“There’s something so liberating about completely letting go of the past,” says chef Angie Mar on a recent morning. “About looking at a blank canvas and wrapping your mind around the idea that you’re about to build whatever you want.”
The chef, formerly of the Beatrice Inn, is seated at the marble-top bar inside her bright new restaurant, Les Trois Chevaux. Located around the corner from the iconic basement haunt where Mar made a name for herself in New York’s dining scene, Les Trois Chevaux is in many ways a departure from the dimly lit Beatrice Inn. No longer is she beholden to paying homage to a concept rooted in dining history; Mar is free to dream up and cook a menu that is truly her own.
“It’s really freed me creatively to write the narrative, because there is no history,” she says the week ahead of the restaurant’s July 8 opening date. “There’s only the history of my family. There’s the history of what I ate as a child. There’s the history of two parts of who I am, which is a very old Frenchman and also my Chinese heritage.”
The chef has been eyeing the airy restaurant space located where West 12th and West 4th Streets meet for several years. The Beatrice Inn’s lease was up in January — mid-pandemic — and the rent increase was untenable for Mar to continue in that space. Originally, she considered a new iteration of the Beatrice Inn (Mar continues to own the name) in a new space. French chef Jacques Pépin, who Mar considers a dear friend, steered her away from that idea. “He said that it was time for me to do something new,” she says. “Something that had my name on it.”
Les Trois Chevaux pays homage to Mar’s family; Mar in Chinese represents “the noble steed.” “I have two younger brothers, and when we were kids, my father and my uncles used to call us the three horses,” says Mar of the name. “I very much believe that restaurants are all about family.” Two lamps, propped up by horse sculptures, are situated on either end of the restaurant’s bar.
Mar’s menu, served prix-fixe, continues to be rooted in French fine dining. “The menu that we’ve written takes diners through the regions of France,” she says, adding that she drew inspiration from classic dishes of Léon, Salon-de-Provence, Normandy, and Bordeaux. “It’s food that makes me feel good,” she adds. “It makes me feel warm and cozy and reminiscent of my travels. But at the same time, it feels very fresh and new.”
While known for her indulgent steak offerings at the Beatrice, beef doesn’t appear on the opening menu at Les Trois Chevaux. Instead, the menu includes dishes like frog legs done two ways and a decadent truffle and caviar dish served with a croissant — which pays homage to chef André Soltner, an important figure in Mar’s cooking career. There’s also a truffle turbot served with legumes des jardins, which marks a pivot; Mar isn’t known for vegetables or fish, because she rarely offered them on her previous menus. “The food that I’m cooking now is lighter, it’s brighter, it’s more ethereal,” she says. “The food that I’ve been cooking for the past eight years is very deep and velvety, and this food feels very lacy and chiffon and air-light.”
That airy vibe is reflected in her approach to the restaurant’s interiors. The intimate dining room design was led by BWArchitects, with substantial influence from Mar, who personally oversaw production of certain elements including the marble-top bar (she went to Staten Island to plot out where the stone was being cut) and mirrors with antique-style finishing, which line the dining room wall opposite the bar. Framework was crafted by an artisan based in Williamsburg, and gold leaf detailing was done by a fourth-generation framer in Bushwick, N.Y. Weekly floral designs displayed on the bar will be supplied by florist Raul Avila, who handles design for the Met Gala.
“My familiarity of Angie’s work began in the form of word of mouth — a few of my friends raved about her specialty in meats and her mastery of herbs perpetually — so I had to scope the experience for myself. All it took was one visit for me to be hooked and craving more,” Avila says. “My goal is to use florals in a way which illustrates the feel of a chic French bistro, capitalizing and adding to Angie’s already very established concept.”
Staff uniforms were designed by another longtime fan of Mar’s cuisine, Christian Siriano. His looks include an ivory tailored jacket with white shirt and blue velvet bow tie for the servers, and a blue silk blouse with black trousers for the hostesses. “His design philosophy is very similar to how I design a menu and how I create dishes. There’s an element of whimsy and of excitement,” Mar says.
Jackets will be required for all male diners, and the restaurant is keeping a collection of vintage Yves Saint Laurent jackets on hand for guests to borrow if needed. The dress code speaks to an old-fashioned style of service that appeals to Mar and speaks to her culinary sensibilities. (It’s also another family homage; her own father wore a dinner jacket whenever he went out to dine.) She hopes to evoke reverence and respect for fine dining; she wants it to feel special.
“Which I think has been lost very much in recent years,” she adds. “There are plenty of places in New York to go eat. There are few where we can really dine, and I hope to bring that back with Les Trois Chevaux.”
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