At Fowler & Wells, Tom Colicchio Wants to Celebrate Old New York

By
Image
Rabbit schnitzel with pistachios, chanterelles, roasted lemon, and garlic confit. Photo: Melissa Hom

The Financial District’s Beekman hotel is New York’s newest dining hot spot: Tom Colicchio’s American-leaning restaurant, Fowler & Wells, is now open, and next week Keith McNally will introduce Augustine. The major draw for these restaurateurs is the stunning, historic space — an 1883 landmarked office building that has many of its original architectural details. “Typically, I come up with an idea for the food first, and then that really informs the design process,” Colicchio says. “This was the complete reverse.”

In turn, Colicchio and executive chef Bryan Hunt’s menu feels retro without being kitschy: oysters Rockefeller, a warm lobster salad, rabbit schnitzel. “We’re definitely giving ourselves a little leeway in terms of interpreting these dishes,” Colicchio says. “They’re not spot-on. It’s just the idea of using dishes like duck à l’orange and beef Wellington as starting points.” The structure of the à la carte menu (he’ll also launch a tasting menu) is more traditional, too: vegetable, sauce, meat; appetizer, entrée, dessert. “I tell my chefs, ‘I don’t want to see microgreens. I don’t want to see swooshes of purée!’ But, you know, we’re not doing tomato roses either.”

Image
Panna cotta with pears, hazelnuts, honey, and Lillet. Photo: Melissa Hom

Many of the dishes tend to lean French, but unlike with Colicchio & Sons — which closed in September after six years in business — he wants to narrow this restaurant’s focus. “It gets difficult, but this is still an American restaurant,” he says. “I’m an American chef, and so I’m cooking with that sensibility, and trying to be careful not to do what I did at Colicchio & Sons, which had more of a global influence. That was a lot of ideas and flavors that I’ve seen through traveling, and this is just more rooted in tradition. I don’t want anybody to have the idea that we’re doing French food.”

This is something Colicchio and his chef friends ponder — what defines a cuisine? “I was with Massimo Bottura, Eric Ripert, and Marcus Samuelsson a few weeks ago, and we got into this whole conversation about why Massimo’s food is considered to be Italian. He may say he has an Italian sensibility because he’s Italian, but for me, with contemporary food, it doesn’t matter if you’re in Copenhagen or in Tokyo or in Paris or New York. There’s so much global influence happening now that it’s hard to actually pin down.”

What defines Colicchio’s cooking here is his personal relationship to the city where he has built his career: “I wanted to capture a sense of place and a sense of place in New York City, and the kind of food that I grew up eating when I was a young 20-year-old chef starting to work,” he says. “But it’s not a Disney version of old New York. It really feels authentic.”

Image
Martin Brudnizki Design Studio designed the 88-seat space. Photo: Melissa Hom
Image
Colicchio also oversees a separate 76-seat hotel bar. Photo: Melissa Hom

Menu [PDF]

Fowler & Wells, 5 Beekman St., 212-658-1848