“It’s a nice hotel, but kinda far from the beach.”
A friend and I were looking up at 60 Thompson, the newly opened hotel in Soho. This 10-story gray building, with its narrow, 60′s-style wrought-iron balconies, seems to belong on the Florida oceanfront, not next to a New York City tenement. The people drinking brightly colored cocktails on the small flagstone patio outside wouldn’t have been out of place in bathing suits.
But then Jonathan Eismann, the chef and co-owner of Thom, the hotel’s restaurant, has spent a large part of the past few years close to the water. Eight years ago, he left New York, where he was chef at Acute Cafe and China Grill, to open the highly acclaimed Pacific Time in Miami’s South Beach. Now he’s joined with partners from Indochine and Bond Street in creating a hip new spot on the ground floor of Manhattan’s latest trendy boutique hotel, with Timothy Byers as executive chef.
As you’d expect from this team, Thom is cool and sophisticated, already a scene after a few short months. It’s the sort of place that makes you feel as though you’d be unfashionably early if you arrived before 10. But it was already buzzing when we walked in at 8. There wasn’t a spare seat in the small bar, which is decorated with frosted blue glass panels and heavily grained dark wood. This is where you have your $10 glass of wine on the banquette while you wait for your table.
Before long, a hostess in a leopard-print tank top led us to the long, narrow dining room, which is elegantly done up with muted gold-and-cream wallpaper, deep mocha banquettes and ivory linen lampshades that cast a soft light. Beyond is a soon-to-open air-conditioned terrace that has green tiled walls, tangerine lampshades and slate floors. Empty, it looks like a stage set by Robert Wilson.
Thom has assembled a staff that is as charming as it is good-looking. The hostesses walk around the room like runway models showing this year’s collection. The busboys wear black Nino Cerruti T-shirts and have spiked or streaked hair (“Just what the ladies who lunch would like,” commented my friend–though Thom won’t start serving lunch for a few weeks). Among the customers, the ratio of older men to much younger women is high, bringing to mind a comment my mother’s friend once made while looking at a couple with disparate ages: “If she’s not his daughter, then she ought to be.”
Mr. Eismann has been combining Asian flavors and American ingredients with classical French techniques since the early 80′s. His plates are designed with an Asian sensibility, and the portions are scaled to the sort of bodies you see around the dining room. You can begin with heirloom tomatoes of all hues piled on the plate and sprinkled with fleur de sel and a brisk Napa blackberry vinegar. They come with unusual radishes, the most startling of which looks like a miniature slice of watermelon, but delivers a sharp, spicy kick. Soft-shell crab tempura, in an ethereally light batter, is given a jolt with a tangy, fermented black-bean vinaigrette. Foie gras, dramatically displayed on a rectangular glass plate, is brilliantly paired with a small apple-and-celery-root tarte Tatin and crisscrossed with a port-wine sauce. Shrimp curry sounds like an odd choice for a first course, but the deep, warm spices and fermented chili actually seem to act as a stimulant to the appetite (or was it just that everything here is so good?).
Instead of grilling or marinating sardines, Mr. Eismann rolls filets in a thick coating of sesame seeds and delectably arrays them on a layer of thinly sliced cucumber and yuzu (an Asian citrus fruit). After eating four, I spent the rest of dinner surreptitiously extracting the seeds from my teeth. It reminded me of a Pinero play that opened with someone spilling a bag of unshelled peanuts on a drawing-room carpet; throughout the evening, the characters kept stepping on the nuts, getting a laugh from the audience every time.
“Thom” means “soup” in Thai. There are just two on the menu: a sweet corn soup made with coconut milk and lemongrass, and a clear dashi consommé with peekytoe crab dumplings and botrytis gelée. Botrytis sounds like something women get injected in their face to erase wrinkles, but in fact it’s a sweet wine that is mixed with gelatin to create a firm, translucent oval that melts when you add it to your soup, subtly perfuming the broth. I expect we’ll soon be seeing that on menus all over town.
Fennel pollen is another one of those mystery ingredients that has suddenly become the rage among chefs. At Thom, a snowy pillow of steamed halibut, afloat in a verjus lemongrass broth laced with sea vegetables, is given a dusting of fennel pollen, which permeates it with a gentle anise flavor. Mr. Eismann’s “tuna sushi bar” is actually a packed raft of rice topped with avocado and slices of rare seared tuna, with a tray of oyster sauce, mustard and shiso leaves on the side. Grilled wild striped bass is glazed with tamarind, like a barbecue sauce, and garnished with frisée and a tomato-cucumber salsa.
More traditional dishes include a rack of lamb–three baby chops with spearmint and shiitake chips–and a juicy hunk of pan-broiled filet of beef served on small squares of Cabernet-braised spare-rib meat that’s been taken off the bone.
There is not a dud among pastry chef Vandan Naik Meyer’s desserts. They include a Meyer-lemon-curd tart with crème fraîche on a delicate almond pastry shell, and a homespun warm berry crumble. A mousselike mocha dome is supported by a slice of pure chocolate and surrounded by a cluster of bittersweet-chocolate-dipped cocoa beans. There is also a refreshing lime sorbet with fennel and rhubarb compote, and a slender fig tart made with slivers of fruit on a long strip of puff pastry. After my first dinner at Thom, there were also petits fours, eight in all (two of each kind), including an orange jelly that melted in your mouth and lovely little macaroons. The next time there were only four, and we had to fight about who got which one. On the third night, no petits fours at all! What had we done wrong?
If you like dinner at Thom as much as I did (petits fours or not) and decide to stay the night, be ready to add $370 to your bill. Once upstairs, you can slip into your Frette robe and call room service for hot chocolate and madeleines–not a bad way to be tucked in.
60 Thompson Street (between Spring and Broome)
Noise level: Fine
Wine list: First-rate, with interesting international selections and fair prices
Credit cards: All major
Price range: Dinner, main courses, $18 to $28
Breakfast: (starting in September) 7 to 11 a.m.
Lunch: (starting in September) Noon to 3 p.m.
Dinner: 6 p.m. To midnight
* * Very Good
* * * Excellent
* * * * Outstanding
No Star: Poor