NEW YORK — The rustic wooden door at Mas, a new French-American boîte on Downing Street, is blocked by small boxes of fresh, exotic mushrooms and crates of fennel and dill. After chef Galen Zamarra carries them inside, accepts an alcohol delivery and rejects an invoice for arugula, he explains that his goal with the two-week-old restaurant is to make people feel like they’re down on the farm — at least from the welcome.
Zamarra is out to fuse traditional and modern styles, which is evident in the decor: Farm animal-bedecked pillows perch on midnight blue suede banquettes; sleek red and black chairs contrast a long wooden table.
The food also follows a similar philosophy. “I like to revisit the general concept of a classic dish and serve it in a modern, different technique, like the lamb eggplant moussaka,” he says. Another example is on the dessert menu: figs poached in port with sage and muscavado sugar arrive with black olive ice cream.
The Swiss-born, California-bred Zamarra, 28, has been working in restaurants for 15 years. (In 2001, he won the James Beard Foundation’s Rising Star award.) After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., he started work at Bouley. “Another chef told me that the best thing to do was grab the Zagat Guide, pick the top 10 restaurants and send my résumés to them and that’s what I did,” he says.
After a stint in France, where he learned about classical techniques and the history of food, Zamarra returned to another Bouley outpost, Bouley Bakery, and stayed until it closed in 2001. Since then, he’s been a consultant for Marseille and Sushi Samba.
Now, he’s ready to put all his energy into Mas, which roughly translates, in French, to farmhouse. But the chef has a broader definition in mind. “It really means a coming together of the community and being involved in the land,” says Zamarra, who will keep his customers sated until 4 a.m. with a simple late-night menu. “We wanted to make it feel like a person’s home.”
— Jamie Rosen