“We’ve a large group coming in tonight, so do you mind sharing a bed with another couple?”
Of course not.
The host led us into a vast space filled with king-size beds framed with silky white curtains and strewn with beige and gold pillows. It looked like a furniture showroom-albeit one with a disco beat-and silver walls that reflect the ever-changing colors of the lights and giant flat-screen TVs showing scenes of beaches. Our bedmates, a young man and woman dressed in jeans, greeted us with friendly, pie-eyed smiles.
The host briskly pulled open a couple of drawers underneath the bed. “For your shoes,” he said. “And these are your slippers.” He held out two pairs of white toweling flip-flops, wrapped in plastic and inscribed with the name of the restaurant.
Duvet, in the former premises of the nightclub Centro-Fly in Chelsea, is the creation of restaurateur Sabina Belkin, who has hired the former chef de cuisine at Union Pacific, David Coleman, to head the kitchen.
Once you’re settled on the pillows, you’re presented with a selection of menus variously named the “amuse” menu, the sushi menu, the regular menu, the cocktail menu and the wine list. They all look similar spread out and mixed up on the mattress. In the middle of the bed, a frosted-glass container-two feet across and shaped like a doughnut-acts as a sort of table, holding bottles of wine, votive candles and glasses.
Most of the beds were filled with recumbent young women clad in jeans and tiny tops, many of them taking flash photographs of each other. There weren’t many men. “This place looks like a sorority party on its Decadence Night,” muttered my companion. “Girls gone wild! Even Casanova couldn’t have aspired to a moment like this: innocence attempting decadence,” he added.
The staff, dressed entirely in black, prowl furtively between the beds. “They look as though they should be carrying small automatic weapons instead of trays of food,” said my friend as we watched them whip the sheets off recently vacated beds, as if they were C.I.A. agents looking for missile plans. They were, in fact, hunting for lost knives and forks under the pillows.
Our bedmates turned out to be visitors from England, one of whom was a journalist (see next months’ Tatler for: “The latest trend in New York is dining in bed … “). The couple shared a small chocolate cake, finished off their wine and, after locating their shoes, made an unsteady exit. When they’d gone, a waiter discreetly moved the frosted doughnut to another position to cover their food stains and smoothed out the sheet to get ready for the next customers: two young women in (what else?) jeans and little tops.
The food at Duvet is served on trays and cut up in pieces for you. As you might expect from an alumnus of Union Pacific, it’s interesting and esoteric, combining familiar ingredients with the unexpected. A delicate carpaccio of fluke is layered on the plate on a creamy paste made of ground cashews, with raw and pickled daikon adding a crunch. Thin slices of tender duck prosciutto arrive hidden under a layer of salad made with slivered taro root, snow peas, celery root and lotus-a lovely contrast of textures. The “crispy” eel salad, however, wasn’t very crispy; it was smoked and coated with pounded rice flakes and perked up with peppery leaves of watercress, pickled watermelon and a black sesame sauce. A tuna tartar came on a bed of pickled cucumber, radish and tangerine, paired with sashimi, served like a sandwich with tangerine jelly.
With the first courses, a choice of breads is served with an Indian yellow-lentil purée that’s laced with a red chili pepper giving off the heat of its mere presence.
Behind our bed, and up a few steps, tables and banquettes were lined up against the wall. A beautiful young woman in a silver bolero and jeans sat down at one of them. “She’s got looks and brains,” said my companion. “Brains not to sit in these beds!”
But after a while, even he-who admits to hating breakfast in bed-agreed that the beds are comfortable and relaxing. “Much more comfortable than sitting in a wooden chair.” (And a great deal more conducive to pillow talk.)
One of the best dishes on the menu is the hake, slow-cooked in goose fat and served with lily bulbs and carrots in a creamy white curry sauce made with coconut, lime leaf, and tapioca. It’s a wonderful combination, and I liked it better than the mushy skate in a hazelnut beurre noisette. Pan-roasted aged rib-eye, thoughtfully sliced beforehand, was excellent-nicely charred, remarkably tender and served with charred mustard greens, potatoes roasted in goose fat and XO sauce. The lamb is good too, cooked three ways: the rack roasted in a rye-bread-crumb crust, the leg stuffed with garam masala and cranberries and wrapped in potato skin, and the pickled tongue mixed into a fennel salad with cranberries, turnips and rye-bread croutons.
For dessert, the crème brûlée is first-rate, with blood-orange sorbet and spicy biscotti. And the warm chocolate tart, while hardly a novelty, is just the thing to eat lying back on the pillows, accompanied by a demitasse of wonderful espresso granita with a little cream on top.
To dismiss Duvet as just another trendy gimmick restaurant would be too easy. True, it’s silly, but it’s also fun and oddly gemütlich, and Mr. Coleman’s food deserves attention. On the way out, we paused by the bar, which is made of frosted glass that looks like melting ice. It has a huge aquarium filled with mesmerizing jellyfish that float like translucent pieces of paper and blow up like small balloons. A member of the staff told me they were called “moon jellyfish.”
“Where are they from?” I asked.
“I know,” she said after a short pause, “it’s Las Vegas!”
One thing the restaurant doesn’t supply is a duvet. Wear matching socks.
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