NEW YORK — With its graffiti-strewn walls, broom closet-sized boutiques and hipster residents, NoLIta does not seem an obvious locale for the opening of a restaurant by the doyen of Upper East Side patisseries, François Payard. But such contrasts only add to the excitement surrounding Payard’s second New York endeavor (in conjunction with co-owner Philippe Bertineau), called InTent.

“For once we really had to be on budget and everybody is more careful about cost because, you know, if something happens you all have to dig in your pockets,” he explains in his heavily accented English, while keeping a watchful eye on his black Suzuki bike parked nearby. “We want to make something very neighborhood, with no pretension. We want something very simple, so people feel comfortable and to go every day, like young people they can have a new hangout.”

Indeed, the Mott Street space, whose back room will feature a waterfall stone wall and tented ceiling, is a far cry from the gilded environ of Payard’s uptown patisserie and bistro, which opened in 1997. Opening today, InTent will offer a light Mediterranean menu with items such as grilled sea scallops with brandade and chorizo and house-cured salmon with vegetable seviche, overseen by executive chef Craig Freeman. The menu marks a departure for Freeman, whose previous experience is of the haute variety, at Le Cirque 2000.

“I take everything from the more high French cuisine, but just make it in a very presentable, casual way,” he says. “It’s still about the flavor, but just to make it a little more for every day…so we can have a place that people can go and have great food and a great time and not have to empty their wallets.”

The prices at InTent, which range from $8 to $12 for appetizers, $16 to $25 for entrées and $9.50 for desserts (“Everybody can afford!” exclaims Payard), are notably higher than those for most NoLIta restaurants. But its co-owner hopes such figures will not deter his downtown clientele.

“The menu is very interesting and very Mediterranean looking and very good for young people. They can eat pretty much every night,” he says. “And thinking about young girls, eating light. And I hope they drink a lot!”

This story first appeared in the July 7, 2006 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

As to be expected, though, of any Payard outpost, the focus will land heavily on those $9.50 desserts. The back room of InTent will center around an open pastry island where executive pastry chef Eric Estrella will preside over delicacies such as honey pain perdue with roasted summer apricots and warm dark chocolate tart.

Whether the well-heeled 10021 ladies will make the trek downtown to taste them remains a question, even for Payard.

“I’m going to try to bring them down, but maybe they don’t like too much the music loud,” he shrugs. “But, you know, it’s a very different crowd and we’ll have to see. You know, I think the client is like a family. It’s something you cannot choose.”

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