Strolling into the lobby of New York City’s newly reborn Whitney Museum of American Art — which has moved from uptown Manhattan into stylish new downtown digs designed by world-renowned architect Renzo Piano — it’s hard to miss the blinking lights of an enormous sign that simply reads “EAT.” Created by American pop artist Robert Indiana, this flickering invitation to dine, made of aluminum and stainless steel, is the sole piece of artwork within the museum’s sleekly designed restaurant, Untitled, which, like the Whitney itself, reopens on May 1.
That minimalist approach is, of course, purely intentional. Chef Michael Anthony has tried to curate an experience for diners that doesn’t overshadow the artwork – much as Piano has done with his clean, sparse design of the whole building – but rather provides a memorable accompaniment to a museum visit.
“The last thing that this restaurant is meant to do is compete with the artwork or try to be pretentious,” says Anthony, who comes to the project after nearly a decade running the kitchen at Manhattan’s acclaimed Gramercy Tavern, where he still serves as executive chef.
Untitled, named as a gesture to paintings without a name yet remarkable for their content, is a bright, naturally lit space with windows on all sides. Like London’s River Café, the influential Richard Rogers-designed restaurant and the inspiration for Piano’s own design here, the restaurant features an open kitchen that stretches from one end of the dining room to the other, not only showcasing the gleaming state-of-the-art equipment at each work zone, but also providing cooks with views of the street and the elevated High Line park nearby.
Anthony visited the River Café for the first time recently, while on tour promoting his Gramercy Tavern cookbook, and it gave him a framework for making Untitled a restaurant that was part of an overall design and art experience. “I found this deep sense of confidence, excellence, spontaneity — and it was much more powerful than any selfish tinge of ‘Oh, OK, we’re stepping away from [Gramercy Tavern] and now we get to blow everybody out of the water and show how contemporary our ideas are,’” he says.
Piano’s vision gave Anthony a reason to examine the building’s Meatpacking District surroundings — once the site of slaughterhouses and, later, a seedy nightclub district — with “a brand-new eye,” he says. Anthony compares his first encounter with seeing the Whitney, fully constructed, to walking the High Line for the first time. “You’re like, ‘Whoa! This is the same neighborhood that has always been there, that I know, but seeing it from this angle is completely different,’ and the experience of visiting the museum does that to this neighborhood,” he says.
While Anthony intends to stay away from “trendiness or gimmicks,” he does have some plans for the restaurant that underscore his deep appreciation for experimenting with local ingredients, a talent that helped the chef earn two James Beard Awards, including Best Chef: New York City, at Gramercy Tavern, in addition to a stellar three-star rating from The New York Times.
Probably the most enticing example of Untitled’s innovative yet modest approach is the restaurant’s raw bar. Again, traveling while on book tour fed Anthony’s imagination. Dining at Peche in New Orleans and at the Ordinary in Charleston made the chef want to take his seafood chops to the next level. “Both Donald [Link] and Mike [Lata] have created these timeless, cool restaurants where they loosely take the traditional concept of raw bar and literally they serve plateau de fruits de mer and the ‘tower of power,’ and that’s cool,” says Anthony. Combining those inspirations with his earlier experience working in Tokyo, Anthony hopes to craft a new approach to seafood that appeals to all Americans yet has global influences.
But what’s more provocative is Anthony’s choice to use a community-supported fish (CSF) purveyor for the restaurant’s raw bar. It was while visiting his brother, who has a winery on the South Fork of Long Island, that he learned about Dock to Dish, a sea-to-table service similar to the popular community-supported agriculture model. Anthony began sourcing Gramercy Tavern’s seafood through Dock to Dish, and now the CSF will make a delivery each Tuesday to Untitled, without any advance warning of what the catch will be. Kitchen staffers will only learn on Tuesday night, via text message, what they’ll be getting — and they’ll have to figure out how they’re going to serve it to diners by the next morning.
Aside from the raw bar, Untitled will feature finger foods like grilled lobster toast, as well as a seasonal, vegetable-heavy small-plate offering and composed dishes based on seafood, lamb, and chicken. Look for dishes with black garlic that the chef himself grew from spores that his grandfather grew. Additionally, the Untitled team will operate a café serving light fare on the museum’s eighth floor. Both Untitled and the upstairs café will have outdoor seating during warmer weather, inviting an appreciation of the industrial nature of the Meatpacking District and views of lower Manhattan.
Anthony’s ultimate goal for Untitled is to become “a lovable neighborhood restaurant,” he says. “And in the end, if we do that, I’ll have a lot of years to be able to cook contemporary food from this kitchen.”
Untitled at the Whitney
99 Gansevoort Street
New York, NY 10014
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