No sooner had Mia Van Der Water, the petite sommelier at North End Grill in Battery Park, New York, poured our first glass of Burn Cottage Pinot Noir 2010 than she explained with pride how soon this restaurant had managed to open after superstorm Sandy. “Fortunately, we are on the Brooklyn electric grid across the water, so we were only closed for two days,” she said. “And we all wanted to reopen as soon as possible to reassure all those who live and work round here that life was going to get back to normal.”
Restaurateurs, like so many New Yorkers, have been counting Sandy’s cost not just in lost revenues, but also in the events that have forcibly been cancelled. And as the damage to flooded kitchens, wine cellars (particularly bad at the River Café in Brooklyn) and shops begins to be calculated, there is a feeling that consigning all this expensive equipment to basements so vulnerable to flooding may no longer make much financial sense.
When we arrived 10 days after Sandy, it was seemingly business as usual at North End Grill, as Van Der Water hoped. Set in a new Goldman Sachs development, the restaurant occupies an awkward, narrow space that was once a hotel lobby. However, architects Bentel & Bentel has turned this to its advantage by putting all the main kitchen sections on show. From the pastry section, chef Alex Ray produced the best lemon meringue pie I have tasted since my late Aunt Bessie’s many years ago.
The busy bar may focus on a broad range of Scotch whisky but the menu is far more cosmopolitan. Indian-born Floyd Cardoz is in charge and his culinary heritage comes out in the thrice-cooked spiced fries and his potent rendition of avgolemono, the classic Greek soup incorporating chicken, lemon and egg. Two very unusual dishes that delighted me were a thin pizza topped with clams, chilli flakes and clam juices and a lobster egg custard with sea urchin and bonito flakes.
A more recent import into the city’s buzzing restaurant scene is Benjy Leibowitz, a 23-year-old north Londoner, who is maître d’ at the NoMad restaurant in the recently opened NoMad Hotel on Broadway. French designer Jacques Garcia has done a brilliant job of converting what was once a storeroom into an elegant hotel with two very different dining rooms – an atrium with a skylight and a parlour – and of recreating within them what so many visitors believe is the essence of New York. It may only have been open since March, but the dark wood and dark red carpets, curtains and drapes successfully recreate the city of a bygone, romantic era.
Chef Daniel Humm and general manager William Guidara already have the highly successful Eleven Madison Park in their portfolio. Swiss-born Humm has put his classic training to great effect in a clever menu. Highlights from our meal included a torchon of foie gras with pear, red wine and liquorice; tagliatelle with king crab, Meyer lemon and black pepper; roasted bone marrow with parsley, shallots and anchovy; and a chocolate tart with caramel and fleur de sel.
While these dishes emanate from a basement kitchen (where the last thing the waiters see before they mount the stairs to the restaurant is a sign extolling them to “Make It Nice”), Humm has added one very cost-effective section of an open kitchen. In a corner between the two dining rooms, one chef and a rotisserie prepare what has become NoMad’s signature dish, a roast chicken stuffed with foie gras, black truffle and brioche for two for $79. This dish has proved so popular that the restaurant is now selling more than 500 chickens a week.
While New York imports so many talented individuals, 2013 may see several of its landmark restaurants open in London. Balthazar is due to make the transition from downtown SoHo to Covent Garden in February, with strong rumours that the opening of the first branch of hamburger mecca Shake Shack will follow at Easter.
A tip-off that Milos, the Greek restaurant that has proved so popular on West 55th Street, may also open in London next year, prompted my first visit there. Its three-course $24.07 lunch menu is fittingly good value for a city whose inhabitants seem to like nothing more than doing a deal.
More columns at www.ft.com/lander