John Doherty, who was a leading member of the culinary team at the Waldorf-Astoria for three decades (and executive chef for 23 years), recently opened Black Barn (19 East 26th Street; 212-265-5959). The restaurant, overlooking Madison Square Park, occupies the space that was once Tony May’s SD26, which served modern Italian food (in what some thought a cavernous, over-slick environment).
Doherty bought the business from May in early 2015; he kept the restaurant open while he worked with his group to put the finishing touches on a brand-new concept and interior design plan. Then, in July, SD26 officially closed for good, while the old space, which in its previous incarnation looked like a sleek Roche-Bobois showroom, was gutted and transformed. Now the place channels the aura of a super-chic, modern-industrial barn, one you might spy in a Restoration Hardware catalog.
The complete overhaul of the interior brought NYC design consultant Mark Zeff’s aesthetic to life, melding the rough-hewn spirit of an old farmhouse with that of a modern city loft. The redo retained the footprint of the former restaurant — the open kitchen, front bar, and lounge area, as well as a series of private dining rooms, but that’s about it. Zeff is part of another collaborative project, also named Black Barn, that designs and develops “bespoke” homes in the Hamptons, with the same kind of elegant-but-rustic style.
As a result, the dining area at Black Barn features an assemblage of trussed barn rafters suspended from the ceiling, and incorporates other features like reclaimed windows, antique farm tools, and vintage-style metal barn light fixtures. The tables will be set with a mix of iron silverware rests, candle holders made from repurposed metals, and Italian linens (Doherty tells us the latter are on order at the moment); the dining chairs are crafted from Spanish leather and were hand-stitched in Brooklyn. “It’s warm and relaxing,” Doherty tells the Voice. “It’s the kind of environment I want to be in, to eat really good food and drink really good wine.”
The food, which Doherty describes as “American cooking, made with local ingredients in their best, simplest form,” is executed by chef Matteo Bergamini, who came along from SD26, and mirrors the rustic, farm-to-table theme of the decor, highlighting ingredients from local farmers, ranchers, and fishermen.
Items to share and/or start off a meal include a charcuterie board arrayed with a variety of cured meat — pancetta, prosciutto, spicy coppa and fennel salame — produced from heritage Mangalitsa pork sourced from Mosefund Farm in New Jersey; house-made pickles and toasted sourdough (also made in house); and an Irwin Farm “foraged” mushroom toast topped with a mix of shiitake, hen-of-the-woods, and oyster mushrooms and melted robiola and taleggio cheeses. Appetizer offerings include a gruyère cheese soufflé and a bone marrow plate that blends the marrow with manila clams, herbed lemon breadcrumbs, and a drizzle of shallot reduction.
Main course options involve a slow-cooked Vermont baby goat served with rosemary potatoes and braised artichokes, porchetta with salsa verde and broccoli rabe, and an Amish chicken with panzanella; from the wood grill come dry-aged NY strip and Angus ribeye steaks, as well as a whole Mangalitsa collar, served with sides of potato, kale and grilled apple.
Fresh seafood dishes feature a crisp-skin striped bass with Tuscan beans and tomato, swordfish with Sicilian caponata, and a grilled branzino for two. The “garden” section of the menu is reserved for vegetable-based main dishes like a curried cauliflower steak, tossed with roasted beets, raw tomatoes, pickled golden raisins and raita; an heirloom beet risotto; and carrots escabeche with quinoa, purslane, and burrata.
The front bar and lounge area serves a menu of assorted small and large plates, plus charcuterie and cheese boards, and there’s also a separate Champagne and oyster bar with about a dozen seats.
Wine service is under the direction of Eleanora Tirapelle, culling from “a vast selection of familiar and rare bottles,” and Spirit House Consultants is guiding the cocktail program, which will lean toward local craft spirits, apple brandies, and American whiskeys.