Note: First Looks give previews of new dishes, drinks, and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots and interviews with restaurants, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
"As a cook I'd just get into ruts. The chefs I worked for would do the same thing over and over and I just never understood why that was acceptable. I don't like to watch people just not trying."
So says Chef Ryan Tate in regards to why he opened a restaurant where the six-course menu changes not weekly, but daily.
At Le Restaurant—the stunningly remodeled space below All Good Things market in Tribeca—he's definitely set himself and his cooks into a position where getting stuck in any rut is near impossible. His menu is based on the fresh produce he's procured for the market upstairs and what he feels like cooking this week. Because of the constantly evolving possibilities, he can alter what he plans to cook on Monday by any change in mood or the weather that comes on, say, Saturday morning, as had happened when we stopped in last weekend.
Why change the menu daily instead of weekly? "It's just not what I set out to do. Because I'm a glutton for punishment." That gluttony starts at 9 a.m. upstairs and only sometimes (maybe) takes a Monday off.
Evidently we can thank (or blame) Serious Eats head honcho Ed in part for what inspires Tate's menu now—"Ed changed the whole menu at the Savoy with his review of my cheeseburger. Everybody just came for the cheeseburger, to the point that we put it on the dinner menu and everything got stripped away so that it all became more casual. And there's nothing wrong with that, but I just didn't envision it as the arch of my career. I'm not a 55-year old chef who's putting his kids through school. I have no kids, I'm 37, and my ambitions are still strong. I haven't taken enough abuse yet."
Now he's "cooking backwards"; picking produce first and matching protein with it after.
Building the kitchen provided a few challenges during the construction phase; unable to install a hood because of the historic restrictions of the building, they installed a wood-fueled grill, flat top and two pizza-style ovens instead, in which they roast all their meat, fish and game.
With the changing menu and absence of stations normally found in a commercial kitchen, each chef bounces around, taking charge of one main plate but frequently stepping in to set up or finish off a different course. Tate picked chefs who are well-rounded and eager to learn. While Tate is the menu's mastermind, his cooks often provide an idea or two or voice a technique they'd like to incorporate—"we start the education there."
There's no through-line to any of Tate's menus, but offering elevated food in a relaxed environment is a constant focus. The music coming out of someone's iPod tonight is a funky mix of Phil Collins and hip hop, and though the cooks shuffle in and out of the kitchen attentively with carefully-crafted plates around servers Staffan and Dan ("the guy who's being a real bitch today"), there's no hoity-toity service here; "Amadou's not gonna walk you to the bathroom and wipe your ass for you."
Instead, you get "a very ingredient-driven menu; today it's green garlic, onions, ramps, and proteins that go well with them." Accompanied by house made bread and freshly churned butter, the team was tapping out seven courses with Austin at the bar pairing wine and cocktails to fit.
"Why do I do it? Because it's stimulating, and when you get young cooks that are not making the same dishes over and over... it's just for stimulation really."
Spent a night in the kitchen in the slideshow.
The no choice / no substitution menu costs $100 and is available Thursdays through Saturdays from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. Reservations are required; email only firstname.lastname@example.org. Walk-ins are welcome at the bar.
About the author: Jacqueline Raposo writes about chefs and cooks things for her bread and butter. Read her rambles, grab her recipes and chat her up at www.thedustybaker.com or tweet excessively with her at @dustybakergal.