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“The whole farm-to-table movement is a 101 in my opinion. If you’re a chef, you should be using local products,” chef Joe Isidori says, arms crossed over his apron on a recent Tuesday morning. He’s perched on a stool in the open kitchen of Chalk Point Kitchen, the new eatery in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood for which he will serve as executive chef when it opens its doors later this month. “You source locally. That’s just what you do.”
Though “farm-to-table” seems to be the gastronomic buzzword of recent memory (along with “craft,” “artisanal” and other maddeningly ambiguous terms), Chalk Point Kitchen is the real deal. Locally sourced product is the ethos of the new spot, which is taking up the former Dalloway space on Broome Street and will be helmed by restaurateur Matt Levine. “We’re dedicated to everything local,” Levine adds. By “we,” he means not only Isidori and himself but also chef de cuisine Frederick Schoen-Kiewert, sous-chef Sean Spencer and mixologist William Bastian, all ardent locavores. “We want to take advantage of what New York has to offer.”
This story first appeared in the March 12, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
This means virtually every ingredient is sourced in New York. The pearl oysters they serve — topped with toasted curry oil, salmon caviar, chervil and served atop a swirl of wakame — were caught off the shores of Montauk. They get their daikons — braised in a fermented black bean sauce and served with Thai basil — from Satur Farms on Long Island.
Even the drinks are farm fresh. Cocktail offerings, crafted by Bastian, are an amalgam of freshly squeezed juices and a meld of bitters, garnishes and succulents. “All the cocktails were designed to complement the menu so the notes in the cocktail round out the meal,” Bastian explains. He’s eager for diners to try the wasabi margarita (“We muddle fresh wasabi in. It’s got some serious kick to it,” he says) and the kale martini, which is exactly what it sounds like: a boozy green juice. “We spice it up with some Absolut Orient Apple, kale, celery,” he says. “Juice pressing is so important so the ingredients are as fresh as possible.”
Isidori is a Michelin-star chef and has worked alongside Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Rich Moonen and Michael Schwartz. He’s a third-generation cook — his grandfather owned the Villanova, a Times Square restaurant open from 1963 to 1975, and his father grew up cooking in its kitchen.
“I’m a New York City kid,” he says. “Growing up, I learned to run around the boroughs and buy the products of those neighborhoods, whether it was going to Brighton Beach for knishes or Chinatown for wontons or Japantown for yakitori. And I bring that perspective to the menu. So we work with the farmers who come to the farmer’s markets from upstate and the East End of Long Island to get sustainable, organic produce, but we incorporate that with the ethnic markets of New York City. It’s fresh produce from the farms and then shopping down here on Mott Street and combining it into one dish.”
The decor is also a carefully calibrated balance of city and country. Guests ascend a wrought iron staircase into the dining room, which is dressed like a quaint Vermont farmhouse though not without that distinctive air of downtown cool. Levine collaborated on the interiors with Chien Dao, who’s also outfitted The Lion, The Crown and the MoMA Curator Loft.
Up front, glaring grow-lights shine down on a trail of flower beds snaking around under a wall of antique windows from a barn in Cape May, N.J. “The grow-lights will just be on during the day and when we close up at night,” Levine says of maintaining the greenery — a mix of potted succulents, ferns and snake plants. Soon thyme, rosemary and basil will be planted for use in the kitchen and behind the bar.
A coffee-colored leather banquette wraps around the room with the tabletops clustered at the center. The tables are wooden with a slightly weathered, aged patina and are topped with tattered recipe books from the Fifties that Levine procured at flea markets upstate. “The checks will be tucked in those,” he says. Other tabletop accoutrement: sunflowers, gingham napkins tied up with bits of string and antique china once used at the Villanova.
The dining room is dotted with other vintage knickknacks — mirrors, black-and-white photos and, toward the front, an oversize weather vane that Levine found at an antique fair in Pennsylvania. “I had to negotiate with this sweet old lady named Mabel for that one,” he laughs. “I love that each piece has a story.”
Toward the back is the open kitchen where Isidori, Schoen-Kiewert (previously of Blue Hill) and Spencer (previously of Sons of Essex) work under a ceiling covered in overlain Basquiat prints. “Basquiat lived in SoHo and was such a foodie, so I thought this was cool,” Levine explains.
Downstairs is unfinished but will house a piano bar called The Handy Liquor Bar, sure to draw the in-crowd. “The only music we’ll have down here is funk, soul, jazz,” he says, now down in the roomy cellar, which is in full-on construction mode with a dust-coated baby grand stationed in the corner. But considering how speedy the upstairs renovation was — Levine hired construction group Platform International, the team behind building out the Frieze and Scope art fairs — the bar should be ready imminently. “It’s cool down here, right?” he asks.
For the moment, the cool kids will have to reside upstairs starting tonight when W magazine’s Stefano Tonchi will cohost an after party for the “Only Lovers Left Alive” screening along with the film’s director, Jim Jarmusch, and Tilda Swinton. “We have a few other parties coming up,” Levine alludes with a knowing grin. “A few things for the fashion folk.”
Chalk Point Kitchen
527 Broome Street
Monday to Sunday, 5:00 p.m. to midnight.