Retro-Mex Dining at The Americano
by gary walther
The Americano, on West 27th Street, within hailing distance of the High Line, is a multiplex of downtown debonair: The Americano restaurant and Bar Americano on the ground floor; La Piscine 10 stories up; the 3,000-square-foot El Privado lounge, “a VIP hangout” one story below ground; and 56 hotel rooms in a style that the website describes as “an urban ryokan.” The building façade, sheathed in a screen of stainless- steel mesh, injects a hip aesthetic note to a street once known as Club Row (Bungalow 8, The Pink Elephant, and B.E.D. all resided here), which now has defaulted to its old far-west-side raffishness.
Like André Balaz’s Standard, the way-cool Americano—the first American outpost for Grupo Habita, the hip-stylish Mexican hotel group— is reinventing a retro concept, hotel dining. (Maybe that’s why the signature cocktail is called Reinvention.) But see, you’re not really dining in a hotel; you’re in a mise-en-scène, being poached in a vibe. The play’s the thing, and chef Joseph Buenconsejo’s menu, which the hotel breezily calls “French fare with a Latin flair,” is best supporting actor. The dishes are familiar characters—Oaxacan lobster, fava bean agnolotti (made a casa, natch) and the grilled entrecote—but not stock ones. The menu is full of touches that appeal to the contemporary urbane palate: not just mushrooms, but henof- the-woods with the poulet fermier (organic, of course); Meyer lemon nage with the rouget a la plancha; piri piri broth with the cabillaud; and even the burger gets a jalapeño pickle.
The Americano, both the restaurant and the terrace La Piscine, has been a kind of dog whistle for a cast of downtown players with an ear for these places. It includes Cynthia Rowley, Olivier Theyskens, nightclub guru Amy Sacco, model Trish Goff, Vogue’s Hamish Bowles and W’s Stefano Tonchi, interior designer Milly de Cabrol, Alexander McQueen creative director Sarah Burton, and a pair of burlesque chanteuses, Amber Ray and Delysia La Chatte.
You would think that a restaurant designed to draw a crowd like this would be loaded with hierarchy, nooks, coves, and backwaters of semiprivacy and see-but-not-be-seen, but The Americano layout is as egalitarian as a Unitarian Church—four rows of tables, black Dommeau & Pérès leather couches on one side faced by Arflex chairs, that seem to say “wherever.” The 30- and 40-series tables (the two middle rows) are most in demand because you’re right in the center of the pool, so to speak, which goes along with the vibe, certainly. I may be too old-school in seeking vantage point rather than immersion, but I liked sitting along the west wall looking out at the sea of what seemed like a disproportionate percentage of long blonde locks.
The dining room décor tightropes the line between sleek and stark, and is dominated by a modern chandelier that looks like a space probe—it’s all metal sprigs. While some guys turn up in their Saturday morning best, the prospect of a night out here clearly sends a lot of men to their closets. I particularly admire two gents in very fitted suits and classic brown brogues, sans socks. The women are a catwalk spectrum, and I find the frock worn by a Van Cleef & Arpels manager sitting nearby especially fetching. “Chloé,” she says. And when I ask if she always wraps her chignon with a strand of pearls, she doesn’t miss a beat: “Or diamonds.”
As for the terrace topography at La Piscine, both the Hudson and Empire State balconies—which are to the right and left, respectively, when you come off the elevator— are the top spots. Empire State seats up to 20 and Hudson up to 40. The former has the more expansive view and is the tougher get. The décor one level up takes its cue from the harem. A concrete bench covered with big white cushions runs around the outside perimeter. Lined up along the opposite wall are white marshmallow ottomans, and in between is a four-foot-deep plunge pool.
If your credit card has muscle, go for the Billecart- Salmon Brut Rosé. At $180 it’s admittedly pricey, but a better value than the more (and even some of the less) expensive Champagne offerings. Of course, The Americano couldn’t resist a rosé from Château Miraval called Pink Floyd, but it’s actually quite good. The well-chosen wine list is French, leavened with Spanish and American bottlings. The Michel Gassier Grenache Blanc is a good seafood partner, and the 2010 Château Raspail should pair well with the entrecote. The restaurant also offers eight different mezcals, among them Pierde Almas Tobala Silvestre, which is made from wild maguey that only grows in high-altitude canyons around the Mexican village of Tobala in Oaxaca state. That’s why it costs $29 a shot. 518 W. 27th St., 212-525-0000
photography by evan sung