Earlier this afternoon, Grayon Carter and Ken Friedman were in the hot seat to discuss the newly revamped iteration of The Monkey Bar, their clubby Midtown restaurant with a brand spanking new staff and menu. Now we turn to chef Damon Wise, recently of the Tom Colicchio Empire, who spoke to Eater right before his new menu at the restaurant—a radical departure from the chopped salads and meatloaf menu of years past—fully launched. Read his thoughts on the project below and scroll down for a look at the menu.
How did you get involved in the project? Damon Wise: I left Craft in May. I had been talking to Ken, who I've known for a long time, and he mentioned it to me and asked if I was interested in it. And I really wanted to take the summer off, so we had gone back and forth all summer. I came up a few times to check it out. Then towards the end of the summer he made it pretty sweet for me, and I like Ken.
What was your impression of the place when you first came to check it out? It's an old classic. It's pretty swank, there's a good vibe in here when it's busy. It's a landmark. And in your opinion, what needed to change with the menu? Everything. For the way the dining room is set up, it's a legendary place, it's kind of old school New York, but it's sort of refined, and the food was not that way. I want to take away the bistro food and give it a more refined edge.
What's on the new menu? We're going to do market driven stuff. Farm to table. It'll be refined like I said, just using pristine ingredients. Dish you're excited about? There's a couple, let me think. We'll do a couple of raw fish dishes, we'll have smoked fettuccine with uni and American caviar. We're going to do braised pork belly with crispy oysters and hatch chile kimchi. I'm restaffing and rebuilding a team so we'll start with a shortened version. The format is be six to eight apps, six to eight entrees, a couple of pasta dishes, and six to eight desserts. The price will be a little higher because of better ingredients, but it will taste better. And there will be a tasting menu? Eventually, yes.
How would you compare this food to the food you were cooking at Craft? I worked for Tom forever and opened the Craft restaurants but towards the end of my tenure I was at Colicchio and Sons. The dishes that were at Colicchio & Sons are similar to what I'm doing here.
How is it working with this team? Is it all new in the kitchen? It will be. I had seven people walk out on my fourth day because I was telling them to put things in containers. Are you bringing in people you've worked with before? No? [laughs] I'm not trying to get you in trouble. Yes, there are some, here and there. What about Ken and Belinda. I think Belinda's awesome. Very professional, super bright. She has some great ideas and she's very supportive. I like Ken, he has awesome ideas no doubt. Graydon comes up a few times a week. I'm anxious to work with Ken more. I think he's a great restaurateur and he's got some great restaurants and they're all packed, good vibe.
This is your first big move outside of the Colicchio empire. And you were there for a long time. Is this the place you're going to be at for a long time, or is this a jumping off point for something else? I'm going to open a restaurant on Hudson Street. So that's still in the works? On West 12th yeah. It's a landmark building, so it's a little tough. The outside of the building needs major refurbishing and the floors inside the building need to be taken care of before we can get in there. When that gets closer, what kind of restaurant will it be? Same kind of thing. I really want to make it neighborhoody, because it's a great neighborhood down there, comfortable, good music. My business partner is Hayden Felice and he's going to put together a great wine list. We have very similar tastes and we're very good friends. We want to make is comfortable for everybody and keep price points down.
When will it happen, 2012? It's going to be a year. When that happens do you see yourself juggling both jobs? Oh yeah, I'm always going to be on board here. I did it for years with Tom so it's already in my brain. Once we get things up and running here and there's a good system—I'm hiring a chef for here and he's very talented. He's kind of an unknown. He and I will work together on menu items. So he'll do the day to day and you'll oversee everything. Yes, when he finally gets here, I can't wait. Can you reveal who it is? Not yet, but he's an unknown. Very talented guy.
Do you expect to get a re-review now that the menu is completely changing? I would think. I really liked Sam Sifton and I think he was a great writer. He was good to Tom. But yeah, I'm really excited for the new menu I think it's going to be great. It just has to get up and running.
Ed Note: Now that the menu has been up and running for a week, Wise tells Eater that he'll launch a bar menu—roasted bone marrow, terrines, small salads, a burger—on Monday and a tasting menu—five to seven courses—tentatively on Novebmer 7.
· Graydon Carter, Ken Friedman on the New Monkey Bar [~ENY~]