Byline: Alison Oneacre
NEW YORK — To say that chef Jonathan Waxman is indulgent would be an understatement. Sitting on one of the cafe-style Gatti chairs (“Just like the ones at Les Deux Magots”) at his restaurant, Washington Park, which opens tomorrow at 24 Fifth Avenue, a diner has an impressive array of the finest accoutrements money can buy at arms’ length.
The silver is Cristofle. The linens are Frette. The stacks of pots and pans in the dining room’s open kitchen are copper. The bar is white onyx (plagiarized from Claridge’s in London, he admits). The artwork — some from Waxman’s personal collection — is by Frank Stella and Robert Kushner.
“Holly Solomon was one of my best customers,” he says, nodding to the Kushner. “It’s called ‘Cupid Making Borscht.”‘ Solomon, of course, was a regular customer at Jams, Waxman’s acclaimed restaurant that brought California cuisine to New York and London in the mid-Eighties. The chef, a wunderkind of the food world who first gained national attention as the chef at Michael’s in Los Angeles, should have no problem retrieving his “Bright Lights, Big City” clientele.
“I don’t think I’ve been hiding out in the boondocks,” says Waxman, over the sound of drills on Friday morning as construction workers apply the finishing touches. For the past decade, he’s worked as a food consultant for clients such as American Airlines — without a restaurant to call his own. “I just felt like it was time for my food.”
“My food” is a phrase Waxman can’t emphasize enough. He admits that the breadth of his cuisine has evolved, thanks to his extensive travels in Asia. But the basics remain: only impeccable, seasonal ingredients from green markets make the cut, so it figures that he cites Alice Waters as a continuing influence on his food. “I hate planning menus in advance,” he scoffs. “You can plan construction — not food.” But the menu will include some updated classics from his Jams days like grilled chicken and french fries; red pepper pancakes with salmon, caviar and creme fraiche; wild mushroom salad, and fresh pasta with lobster.
Sommelier Patrick Bickford, formerly of Jean-Georges, will oversee the wine list, an oenophile’s dream containing more than 1,100 bottles, several of which have been culled from the personal collection of Waxman’s business partner, Roy Welland. The collection will rival that of Veritas. “I was showing Mario [Batali] where I was going to put the dishwasher,” says Waxman as he leads a tour through the restaurant. “He said, ‘Are you crazy? Make it a wine cellar!”‘ He complied, and added a cherry red wood table in the center of it to seat private parties.
“I looked for a place for five years,” says Waxman, as he sits back in one of the dining room’s plush leather chairs. (“Just like the Four Seasons’ hotel bar!” he interjects, stroking its arms.) “This really turned out much nicer than I thought though,” he says as he surveys the butter yellow walls and Twenties moldings left over from its former incarnation as a hotel.
A satisfied smile creeps across his face. He’s back in business. “If I need something, I don’t have to go far,” he continues. “Alfred Portale’s up the street at Gotham. Mario Batali’s over here. And for a good margarita, you know, Bobby [Flay] isn’t far.” Waxman’s grin gets bigger. “Got the late-night watering holes all wrapped up.”