Jared Van Camp and company had spent two days giving tours of the Nellcote and RM Champagne Salon spaces for four or five hours a day, and by the time we were their very last tourist, they were a bit punchy, ready to laugh about the fact that their $3.5 million rock and roll decadent-chic French villa concept looked more like Keith Moon and Sid Vicious had spent the weekend together in it. Still, get past the piles of construction trash and at last their concept, which we felt we never quite understood, came through— they want to restore old world elegance to fine dining, but in a glam rock way that doesn’t instantly make you feel like a kid at the grownup’s table, the way the traditional trappings of fine dining do.
“Everything is rustic now,” Van Camp says, and he doesn’t mean it as a compliment; to his mind and that of partner Chris Dexter and sommelier Jason Wagner, dining has gotten too comfy and unrefined to be chic. Nellcote is a blast across the bow of rusticism, an interior that recreates the world of 19th century elegance and propriety— so it can then recapture the fun of swanking about decadently in it without worrying about behaving like you’re on Downton Abbey. Since everyone in the food media got a tour this week, you’ll probably see more than a few slideshows before the next week is out, but we’ll focus on some of the quirky or behind the scenes details that especially struck us about the place, and why it will be both a destination for food and drink as well as a place to be seen on the scene when it opens, they hope, in early March.
Chris Dexter and Jared Van Camp led us into the alley begind the building, a distinctly urban but surprisingly quiet cobblestone square recently used as a farmer’s market (and still bearing signs of its Marché days). They will have a large outdoor seating area here, and with some of the adjacent restaurants from Brendan Sodikoff and Graham Elliot using parts of it as well, it has the feel of a neighborhood restaurant cluster on a side street in Paris.
Sommelier Jason Wagner took us into the RM Champagne Salon space, which gives little sign of its future elegance and intimacy just yet. But he sketched out the champagne decanting station (we asked if you lose the bubbles when decanting champagne; he said no, the older ones that are worth decanting have lost some anyway, but they won’t lose much more when decanted) and where pastry chef Nate Mead’s mignardises and petits-fours will be coming from.
One sign of what the decor will be like exists, anyway.
Eventually this will be our romantic fireplace, they laughed.
RM and Nellcote are connected only by the kitchen; there’s no way for customers to go from one to the other. The kitchen includes every toy a boy could want, like this wood-burning grill, an imported Italian woodburning pizza oven, and assorted burners and steamers. We were surprised that there was such a small pasta boiling station for a place where pasta is a central focus, but Jared explained that the fresh pastas they’re making will cook in a minute or less, so a small but fast-moving station will do the job.
The more complex specialty cocktails will be made here in the kitchen by cocktail chefs, not on the floor by bartenders, to ensure consistency and speed. One toy that isn’t here yet is the flour grinder, which is coming from a company in North Carolina. Who, Jared said, seemed confused by the idea that a restaurant wanted something they normally sell mainly to manufacturers. Jared, meanwhile, has been hard at work reading flour textbooks and the like, and he gets animated talking about what milling his own flour will allow him to do with pizzas and pastas.
The former Marché space is huge, but it’s been broken up ingeniously to offer a variety of atmospheres in different parts of the room— and not just seem like, in Jared’s words, “a feed hall.” We’re standing on the staircase of the end of the room, which we’re sure will be a popular spot for making an entrance. Unfortunately the chandeliers were covered up for the guy doing the floors by the time we got there, but publicist Heidi Hageman lent us the photo she’d taken the day before.
The room is traditional, so you don’t have to be.
One sign of Marché’s Jerry Kleiner color-explosion style has been left, like a Roman fresco.
Nellcote, opening in March.