View Full Version : Downtown, a Restaurant Rush

March 3rd, 2004, 06:24 PM
March 3, 2004
Downtown, a Restaurant Rush

THE Manhattan restaurant scene is booming, but not where you think.

Though the publicity lasers have been beamed of late on the restaurants in the Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle, there is an even greater ferment 40 or so blocks to the south, where the meatpacking district, the northern edge of Greenwich Village and the southern border of Chelsea, around Ninth Avenue, segue into one another. Far from the city's center, an A-list collection of chefs, including Masaharu Morimoto, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Gray Kunz, Tadashi Ono, Jonathan Waxman and Mario Batali, have opened or are opening kitchens within a four-block radius.

After several years of prolific growth, the meatpacking district, with its new landmark status, is in full flower. The three most recent openings Spice Market, where Mr. Vongerichten and Mr. Kunz are responsible for the menu; Matsuri in the Maritime Hotel, where Mr. Ono is the chef, and La Bottega, also in the hotel have combined seating for more than 600 people. Other recent additions include Jonathan Waxman's Barbuto and Danny Emerman's Bivio, which add another 150 seats for hungry trendsetters.

The eventual total capacity of the Time Warner restaurants does not come close. And at the moment, with Per Se closed because of a kitchen fire, Time Warner has places for only about 60 sushi aficionados in Masa and Bar Masa, and for 86 diners at Asiate in the Mandarin Oriental.

By the end of the year in this downtown area, there are likely to be at least three more major restaurants, seating another 600. And that is in addition to the dozen or so spots, including Frank's and Pastis, that are long established in the neighborhood.

Vento, owned by Stephen Hanson, whose company, BR Guest, already owns 11 restaurants in Manhattan, is an Italian restaurant opening in about a month on Ninth Avenue and 14th Street. Michael White, the executive chef at Fiamma, will be the executive chef, and Martin Burge, who was the executive chef at Fresh in TriBeCa, will be the chef de cuisine.

In late spring, Jeffrey Chodorow's Ono, a Japanese restaurant with several bars in the Gansevoort Hotel being built at 13th Street and Ninth Avenue, will add another 200 seats inside, and 150 on the sidewalk.

And by December, Stephen Starr, who owns nine restaurants in Philadelphia, will make his New York debut, with two places in the Chelsea Market, which has about a dozen retail and wholesale food companies.

Mr. Starr has started work on Morimoto, a two-story restaurant and lounge, seating about 150 in the dining room, on the 10th Avenue side of the market at 16th Street. The chef and Mr. Starr's partner will be Mr. Morimoto, the former executive chef at Nobu, who left to become an Iron Chef on television, and who then opened Morimoto in Philadelphia with Mr. Starr and others.

Mr. Starr is also planning to open a New York clone of Buddakan, his Pan-Asian restaurant in Philadelphia, on the Ninth Avenue side of the market. The location, which at one time was going to be a New York branch of the Buddha Bar in Paris, is also huge, with 17,000 square feet, and could accommodate 300 or more. It should be open before the end of the year. "I see lots of opportunity in New York," Mr. Starr said.

But Mr. Starr's new ventures are not a one-way street. He has signed Alfred Portale, the executive chef at Gotham Bar and Grill, to begin to divide his time between New York and Philadelphia. Mr. Portale will be the executive chef of Striped Bass, the seafood restaurant in Philadelphia that Mr. Starr just bought.

Mr. Starr's restaurants could have company. A 5,000-square-foot space is available on the Ninth Avenue side of the Chelsea Market.

"From the very beginning I wanted restaurants on Ninth and 10th Avenue," said Irwin Cohen, the developer of the market, which opened six years ago. "This area has become one of the prime eating locations in the city. There is nothing quite like it anywhere else."

And what is the latest from Mario Batali? In about a year, he and his partner, Joseph Bastianich, and Mr. Bastianich's mother, Lidia Bastianich, plan to open Il Posto, a classic Italian restaurant seating about 200 on 10th Avenue across from the market. It will offer a New York rarity.

"We will have valet parking," Mr. Bastianich said.