker has a fine sensitivity, while the mightily coiffed Jason Jacobeit leads a highly enthusiastic wine team.
More pleasure came via the keen prices ($65 for three courses) and an extremely comfortable dining room with good lighting and acoustics — it was fun to sit right across the room from the bar and yet still hear the female bartender shaking cocktails with gusto.
Photographs: Lindsay D’Addato
151 E 82nd St, + 1 212 772 8861, Monday-Saturday (dinner only)
239 West Broadway, + 1 212 219 2777, Monday-Saturday (dinner only)