Thursday, June 28, 2012

Old World Modern Charm at Noir New York

Noir offers visitors a comfortable place to dine and unwind after dinner. Photos courtesy of Noir.

CAN Noir New York do what Nikki Beach could not, that is make a real go of it at 151 E. 50th Street?

Since its official opening earlier this month the restaurant and lounge has been attracting its fair share of customers. Of course, this can be put down to the sheer novelty and curiosity about what would come after Nikki Beach. The former certainly fits in to the neighborhood a lot better than the latter, which sought to bring a bit of Miami to New York City. Thanks goes to owner George P. Iordanou (GPI Entertainment) for realizing that Miami wasn’t playing well in this stretch of Manhattan.

Noir is situated in a section of Midtown East (from about the high 40s to the mid 50s and from Park Avenue to Lexington Avenue) that is fairly buttoned-down. In other words, it is more on the low-key, conservative side, as it regards drinking and dining. Nearby is the W New York – The Tuscany, Waldorf-Astoria, Saks Fifth Avenue and Smith & Wollensky. This in part explains why Nikki did not do so well. It was loud and bright in a quiet, muted milieu. One could see Nikki drawing in a few curious tourists and commuters who make up most of the area’s population during business hours. But at the end of the day, so to speak, the real people didn’t have quite enough appetite for SoBe (South Beach).

The opening night crowd in the bar area of the 10,000 square foot Noir.

Nikki is a great concept that would be better served, however, along Second Avenue in the 30s or 80s. Or as one gal about town attending the opening remarked, “In Soho where you have all kinds of people coming from everywhere who like that kind of thing." That kind of thing being the Ocean Side vibe, indoor palm trees  and white furniture (but no beds like in Miami and other venues) included.

The differences between Nikki and Noir are like day and night. Whereas Nikki was ostentatiously modern, Noir has many Old World European touches. Yet is doesn't feel dated and stodgy. It isn’t somewhere a young/youngish urban sophisticate would avoid because his or her parents have been patronizing the joint since the ‘40s. At Noir, chocolate is a dominant color. Montreal-based architect Andres Escobar, (http://www.escobardesign.com) who is largely responsible for the Noir look and who attended the opening, disclosed that the transformation from Nikki took about six months. Chocolate, he relayed, is a color that is associated with comfort and well-being. If that is true, Noir oozes comfort from floor to ceiling, featuring lots of brown with touches of gold.

Access Noir directly from the sidewalk through a bank of floor-to-ceiling glass doors and you are in the bar. On the left is a brown bar with a gold backsplash. The bar is long enough to accommodate nearly a dozen stools. To the right, on the other side of a large, squat beige pillar with a decorative brown ribbon design, are a series of brown booths. Straight ahead is the main dining room. En route to the dining room is a wrought-iron spiral staircase with brown banister and brown-gold marble steps that practically beckons a visitor to the lounge upstairs.

Nikki Beach had a Miami vibe, complete with palm trees.

AE incorporated lots of intimacy into the 10,000 square foot space, it became clear during an impromptu tour by he and his wife, Bela. The dining room, for instance, is separated into three sections. The middle section is furnished with a dozen or so tables. Overhead is a huge crystal chandelier that AE admitted, a little shamefaced, came all the way from China. On either side of the middle section are areas that are taken up by tables and gold high-backed, oval-shaped booths. Ensconced in the back of the dining room is a glass-encased wine cellar. The room is also purposed as a meeting space, complete with a boardroom table and flat screen TV. Once the door is closed the noise level drops to the volume of a hum and it feels like a cocoon.

In the center of the upstairs lounge is a small island populated by three sets of two chairs that are turned in opposite directions. They are situated for optimum conversation and privacy. Placed between each set of chairs is  a bistro table. In a back corner of the lounge separated from the rest of the space by brown beads reaching from the ceiling to near the floor is a circular room with brown leather, cushioned walls. It has the feel of a man's private sitting quarters – an ideal space for a private party.

Amid all of the comfort and privacy of Noir, guests have at their disposal a well-stocked bar on each floor overseen by a beverage director and mixologist, which is de rigueur at such places these days. Part of the deal is handcrafted cocktails, including the eponymous Manhattan en Noir (Rye Whiskey, Italian Vermouth, Port, Grand Marnier, Bitters, Stirred & served with a brandied cherry & an orange twist). In the lounge guests can avail themselves of any of the topshelf liquor on the spirit cart. Also on offer are vodka, gin or rum bowls.

Of course, there is food, too. Another common feature of restaurant and lounges like Noir with upscale pretensions is a celebrity or Michelin-star chef. As the Noir p.r. goes, Jean-Yves Schillinger “combines his classic French techniques with seasonal local ingredients” for the contemporary, reasonably priced American menu he has created.

The Noir bar, with gold backsplash, is a large, inviting space.

Among the treats that J-YS sent out opening night were several Alsatian pizzas, duck foie gras, cod cakes, fried lamb chop and lemon tart. Everything was truly delicious with solid flavor profiles, except the fried lamb chop. It was so heavily breaded the flavor of the lamb was almost imperceptible. This one lapse can be forgiven, however, considering the intense flavor of the duck foie gras (buttery pate with green apple served with French toasted bread). It lingered nicely on the palate, producing a feeling of – well –  comfort and well-being.

Noir has all of the necessary elements to make it where Nikki Beach didn’t. While some of these elements, such as its self-possessed d├ęcor may prove too intimidating for some, they won’t ultimately have an adverse effect on the bottomline. Speaking of which, it is advised that Noir add prices to its Web site menu. Not including the prices could unwittingly send the message, “If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.”

That, Noir cannot afford in an anemic economy where even some of the 1 percent and the upper echelons of the 99 percent are pinching pennies.

Visit http://www.noir-ny.com to learn more about Noir.

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