Jesse Schenker Set to Open The Gander
All photos by Bill Milne / courtesy the Gander
Chef Jesse Schenker opened Recette in 2010, and since then, he says, the restaurant has "organically turned into a laboratory, tasting menu, and gastronomical experience. It appears as a little French bistro, but the food is elevated. The music is loud, and tables are tight. It's worked for us." Recette has met critical acclaim and netted destination diners, who come in droves, but it's not a neighborhood joint, and it's not the kind of place most people can afford to eat several nights a week.
Schenker wanted a spot like that, and so this week, he'll open The Gander (15 West 18th Street, 212-229-9500), a restaurant where he'll "put the pretension aside, cook for a bigger audience, and just make really good food."
This new place, Schenker insists, is Recette's opposite. "Recette is tiny -- it doesn't have a big bar or a private dining room," he says. "I wanted to do all that. I wanted people to come and utilize the restaurant on a daily basis. I wanted to do a restaurant in a neighborhood where people could be there all hours of the day: They could come in for lunch for burger and ice tea, stop at the bar after work for charcuterie and wine, or sit down for dinner and have steak and Cabernet."
He picked up a lease in the Flatiron neighborhood, he says, because he wanted to be among the pedigreed restaurants there, adding his own mark to an area that supports places like Gramercy Tavern and ABC Kitchen. He also wanted a different experience than what he had in Recette's neighborhood: "I opened Recette on West 12th and Greenwich in the middle of nowhere," he says. "No one knew who I was. It was a total crapshoot. Knock on wood, it worked out, but I'm not Jonathan Waxman, and I'm not the Spotted Pig. I wanted to create what they have, but Recette is not that restaurant. The Gander is that restaurant."
Still, don't expect a generic American bistro menu at this new venture. Schenker trained in some high stakes kitchen, so you won't see him dispense with the culinary technique here -- he'll just be applying it to dishes like wedge salads, spaghetti and clams, and rotisserie chicken. "I'm working with this metaphor: If Daniel Boulud came in with my grandmother, Boulud would say the chicken is cooked perfectly, and my grandmother would say, that's a damn good chicken," he explains.
Recette pastry chef Christina Lee is doing the desserts here, too, and she'll offer refined take on classics like creme brulee and a banana custard with saffron.
Behind the bar, Schenker and his team have installed almost 100 whiskeys, 50 mezcals and tequilas, and four taplines that'll pour American craft beer. "We're not trying to be all crazy and hipster with cocktails," he insists. "Our drinks don't have 77 ingredients." You'll also find a deep international wine list and lucrative happy hour deals, like $10 cocktails, meant to get the neighborhood in and hanging out.
As at Gramercy Tavern, the space at the Gander is separated into a bar room and a dining room, but Schenker says both are casual. The team also had enough room to install a private dining room, which will allow the chef to accommodate groups he's always had to turn away at Recette. "Recette Private Dining is how I started," he says. "I've done as many parties as possible, but now I'll be able to capitalize on that."
Once open, Schenker hopes to lure in nearby businesses and residents alike. "We're trying to be the best we can and be very accommodating," he says. "Come in and hang out."
The Gander opens for dinner on Thursday, and it'll start serving lunch on April 21.
See more photos on the next page.
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