It’s been more than ten years since the original Butter opened in the East Village, propelling chef Alex Guarnaschelli to the heights of cooking stardom: She became a Food Network darling, competing in various competitions before hosting shows of her own. The restaurant shuttered earlier this year for renovations; in the interim, she and her partners Richie Akiva and Scott Sartiano have been working on a new location of the eatery up in Rockefeller Center (70 West 45th Street, 212-253-2828) — and that spot just opened this week.
Call it a homecoming: “I actually grew up in Midtown,” says the chef. “It’s funny to be in Midtown and say I opened a restaurant where I grew up, but that seems to be what happened.”
Guarnaschelli opted to open a second post of her concept rather than a new concept entirely, she says, because she wanted to continue to cook what she loves and knows how to cook. “We’re looking to build one brand with one idea,” she explains. “I didn’t want to find myself standing behind a counter making sushi. It’s better to speak to what you know and try to do it well instead of branching out into multiple concepts.”
So she’s adapted her spot to the neighborhood, and her main objective during the build-out, she explains, was to give this new eatery touches so that it would “feel personable and communal.” She cites a communal table near the bar, which sits across from a wood-burning oven in a dining room paneled with wood.
The menu channels the philosophy of the downtown spot: “We’re buying a lot of stuff from the market, but the last thing you want to hear is, ‘guess what, it’s farm-to-table,’ so we’re not going to talk about that,” she says. “We’re trying to be a very New York space.”
Look for a similar board that pits new dishes against old favorites. “I think you always want to have room for the taste memory dishes that people come back for,” she explains. Dishes include Welsh rarebit, a filet with delicata squash salsa verde, a whole-roasted branzino with rainbow chard, and roasted chicken. She’s added some simple crudos and charcuteries, too. “I try really hard to allow ingredients to speak for themselves,” she says. “But that’s my life-long goal. I don’t consider it thoroughly achieved.”
Much of Guarnaschelli’s downtown staff moved uptown with her, and that loyalty, she says, makes some of the more thankless parts of the job worth it. “It’s kind of neat for us to feel like we’re graduating from freshman to sophomore year together,” she adds.
And while she has no prediction as to when the downtown spot might reopen — “The place is being worked on, but I would have very little hope of being accurate,” she explains — she will confirm that this second location is only the beginning of her expansion plans: “When you decide to make the commitment to one concept, the plan is to build it singularly,” she says.
But for now, she’ll relish focusing on one restaurant.
Butter is open from 5:30 to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5:30 p.m. until midnight Friday and Saturday. Lunch will come on line soon.
Hit the next page for a few photos.