The neighborhood around Penn Station, long a culinary black hole, is showing signs of life, not least because of the redevelopment of Hudson Yards, which will bring skyscrapers, housing, and, yes, restaurants to the area. We told you recently about the forthcoming Trattoria Bianca, and now we have details on Bar Below Kitchen & Cocktail Vault (481 Eighth Avenue), a kitchen and cocktail vault that’s slated to open soon.
The food here comes from Scott Campbell, who, by his own account, has “been around the block at least once,”working at Vince and Eddie’s, Avenue, and @SQC, and he’s eager to open in the area. “The neighborhood’s under tremendous development,” he says. “Hudson Yards is fantastic, you have the renovation of Penn Station, and the Highline. We’re trying to get in on the ground floor — in a couple of years, there’s going to be a lot of activity here. It’s like the Meatpacking. Twenty years ago, you’d be crazy to go down there. Now it’s on fire.”
At Bar Below, he’s working in a post-Jazz Age space, centered by a chandelier that comes from the New Yorker Hotel and accessed by a stairway leading down into the basement. Here, he’s implanting a menu of comforting, gratifying fare.
“We’re making everything from scratch,” he says, but he’s not playing up chef-driven techniques. “You’re sourcing great products, and once it gets into the kitchen, you’re using in the best ways, and that’s exciting, chef-driven-wise. So there are some things on the menu that are chef-driven, but if you’re eating out seven nights a week, you might just want grilled fish and steak. We’re not patronizing, and we’re not meeting everyone’s demands, but anyone should be comfortable here. We want to keep the prices lower. Anyone can come in, whether they’re in a tee shirt or a $2,000 suit.”
While he’s still drafting the menu, you should expect dishes like a horizontal napoleon of salmon, supplemented by soy sauce, avocado, and baby artichoke, and Nantucket sea scallops, which he plans to sear and serve wtih truffle butter fondue sauce bobbing with beech mushrooms. He’ll bring in a smoker, and he plans to serve a house-smoked cowboy steak with thrice-cooked English style fries with ketchup and a bit of cocoa. He’ll do a duck steak with cheddar cheese grits and a Bosc pear tarte tatin. Look for yellowfin tuna, mushroom ravioli, and a warm chocolate cake with Knob Creek-infused bourbon vanilla creme anglais.
Tentative plans are to have Bar Below open for dinner in the next month, but Campbell says much depends on the building. Regardless, look for it to come online this fall.