Louie & Chan Now (Partially) Open on the Lower East Side (INTERVIEW)
It's been four years since the team behind Louie & Chan (303 Broome Street) first took control of a space on Broome Street between Forsyth and Eldridge with plans to erect a restaurant and bar; the group used the time afforded by construction and permitting setbacks to hone its concept, an Asian lounge meets Italian restaurant with an elaborate back story inspired by the fabric of the Lower East Side.
But over the weekend, the team finally opened phase one of the project -- Louie's world, the Italian joint -- and if all goes to plan, Chan's basement lair should come online within weeks.
Ownership was unfazed by the setback: "The idea was, if we were going to do something, we were going to do it right," says David Wiesner, formerly of Grotto and one of the owners. "The owners are four people who come from these two different sides of the business: music and entertainment and the other the restaurant and culinary side. So we have pros running one show, and pros running the other show." His partners are Nicole Delacratz-Wiesner, photographer and DJ Eric Tucker, and DJ Nickodemus.
And the story behind the place, he says, is true, insofar as it captures what the neighborhood was to many immigrants. "Louie came from the boat, met Chan here, and said, 'Screw everything, I know how to make good pizza,'" he explains. "And the other guy says, 'I know how to run an opium den, and let's do it.'" That kind of cultural collaboration and entrepreneurship, he says, is what made lower Manhattan lower Manhattan -- this is where immigrants first settled and tried to make it in New York, and the area still reflects it's Jewish, Italian, Chinese, and Dominican roots.
Using that story as inspiration, the team built an Italian restaurant helmed by chef Pasquale Frola, a native of Naples who has cooked around the world, including in Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe. His cuisine, he says, is "fresh and locally based. I don't have big refrigerators -- so whatever is on the market and is fresh and available, I'm going to run as specials. I'm using fish only from the east coast. I'm very, very careful about what I serve to people. I only serve them what I would serve at my house." Frola has exacting standards that extend to his tomatoes and olive oil, his housemade pasta, and his cuts of meat. He's turning out a short menu that will be supplemented by those specials, he says, and he also brought on third generation Italian pizzaiolo Michele Bisogno to craft the pies in the wood-fired oven.
The price point in the small, antique-adorned restaurant, says Wiesner, should be somewhere close to $35 per person, though you can book out the private dining room for a more extravagant affair: Reserving the room comes with a multi-course prix fixe designed by the chef.
Downstairs is Chan's world, Wiesner explains, where a front bar will serve Asian-inspired cocktails (that you'll also be able to order upstairs if you know to ask). A back lounge will host live musical acts in an intimate space, and the owner promises some world-class talent. That space also has its own bar, which will turn out highballs and beers.
The lounge -- called the 303 -- also have their own entrance, and the decor has been given the same immaculate treatment as the upstairs space: Artifacts are tucked into nooks and crannies, plush booths create intimate seating arrangements, and even the wallpaper has been carefully selected to channel the turn of the century.
But while the realms feel separate, Wiesner emphasizes that the space should invite people to experience each world. To wit, the restaurant will stay open late -- 2 a.m. on weeknights and 3 a.m. on weekends -- so people can drop by for a bite after they have drinks below.
The restaurant is currently open for dinner, and Wiesner says lunch and brunch will come online sometime shortly after Thanksgiving. As for the basement bar, Wiesner is hesitant to give a date -- but he hopes they'll be up in running within the next few weeks.
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