Tailor, opened by star pastry chef Sam Mason, is behind an unmarked door in a 19th-century building on Broome Street that was originally the home of the American Nut & Screw company. You enter into a dark, clubby dining room hung with small crystal chandeliers and lined with booths and brown corduroy banquettes. The walls are open brick and the floor is made of wide planks. Tungsten lights suspended on thin iron poles create a warm glow over the candlelit tables, which are topped with torn pieces of black leather. In the back is a breakfront filled with objets trouvés; a stuffed black chicken perches on top—Julian Schnabel meets Damien Hirst.
The restaurant’s name is a reference to the ultra-hip Lord Willy’s, who designed the servers’ uniforms—ties, vests and long aprons—as well as the outfit of the maître d’ who showed us to our table: He wore a gray suit with tight trousers two inches too short, revealing white socks.
In the downstairs lounge, bartenders mix cocktails created by Eben Freeman, a veteran of Wylie Dufresne’s WD-50 and a man with a keen sense of humor. I think you have to be below the legal drinking age to appreciate fully the delights of the Bazooka, a bubble-gum-flavored vodka martini. If you’ve given up cigarettes recently, avoid the Waylon, made with bourbon, preserved lemon and smoked Coke (filtered through smoked wood chips, no less). Blood and Sand, a name presumably inspired by current events, combines scotch, sweet vermouth, orange head and red bach beer. It was sort of like a Scotch sour. But weird cocktails are not for me. When I asked for a vodka with lemon, it came with fresh lemonade, not too sweet, and I couldn’t have been happier.
The chairs in the upstairs dining room have short stubby legs, so the people sitting on them are a few inches lower than the people across on the banquettes. I was reminded of the scene in The Great Dictator where Charlie Chaplin, as Hitler, enrages Mussolini by seating him on a tiny, low chair. My husband asked for a booster seat.
As we looked at the menu, a rail-thin young man emerged briefly from the kitchen. He wore a carefully trimmed goatee and his right arm was entirely covered with tattoos. He was not a rock musician. He’s the chef.
Mason was the pastry wizard at WD-50 until he left last year to open his own place. But Tailor is not a dessert restaurant. The short menu is divided into two sections of just six dishes, “Sweet” and “Salty,” with the sweet ones listed at the top.
The first time I came here for dinner, there were six of us and our waiter suggested we order all the dishes on the menu to share. It sounded like a good idea, and the plates he set down were huge. But in the center of each one sat a tiny, jewel-like portion of food. How do you divide a serrano ham chip among six? It garnished a mound of peeky toe crab hidden under a puff of pineapple foam. Did I taste lime pickle in the spätzle that came with arctic char poached in a passion fruit? Too late, the spätzle were gone.
We shared two portions of the pork belly, served with white miso butterscotch and artichokes, which was wonderful, with hints of whisky and apple cider in the sauce. A fight nearly broke out over the foie gras with peanut butter. This marvelous dish was topped with a layer of cocoa and garnished with Asian pickled pear.
“Maybe now they’ll bring round the beef trolley and the mashed potatoes,” said a friend after we’d had six bites of dessert. But the tastes were so tantalizing I came back another night to try everything again.
Mason combines unlikely ingredients in ways that work both intellectually and on the palate. His cheesecake is made with manchego, squirted out like toothpaste from a tube, complemented by concord grape sorbet, sage oil and graham cracker crumbs. He combines the saltiness of black olives with sweet blueberries, rounding off the plate with preserved lemon granola, yogurt sorbet and bitter orange cream. Rum-braised bananas are paired with a subtle mustard ice cream.
The chef also offers another novelty: an eight-course cocoa tasting menu. Chocolate gnocchi with brussels sprouts, anyone? The gnocchi reminded me of tootsie rolls. The leaves of the lightly steamed sprouts actually improved the dish, which came with lime purée, chocolate croquant and cocoa oil. “As gnocchi, they’re very good, nice texture, not starchy,” said my husband. “It’s just that they’re chocolate.”
Duck with eel in chocolate consomme sounded like something thought up by the futurist poet Marinetti. It was one of my favorites, up there with the pork belly and the foie gras. The delicate consomme is made with chocolate water and cocoa powder clarified with egg, like a chicken stock. Nobu-style chocolate miso cod was also lovely, the chocolate and miso cutting the fattiness of the fish, which was served with al dente, slivered snow peas and cauliflower purée.
But by the time we got to the end of the tasting, which comes to a grand finale with a plate of soft chocolate, sesame ice cream and mole sauce, I must confess I was a little tired of chocolate.
Tailor fills up after 9 o’clock and gets pretty noisy. It appeals to a young, hip crowd, and the prices, while not exactly a bargain, are lower than at WD-50. The bar and lounge show all the elements of becoming a scene. The staff is friendly, the décor is cool and the music eclectic (“A Whiter Shade of Pale,” “Play It Again, Sam!”). I’ll definitely go back. But next time, I’m not sharing my food.