After four unsuccessful incarnations and several celebrity chef inhabitants, the ground floor restaurant at The Standard East Village Hotel (formerly The Cooper Square hotel) finally has the beautiful, promising restaurant it deserves. Celebrity chefs Govind Armstrong and Scott Connant gave it their best, but with new owner André Balazs at the helm (he took over the hotel two years ago), the space has been gut-renovated and turned into Narcissa, the first new project from chef John Fraser (Dovetail) since his pioneering pop-up What Happens When shut down in 2011.
Named after a cow on Balazs' upstate estate/farm Locusts on Hudson, Narcissa will also truck down produce from the hoteliers property - and that's what really sold Fraser on the project. "It's every chef's dream to be able to control your produce - not just the quality, but the size and the flavor, when you work directly with a farm, you can do that," he says. "It's like going from just loving clothes to being able to design clothes."
Taking a break on the opening night of the restaurant, Fraser walked us through some of his dishes, food that shows off his "California side - more relaxed, less precise and more vegetable focused," than what he's done before. Read on for more.
The Open Kitchen
The centerpiece of the open kitchen are two beautiful French-made Bonnet rotisserie ovens - one for meat and the other exclusively for vegetables. On the meat rotisserie: Whole ducks, various pig parts, chickens, rib eye steaks and what Fraser calls "dirty veg," like potatoes that "drowning in chicken fat and garlic." It took a year of trials to master the process. "It's a temperamental way of cooking - everything takes a long time, so you can't just fire another duck if it doesn't come out well," he says. "But in the end, I think that slow and low style of cooking just feels more lovely."
From Meats to Beets
Treating vegetables like slabs of protein, Fraser throws them on the rotisserie for hours until the crust caramelizes and the interiors become super soft. The rotisserie beets (above) are an early standout; they cooked for over five hours on the spit, while being continuously basted with oil and lemon juice. "The beet skin crisps up and it gets almost a charred and meaty quality," he says.
Narcissa's menu isn't vegetarian, but it is vegetable-focused, with dishes like carrot Wellington (a root vegetable-centric take on the old standard), carrot fries and jerked sweet potatoes. "Vegetables are more exciting than meat most of the time," says Fraser. "It's also more of a challenge: Not that it's easy to make great pork belly, but it's much harder to make a great beet."
Designed by Balazs and Shawn Hausman, the 110-seat spot features pegs on the walls (think: shaker-chic) and two dining spaces - the mellower garden room, with a view out onto a patio (which will be open in warmer months) and a mural by Andrew Kuo; the second room abuts the open kitchen, it's more casual and loose, with a granite floor, chef's counter and high tables.
Nearly all of the meats are cooked on the rotisserie, including the whole duck - it's dry-aged for 12 days, cooked for 90 minutes and then served with a tart cranberry puree.