North End Grill's Floyd Cardoz on Battery Park City, Challenges of the New Space, Part 1
The new friendly face in Battery Park City, Mr. Top Chef Master and North End Grill headmaster Floyd Cardoz has certainly risen to the top of his game since opening Tabla in 1998. Now, with a few cookbooks and a line of foods at Fresh Direct, the India-born chef talked to Fork in the Road about the neighborhood he's bringing back into the dining game with his new nuanced touch with spices.
Last we spoke, Tabla was closing. Now you're at North End Grill. Can you tell us about the new restaurant? North End Grill is what we like to call a new American bar and grill. We've taken the concept of a bar and grill and are trying to make it as fresh as we possibly can. Traditionally bar and grill's have chops and steaks, but we're focusing on seafood--whole fish and also lots of eggs.
What did you bring from Tabla to the new project in terms of food? Well, we're working with farmers as much as possible. Using farmers locally in the tri-state area and a little to the north. I'm also keeping the idea of changing the menu pretty often. When things come in and out of season, we change them. And where Tabla was very strongly influenced by India, I'm not going in that direction anymore. There is some spice in the food, but it's not obvious, and it's not in the forefront.
The other thing that I am doing over here is grilling most of my stuff. Ninety percent of my protein is grilled. So it's either charcoal grilled or wood grilled.
Experience-wise, what did you take from Tabla? I did bring my love for food and my love to make things the best as we possible can. I think opening my second restaurant was a lot easier. I was prepared for all that can go wrong with a new restaurant. I've been through it before. You know what's going to happen, and when it happens, you deal with it.
Also, when I opened Tabla, in the first three months, I lost half my kitchen crew. I have not had that happen again. I'd say 95 percent of my staff has stayed, and the people who have left, I either made the choice to let them go, or it was not a perfect fit for them.
What are some of the challenges of the new space? I'd say the biggest challenge was in the first month. It was trying to understand how the grills work. Obviously, I hadn't done that before. These are two grills I hadn't worked on, so we tried to figure out how to make it best work. That was the biggest challenge we had.
The second thing is not being as close as we can be to the greenmarket, the Union Square Greenmarket. It's a little challenging for me to get produce the way I want to. The other thing that I find is that people [in Battery Park] eat very differently in terms of timing than in Chelsea, or Meatpacking, or the midtown area.
You talk about people downtown eating differently, and you're in Battery Park City, which doesn't have a ton of restaurants. How does the location play into your menu choices, and is it a difficult place to be located? I don't think it's a difficult place to be located. The reason is that restaurants weren't here for the longest time, and I think it's about time that someone comes in and opens restaurants here because it's a great neighborhood. The people who live here love it, and they're good supporters, so I don't think we made a mistake coming down here.
I think it was a great decision. Mostly what Danny [Meyer] does is open restaurants [in newer neighborhoods] and wait for others to come. He did that with Union Square, he did that with Gramercy Park, with Madison Square Park, and in all of those places there weren't any restaurants when he opened. We have a fair amount of people working in the area. We have 60,000 residents that live in the area. So using both of them is great. We also have people come over from Tribeca. They cross over the highway, so it's a great thing. We have people come in for brunch. We have kids in the restaurant on Sundays, [and] they come during the week, too. It's used in various ways by different people. You just don't want it to be only neighborhood or only business or only kids or only older people. It's kind of a mix of everything, and as a restaurant, that's what you want.
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