Openings

First Bite: Omar’s, A Members-Only (But Not Totally Private) Supper Club

By Linnea Covington  |  July 1, 2013

When Omar Hernandez decided to open up a private supper club in the 4,000-square-foot spot that used to house Hotel Griffou, his idea was to offer neighbors and friends a place that felt like home without making others feel excluded. Now, a year after conceiving his project, Hernandez has put this scheme to the test with a two-sided restaurant in the West Village. The members-only portion is dubbed Omar’s, while the public area is dubbed La Ranita and houses the old bar that has stood at the address for generations.

“The concept itself is an evolution of the hospitality and restaurant scene, and there is a niche market that’s underserved,” said Hernandez who previously worked creating ambiance for places like The Lion and Hotel Americano. “I wanted a place people could call home, and already after like five weeks people are starting to recognize each other.”

Guests have to pay a yearly fee to dine on the private side, but that doesn’t mean normal folks are left out. You can dine on the same brown butter–laced halibut and sip the same negroni as the person in the other room. This turns out great for all guests, since Hernandez put former Per Se and Blue Hill chef Kenny Cuomo in charge of the kitchen. He quickly established a team that hails from notable fine-dining establishments.

“I am fortunate to have some really good cooks,” said Cuomo, who was a professional bass fisherman before he became a chef 12 years ago. “I wanted to have food that is interesting and playful, but also tastes good.”

The joy and creativity the 32-year-old chef brings to the kitchen shines through in his fare, and though the separate areas of Omar’s remain part of the draw, the ever changing, French and Mediterranean-influenced menu he put together is the real star. You can really see that through Cuomo’s $75 tasting menu. While chefs all over the city appear to have this option, Cuomo offers diners a unique experience by coming to their table to chat about dinner and tailoring each special menu, so one table gets a completely different experience than the next (and repeat customers are insured a different meal on every visit).

Of course, say you fall in love with the roasted pork entrée, a dish comprised of swine done five scrumptious ways, you can order that ala carte. Or sidle up to the bar and get an array of small bites including the unbelievably light and airy scallop chili puff, a pea and olive gougere, or the slightly sweet and crispy frog leg with one their craft cocktails like the La Ranita, a mixture of Don Julio Anejo, fresh citrus juices, apricot jam and red wine syrup. Or sit back and indulge in pastry chef Leah Choi’s exotic desserts. This Eleven Madison Park alum knows how to whip up delightfully light macaroons laced with thyme, raspberry, peanut butter, cardamom and geranium.

Now, while anyone can grab a cozy table in the main dining room, you probably want to know how to get to the other side. It’s not easy, Hernandez has to ask you, and to get that invitation you either have to be family, friends, or recommended. So, chances are it’s not going to happen.

However, that shouldn’t discourage heading to La Ranita for dinner and drinks, the public side maintains an artistic vibe and diners can converse over Ian Sklarsky’s blind couture drawing and try to figure out who is who (the frog represents Hernandez and Lady Gaga is in there somewhere). Who knows? That person could be dining the next room, and maybe they will invite you in.

The Details: 21 W. 9th St., 212-677-5242, omar-nyc.com