Cozy Chelsea Hangout Boasts Intrepid, Jet-Set Bill of Fare

A relaxed local restaurant, the sort of place you can drop into without a reservation, where you could eat several times a week: This is what Austrian chef Daniel Angerer and his fiancée Lori Mason had in mind when they opened Klee Brasserie in Chelsea a few months ago. Indeed, with its storefront windows, long bar, low lighting and bare brick walls, Klee (German for “clover,” pronounced clay) looks at first glance like a typical Chelsea hangout. But it’s a great deal more than that.

Mr. Angerer worked as head chef at the Tribeca seafood restaurants Fresh, Shore and Coast, and before that in the kitchens of Bouley Bakery, Jean-Georges, and Joël Robuchon in Paris. At Klee, his menu roams the Western world intrepidly, from dishes such as wiener schnitzel and paella to spaghetti puttanesca and profiteroles with cookies-and-cream ice cream. There are also over 20 wines by the glass and an international wine list with interesting Austrian choices.

As I waited at the bar for a table one evening, watching more and more people come pouring through the door, a tantalizing aroma wafted through the air: porcini. A waiter set down a large bowl of brown soup in front of the woman beside me. It smelled so good that I told her if I’d had a spoon, I’d have dug in. Further down, people were seated on both sides of the bar, which doubles as a communal table and is hung with light fixtures that look like inverted bottles. It was all very cheerful.

Ms. Mason acts as hostess. Apologizing profusely for the short wait, she led us to a booth in the back of the restaurant, which is paneled in white maple and reminds me of a ski lodge. It has large wooden booths with comfortable seats and tables big enough for six or even eight. The tables are a foot too wide to hear across, so we squeezed around the end. The semi-open kitchen is behind a wall that’s more Klimt than Klee, covered with shiny gold and green mosaic tile in a leaf motif.

We began with flammkuchen, the Alsatian thin-crust pizza (also known as tarte flambée. Mr. Angerer’s version has a flaky crust as light as puff pastry and comes topped with slivered Vidalia onions, crisp lardons of speck (a lightly smoked raw ham) and crème fraîche. I had one recently at the Bar Room at the Modern, where it’s made with fromage blanc and bacon. It’s very good, but I liked Klee’s even more.

Mr. Angerer does a clever riff on vitello tonnato, using a well-marbled black-hog pork instead of veal. The meat arrives cut in thin, tender pink slices, squiggled with a creamy albacore tuna sauce and garnished with large Sicilian capers. The porcini mushroom soup that smelled so appetizing as I waited at the bar turned out to be on the thin side (but then it had no cream). Two seafood first courses are outstanding. A glistening Arctic char tartare is layered in a wide, heavy-stemmed martini-shaped glass with lime and golden beet caviar and topped with an herb salad. The shrimp cocktail bears no resemblance to its often boring steakhouse cousin; the shrimp is halved and tossed with a champagne mustard sauce, served on a purée of avocado, and topped with baby greens and herbs.

There’s a rotating list of daily specials and pastas. Goatfish, which has a firm white flesh reminiscent of red mullet, is served on linguine with Niçoise olives in a cherry-tomato sauce. Penne is tossed in a thick, spicy tomato sauce with crumbled fennel sausage. A fine beef-and-pork sausage, made especially for the restaurant, is cut in wedges and lined up over smoked sauerkraut on a long white plate.

Mr. Angerer’s cooking methods travel far and wide, too. The main dishes are divided under the headings “wood stone oven,” “mesquite” or “griddle.” From the griddle, seared sea scallops came with seared cauliflower and a well-intentioned but characterless lobster-barley risotto. From the mesquite grill, the thick swordfish steak topped with a sheet of crispy speck is wonderful, served rare on a bed of creamed Swiss chard. The Wagyu hanger steak is also excellent, sliced and served with small potatoes seasoned with paprika and Appenzeller cheese. From the wood stone oven comes a generous black-hog-loin pork chop, lightly charred and served with roasted red cabbage, apples glazed with Calvados and mustard relish. The slow-roasted duck with plums and clover honey, moist with a crisp skin, is served with quinoa.

Desserts include a pleasant apple strudel with walnuts and “topfen” rum ice cream, made from a curd cheese called quark, and a rich Sacher torte made with thin layers of sponge cake, chocolate and apricot preserve. The unctuous bread pudding comes in a glass with nutmeg custard sauce.

As I finished dessert one evening, my attention was drawn to a mirror across the way. The reflection was all black except for a man’s head at the bottom. It was lit up by a candle, so it looked as if it were floating—a Paul Klee ghost.

Klee Brasserie is a warm and welcome addition to Chelsea. But as far as dropping in is concerned, you may get a seat at the bar, but I’d play it safe and reserve.

No Vacancy

A cautionary tale for those planning to dine at the much-hyped new incarnation of the Waverly Inn in the West Village: As you probably know, the restaurant currently has only a private number. So I stopped by one afternoon and made a reservation in person. When I showed up for dinner, the name I’d given was no longer in their computer (and I’d seen it go in). Of course, mistakes happen. But we were told to wait at the bar, which we did for 45 minutes, in an increasingly restive scrum of disgruntled customers. “I’ve been waiting here over an hour with a confirmed reservation!” complained one man. We cut our losses and walked out, leaving the manager in a confrontation with an irate woman in a black fur coat.

Luckily, Café Cluny is just around the corner. The staff is exceptionally pleasant, and the kitchen turns out a fine roast chicken. They rescued the evening.

Cozy Chelsea Hangout Boasts  Intrepid, Jet-Set Bill of Fare