I’m just going to say right away that there are no placemats and no draft beer to 1 Rue Blanche, and those are the only negative things I can say about the place. Truly. After six lessons and two and a half hours, that’s all I can find.
I can’t really explain why I’m already so attached to this newcomer, especially considering the upstairs price (read more) is such a place once a year or less for me. Maybe it’s the careful and creative renovation of a Tribeca landmark? A chef and sommelier who clearly enjoys being hosts? The fact that they have their own farm right above the Taconic? The buzzing? All?
So first, the comeback story. Chef Austin Johnson and master sommelier Dustin Wilson met in Paris, while Johnson ran the kitchen of the Frenchie, the famous Parisian bistro (he got a Michelin star there) and Wilson was on a wine trip to Europe. The two overlapped here in the US: They both spent time at Eleven Madison Park (lots of Michelin stars). And it seems that a lot of Parisian roads lead to Tribeca: in 2016, Wilson and Derrick Mize met in France and had the idea to open Verve Wine at 24 Hubert.
Johnson realized in his early teens in Omaha that he wanted to cook, so much so that his parents kicked him out of the house at 15 because they did not approve of the career path. “I knew I wanted to achieve something in the cooking world – I was having too much fun, so I said ‘peace’ and I did. I have now worked in the best restaurants in the world. It was 20 years ago. I would say it’s settled.
His vision for New York, once he and Wilson decided they wanted a joint venture here, was to recreate the vibe at Frenchie, a 20-seat restaurant with a tasting menu that had a wine bar accessible only. – high tables, casual cuisine, more rock and roll than gourmet – across the small street in which it is located in Paris.
“There was a real sense of community on this street with the neighbors,” Johnson said. “After going through this for years and going back and forth, I didn’t want to create a one-dimensional restaurant. I love using my tweezers ” [more on that later] “But I have more to offer. A change of scenery is something that many chefs fail to create for themselves.
1 White St. was the first place he and Wilson looked and immediately the vision of a vertical Frenchie became clear. The wine bar would be downstairs and, as it turned out once the virus hit, so would the curb space. The tasting menu would be on 2 and 3. There is a kitchen on all three floors. The ground floor would be reservationless and more relaxed.
“This place is a neighborhood restaurant,” Johnson says. “The first floor is for Tribeca. It’s for a neighbor who wants a burger at the bar with a house salad from the Hudson Valley.
It’s certainly true that in my first two experiences at 1 White Street – the neighborhood get-together they hosted a few weeks ago and the opening dinner last night – there wasn’t a hint of pretension. Every bite and every bite is calculated and considered, but with comfort and hospitality in mind. And when I say comfort, I’m not talking about the seats (although the velor bench is very comfortable). I mean the atmosphere and the attitude towards the restaurant. There’s a defined vibe, set up by the refined rustic decor (sculptural iron sconces, aggregate stone floors, bleached wood window frames) and the soundtrack. We caught The Verve (coincidence?), Run-DMC, U2, and the Presidents of the United States of America.
Wilson told me last night that one of the goals was to reduce the “leveling” that comes with a six-course meal. Servers are required to be at the table often, so staff have thought about ways to streamline service. For example, the silverware is placed in a cup on the table – and I loved that – and there are no tablecloths, which I also liked, but that’s what made me wish a doily (maybe leather?) beautiful ceramic dishes deserved a frame.
It had been a long time since I had a chef-led, prix-fixe tasting menu – well, with the exception of Takeshi’s large omakase – and while I generally like to be in control, it was a real treat to have someone to make all these decisions. No debate, no doubt, and with six courses, you don’t feel like you have to choose the perfect thing. The psychology of it greatly contributed to the fact that I could enjoy the food, the wine, and the company.
We didn’t have a menu until we paid (the fixed price is $ 150 per head and $ 86 per head for the wine pairing) and that’s when I realized how happy I was to be exempt from this whole process. Our (many) waiters (excellent and charming) seemed to really know their stuff, even on the first day. And they will have to be on their guard: the menu will change a lot and often.
So for food, if you’re still with me:
The gougères – one chromosome from the meringue, as our waiter said – were deliciously spongy and salty, with bacon cooked in the batter and caviar in a neat little pile on top. I’m one of those who loves cilantro, and it turns out I like the spices in a coriander blossom even more – they were sprinkled over the peeled and smoked tomatoes. I don’t often go for foie gras, but if it’s paired with truffle mousse and parker potato rolls served hot, I might.
Green Curry Bass with Grilled Avocado would be the meal I would come back to, if I had to pick just one. And the association with the Tasmanian pinot blend was really fragrant and special – even I could tell it was the right thing. Each dish had something special and surprising – mostly sourced from the farm they set up in Columbia County just for the restaurant, so they could grow whatever they wanted when they could. Chrysanthemum leaves. Basil flowers for the pavlova. A caraflex cabbage sized for three bites.
But maybe my favorite part of the evening was the pace and the setting. We were seated at a corner table on the second floor, looking through the trees for a classic view of Tribeca. The decor is impeccable, and I won’t even get to the heart of the matter how exciting it is to sit in front of a photograph of Gordon Matta-Clark, especially given his heritage in New York and in its restaurants. And the plates were perfectly timed, which is remarkable for an opening night. We never waited and never rushed. Johnson had promised that dinner at 1 White wouldn’t be a big deal – the idea is to get in and out in about two hours. He was right. For me, this is gastronomy at its best.
A final note on the connection to the Embassy of Nutopian. Johnson doesn’t like the idea of some kind of food utopia – too precious. But he clearly reflected on the building’s original legacy. “Food will have no borders. It will be all over the map. Foie gras with Thai green curry. Why not? We will call it Nutopian cuisine.