Chez Al Coro, a fine-dining Italian restaurant in New York with a party vibe – Robb Report

0

Italian gastronomy, according to chef Melissa Rodriguez, is an oxymoron. “It’s a fine line to dress it up and take it out,” she says. “You are walking a tightrope.” Push cooking less is more too far and you’ll drown out his spirit, not far enough and diners start wondering exactly why they’re paying $245 a pop for dinner. But Rodriguez, who recently opened Al Coro with partner Jeff Katz, is confident as a top cook. “I like to do things that people tell me I can’t do,” she says.

Al Coro, housed in the former Del Posto space in Chelsea, is an almost impossible project on paper. Rodriguez ran the Del Posto kitchen after Marc Ladner left in 2017. Katz had taken over as general manager eight years earlier, and when the historic restaurant closed for Covid-19 in 2020 and permanently in 2021, the duo bought the business and set about clearing out space, exercising former owner Mario Batali’s demons and reinventing what fine dining should be after the pandemic. And they did it all in a 24,000 square foot real estate that should really only function as an Equinox or Tao type clubstaurant and on a block with neighboring former mega restaurants – Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Morimoto and Toro – obviously absent, killed by the Covid. There are 150 seats to fill, not to mention private dining and an upcoming bar downstairs, Discolo.

Al Coro is not just a swing for Italian gastronomy. This must prove that New York always supports big ideas.

For Katz and Rodriguez, buying Del Posto, rather than starting over somewhere else, was a no-brainer. “Why would we leave?” Katz said. “We spent so much time in space that it was pretty easy to start thinking about what could have been better or different.”

Al Coro’s renovations have rid Del Posto of its “New Jersey funeral home” vibes, an opening week guest told Katz. The grand staircase is gone, replaced by a nine-seat bar with illuminated, backlit liquor bottles. The white linens have been swapped for chocolate table tops.

Culurgiones

Nathalie Black

A moodboard for Discolo included Wilt Chamberlain’s bedroom and Yves Saint Laurent’s living room, and some of that retro aesthetic carried over into the restaurant’s chrome and micro-suede furniture upstairs.

Above all, Katz and Rodriguez wanted to purge any hint of turmoil, and the opening of Mel’s, their wood-fired pizzeria, earlier this year helped relax everyone. Rodriguez hadn’t worked at a casual restaurant in two decades and found herself eliminating ideas and components from dishes. “Your normal developmental behaviors need to be challenged,” she says. “And the same goes for room service. Why do we keep doing all these steps? »

The pandemic has also destroyed restaurants, whether fine-dining or otherwise. While much of Del Posto’s management team (Food and Beverage Manager, Pastry Chef, Executive Chef, Operations Manager, Kitchen Manager, Events Manager, facilities manager and chief pasta maker, among others) came back to open Al Coro, they were ready to do things differently.

“We don’t want the place to feel like it’s stuck with a bunch of rules because that forces you as guests to feel like you have a bunch of rules to follow,” explains Katz. “I don’t think everyone wants to be that buttoned up.”

But diners want a show, especially at a restaurant like Al Coro that’s built for celebrations and blowouts, and instead of over-the-top service steps and table theater, they get it with music. live. A balcony as a stage now anchors the dining room, where rotating bands will perform each evening. On the evening of my visit, singer Alicia Olatuja, wearing a silver sequined dress, sang from this mezzanine, framed like the Madonna by newly constructed arches.

Live music, of course, can be experienced elsewhere in New York. But Rodriguez’s cooking is only available at 85 10th Avenue: covered in melted cheese at Mel’s and, according to the chef, “tried, practiced and torn into a million pieces,” at Al Coro.

gourmet bar Italian restaurant

Sea bass

Nathalie Noir

The restaurant’s opening menu ($245 for seven courses and $195 for five) is full of regional Italian deep cuts flipped and edited by a razor-sharp New Yorker. The seven antipasti are one-bite teases that focus on your brain and palate. Radishes dipped in browned buffalo butter look like high-end restaurant crudité, but their center is hollowed out and stuffed with a humble but mighty mash of anchovies and turnips. Finely shaved bresaola cradles its lookalike beet, and tiny fried artichokes are a crispy vessel for electric colatura caramel, candied lemon, magenta pickled red onion and mint.

The culurgiones, these large Sardinian dumplings in the shape of a grain of wheat, play high and low. They are stuffed with potatoes, fontina and mascarpone and served with razor clams and a large quenelle of caviar. For their take on southern Italian anelletti al forno, Rodriguez’s pasta team hand-braids strands of dough into perfect, mouth-watering rings, all the more beautiful and for catching tiny bites of escarole and braised pork cheek.

A riff on chicken marsala (a dish originating in the American school of Italian cooking) is not a cheap, familiar thrill. Rodriguez prepares the sauce with mushroom broth, dashi and marsala reduction and, in a gluten-free sleight of hand, thickens it with mashed quinoa. Black bass replaces chicken, fish stuffed with mushroom duxelle and layered on a meaty, chewy mushroom. Bold and earthy in texture, I must have contemplated the dish for a few days before its intimate origins even occurred to me.

Over the past few years, much of the high-end dining I’ve eaten (and enjoyed) has felt rather obvious and safe. But this is not Rodriguez’ game at Al Coro. “The meal has moments that are a bit overwhelming and fun, then more precious and serious,” she says.

If you were to put these feelings into a matrix, the final savory dish of the meal would be fun high, crushing and serious mid low, and precious low. Inspired by New York’s proximity to Little Italy and Chinatown and based on a dish she cooked for an event, Rodriguez makes a set of Peking Duck with a Sicilian spine. First, she replaced the duck with a chicken that was brined overnight and then cured for 10 days. After some steaming and hardening of the respective parts, the breast is presented in thin slices and served on a warm chicken leg salad. This is the serious technical part. And the pleasure ? The chicken comes with bowls of cherry mostarda, fennel salad, spring caponata and Italian chili crisp to garnish as you wish, and there’s a stack of farinata pancakes to use in place of forks to scoop and put the bites together (crushing for panicked Westerners eating with their hands).

antipasti fine dining italian restaurant nyc

antipasti

Nathalie Noir

“Hopefully, we’ll get to a place where customers feel comfortable enough to make the mess,” Katz says. “You pay for this. We will clean it up.

Georgia Wodder’s desserts mirror the bite-sized antipasto format so you can experience many little joys without feeling like you have to take one last course. Put a lemon verbena meringue in your mouth followed by a miniature tartufa alla fragola that squirts with vanilla mascarpone and strawberry cardamaro caramel. Small slices of Sicilian brioche are topped with fennel ice cream and cantaloupe granita – no spoons needed. And for diners in need of a decadent, light-hearted end to a meal, Wodder offers a bittersweet, potent, and rich chocolate crostata with espresso ice cream and a balsamic drizzle. There is no dish that could follow it.

Opened only a few weeks, it’s early days for Al Coro. The team is still building the wine cellar and fine-tuning the service. Rodriguez will update the menu monthly, and Katz expects to tweak the music and experience over time, but only to a point. “If you’re going to have some sort of point of view and try to do something a little bit unique, you’re going to have people who don’t like it,” Katz says. “And it has to be. Because otherwise the restaurant is starting to feel a little vanilla.

The thing is, vanilla is selling big these days. But aside from the bombshell tartufa alla fragola, you won’t find many at Al Coro, a restaurant that feels like we’re really coming out of the pandemic. There’s a sense of joy and celebration, yes, but not without risk or detriment of being quirky and thought-provoking – a New York metaphor if I’ve even eaten one.

Share.

Comments are closed.