It's official: chefs Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr, who have been free agents since their split with Keith McNally over a year ago, will run the food and beverage program at Hotel Chelsea, which includes the venerable El Quijote restaurant. Rumors began swirling this week that at least one of the chefs was involved in the project, which has been under scrutiny since the Hotel Chelsea acquired the 84-year-old El Quijote back in June.
Hanson and Nasr opened the seminal Balthazar with Keith McNally in 1997, followed by a slew of hit downtown establishments, including Pastis, Schiller's Liquor Bar, and most notably Minetta Tavern. Since taking their leave of the McNally empire, the duo have now formed a company called the Downtown Group, along with hospitality impresario Niels Koizumi (whose resume includes Balthazar, Nobu, and the Standard), and will be overseeing the food and beverage for the Hotel Chelsea, which presumably includes room service.
There are few details yet on what they have planned for El Quijote, though it seems likely the approach will be similar to the one they and McNally took at Minetta Tavern, preserving the classic space while overhauling the menu. Representatives for the Chelsea Hotels group have previously promised to keep El Quijote relatively intact. There's no word on when this transformation will begin, and for now it's still the same Spanish restaurant from a bygone era that Brooks of Sheffield described in his Who Goes There? back in 2012.
Update: A representative from Chelsea Hotel tells Eater "there's no immediate plans to change El Quijote as of yet."