Nearly 45 years ago, Joseph Baum, revered for his work with elaborate themed restaurants, and Michael Whiteman, founding editor of Nation’s Restaurant News, created Baum + Whiteman International Restaurant Consultants, a company that’s been behind such prolific New York projects as the restoration of the Rainbow Room and the creation of Windows on the World. Now, the company is working on a project on 35th Street and Eighth Avenue, turning Cooper’s Tavern into Trattoria Bianca (481 Eighth Avenue), an informal trattoria meant to draw the neighborhood with simplicity and comfort on the plate.
Whiteman says the neighborhood appeals because it’s undergoing many changes. “Hudson Yards will change everything in Midtown South for the better,” he says. “A dozen small hotels are cropping up in odd places, bringing a huge number of visitors.” Not to mention renovations to Penn Station, which will make the hub more appealing.
So this restaurant, says Whiteman, is truly meant to be a neighborhood restaurant, drawing business types, Penn Station commuters, Madison Square Garden event-goers, and residents, but not necessarily destination diners from different areas of the city.
The space itself “will be a white, bright, informal Italian trattoria,” says Whiteman, done in Italian art deco style, albeit without slavishly adhering to those rules. The walls are white marble and stainless steel, hung with original posters from the 1920s depicting Italian travel and food. It’ll look sleek and clean during the day, and when the lights go down, says the proprietor, it will hum under a romantic yellow glow.
The food will be “classic Italian dishes and favorites that you would recognize immediately, but also a whole range of innovative dishes in harmony with the fact that Italian cooking continues to evolve, especially in New York,” says Whiteman.
Julian Clauss-Ehlers, who most recently provided over Cooper’s Tavern in the same space, will helm the kitchen; the UK native spent the formative years of his career cooking in two and three-star Michelin restaurants around France. One of those restaurants was in Nice, which is where the chef developed his interest in Mediterranean food. “There’s a simplicity that’s very appealing,” he says. “This is something that people are looking for, and we’ll be able to bring that to the table. There are not a gazillion ingredients for one plate. The food is simple and clean, and we’re using great products — that’s our big push.”
You’ll be able to begin your meal with oysters and clams shucked to order. Then look for cured meats and Italian cheeses; a salad of escarole, chicory, fried oysters, pork belly, and a poached egg; and seafood fritto misto; entrees include a Barolo-braised short rib with polenta, pork chop with ‘nduja sausage, and halibut with crispy pancetta. “We’re bringing the classic trattoria style to the table in a modern approachable fashion,” says the chef. “People are more and more health-conscious. So we’re doing a lot of vegetables on appetizers, entrees, and in the pasta section.” Look for a board of pizzas, too.
The group is also striving to keep the prices moderate, and that will be reflected in the beverage program with wines on tap, which supplement a more sizable list. You’ll also be able to order Italian spirits and liqueurs, which will line the bar.
Trattoria Bianca is slated to open sometime in September or October.