Every summer, as a kid, New York native Max Levai would travel with his family to his father’s hometown of Biarritz, a small seaside city in the southwest of France. And on every annual visit, they would frequent the Michelin-starred Villa Stings in the neighboring town of Saubusse. The fare must have made an impact on Levai, because when he and his partners, Teddy Perweiler and Oliver Stumm, locked down a space for their new lounge and restaurant, he hopped on a plane to talk the eatery’s chef, Francis Gabarrus, into helping him develop the menu for Happy Ending (302 Broome Street; 646-998-3187).
For Levai, Stumm, and Perweiler, the timing couldn’t have been better. While the team was crossing the Atlantic, Gabarrus’s restaurant was ravaged by floods in the region. All of a sudden, the lifelong chef was no longer helming a kitchen; he was in need of a new project. “There’s definitely a bit of irony,” says Perweiler. “It was like it was almost fate. We’re very lucky to have him here.”
Moving from his own country restaurant (only 500 people live in the town in which it’s located) to a small New York City kitchen has been a slight adjustment for Gabarrus. He’s worked in Michelin-rated restaurants his entire career, starting with the French Laundry, then working for Joel Robuchon and Alain Ducasse in Paris, before opening his own place.
At Happy Ending, Gabarrus has compiled a menu of mostly classic French fare. “It’s of the region, but Francis also spent time in Asia and Mexico,” says Perweiler. “You’ll see some spices you won’t see in traditional cuisine.”
The lineup includes a small selection of appetizers, entrees, sides, and desserts. To start, expect to see items like cappuccino of mushroom soup with smoked duck breast ($11) and foie gras accompanied by fig and dried plum chutney. Mains include a range of seafood and meat, such as salmon à la vapeur green curry sauce with yams ($27) and grilled mustard chicken topped with black pepper and herb sauce ($26). Desserts range from chocolate, vanilla, or coffee pot de crème ($8 for one or three for $16) with a madeleine to house-made ice cream or sorbet ($6).
The beverage program is strongly rooted in the classics. Running about $16 apiece, think everything from a Mai Tai (Pyrat rum, fresh lime, Brazil Nut Orgeat, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao) and a Hemingway Daiquiri (10 Cane Rum, Maraschino Liqueur, fresh lime, grapefruit) to a Ramos Gin Fizz (Chartreuse, egg white, gin, orange blossom water, and cream with a splash of OJ and soda water) and a Boulevardier (bourbon, Campari, and sweet vermouth with an orange twist). The wine selection includes a mix of old- and new-world varietals. “When I was creating the menu, I wanted to veer away from things you’ll find all over the place,” says Perweiler. “There’s no infused spirits; no flamed orange; no rosemary garnish. It’s like when you go to the Four Seasons, it’s the best martini you’ve ever had and they’re famous for it. I wanted simple and good.”
Being divergent was the main goal for Perweiler and his partners. “In the last five or six years, everything has been kind of redundant,” he says. “We’re trying to create a new trend, what we want in New York, what’s missing in New York.”
In terms of atmosphere, the team wanted to create an air of exclusivity. There’s no dress code or membership, but they work off reservations (Perweiler says they’re booked through the holidays). The small space includes a downstairs bar, decorated with an old Italian vibe: black and white checkered floors, low ceilings, blue and orange banquets. The restaurant is positioned upstairs. According to Perweiler, they wanted to create a vibe of “the Carlisle gone crazy.” The floor is covered in bright green carpet; one wall is lined with blue and white striped seating, another flanked by a palm-colored couch; a glossy light and dark wood bar was inspired by The Shining.
While the restaurant just opened its doors on Friday, November 21, Perweiler says they hope this eatery is just the first of many. The group is currently focusing on Happy Ending, but they have loosely discussed opening additional concepts in the future. “The endgame is to build an empire,” Perweiler adds. “Happy Ending is a good start, but it’s a very small operation.”
Happy Ending is open Tuesday through Sunday from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. The kitchen is open until 1 a.m.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.