Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Restaurant Scene-Ery

In terms of settings to eat and drink, the landscape has gotten much more exciting in the past week. Dante Bocuzzi and Steve Schimoler, the bold, visionary impresarios of these two new restaurant productions, each deserve a round of applause. I'm not talking about the food. What has me so jazzed at the moment are the places, not the plates. Both are something special and they couldn’t be more different.

I got my first view of Ginko, Bocuzzi’s Tokyo-style sushi lounge in Tremont, at a kickoff event last Wednesday night. I was last in here over a year ago, when construction upstairs was still in progress. This was a dark, dirty basement with a toilet in the corner. It’s hard to believe the transformation. The look is not like anything else in the town and hard to describe. My best shot: bento box, the tidy little Japanese compartmentalized container, meets Dr. Seuss … in the 22nd century. The small underground spot, tucked under Dante Restaurant, suggests a futuristic fantasy funland. One wall features irregularly shaped and back-lit glass panels in bright reds, blues and creams. It was designed by Giancarlo Calicchia, a multi-talented sculptor and painter and Bocuzzi’s business partner, and fabricated by Streets of Manhattan, a local studio. Another is covered in textured red paper that looks lacquered with black trim. Other areas are done in glossy white and black subway tile for a sort of uber-modern yin and yang effect. A couple of flat screens showed a steady stream of anime.

The room is dominated by a curving concrete sushi bar where water flows under glass. Suspended above it is a silvery drop ceiling in what I call a “fish breath” motif. It’s dotted with bubbles like the surface of a lake when the residents are biting. More counters and stools rim the perimeter. There are two spacious booths. A panel in the table can be removed and a hibachi set in the opening for on-the-spot cooking. That should make for a good time.

Over in Ohio City, at the corner of Lorain Avenue and West 25th Street, Crop, the next generation of Schimoler’s popular Warehouse district bistro and bar which closed in the spring, begins serving tomorrow night. I was there on Monday for a “housewarming” party. Housed in a former bank, built back when they were housed in palatial digs, it is without a doubt the grandest, most imposing and striking dining room in the city. My reaction on walking in midway through the remodeling was a deep inhale and an “oh my god” exhale.

The scale is over-the-top awesome. A high and ornate coffered ceiling, huge arched windows, fat columns and 1925 mural dominate. The restoration work has been meticulous, and the redesign inspired. There’s a bar at one end and space for a coffee shop and artisinal foods mini-market and wine store at the other where you can buy some of the products you taste. In between is an open kitchen with chef’s table seating at a counter. Theater lighting adds drama. Downstairs, the former vault, with its “don’t-even-think-about-breaking-in steel doors (one weighing 70,000 pounds, the other 90,000) and bronze gates, will be used for private (and surely memorable) gatherings.

And after long waits and more work than most of us can imagine, Ginko and Crop are ready for guests. So go and see what I’m talking about for yourself. Both are pretty much guaranteed to knock you out before the first bite.

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