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Jose Garces, left, and Scott Conant, right
Jose Garces, left, and Scott Conant, right
Courtesy Jose Garces | Nicole Franzen

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Scott Conant and Jose Garces Open Brand-Building Restaurants

If they build it, will Food Network fans come?

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Does being a Food Network star translate into New York City restaurant success? It has worked for some, like Bobby Flay and Geoffrey Zakarian, but it will be a long time before anyone forgets the scorching New York Times review of Guy Fieri’s Times Square restaurant. This week, two Food Network alums with experience opening Manhattan restaurants are going in for another round, with Scott Conant opening Fusco in the Flatiron this week and Jose Garces debuting Ortzi in the Luma Hotel in Times Square.

Conant was behind Scarpetta, until he very publicly and messily split with what’s become owned by LDV Hospitality, a group on a tear opening restaurants (with the original Scarpetta moving locations). Now, with the debut of Fusco — after opening restaurants in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Miami — the oft-bearded chef is calling the restaurant his “brand beacon,” which certainly puts pressure on the place from the start.

As for Garces, Ortzi will be his second NYC opening in recent years, following last year’s unusually quiet arrival of Amada (its only review was a generally positive one from Gael Greene). He’s currently sitting on top of a mini-empire in Philadelphia, but his efforts haven’t caught on in the same way in NYC quite yet. This time around, Garces focuses on Basque cuisine at the hotel restaurant, which he maintains is for more than just tourists.

It can be difficult to take seriously restaurants from two chefs who won’t be able to spend as much time in them as they’d probably like, considering both own many more and are involved in television and other projects. It’s something Flay was very aware of from the start, taking the smart strategy of being present there nearly every night, which both chefs admitted to Eater they would not be able to do here.

So far, here in NYC, both Conant and Garces have landed somewhere below the critical success of Gato or Lambs Club and way above the tourist-panning of Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen. Will Fusco and Ortzi rise above? Read on for the full rundown on both places, which open Monday, April 24.

Fusco

Named for his grandmother, Fusco is a deeply personal project for Conant. “I haven’t opened an independent restaurant in New York in nine years, and I think the spirit of this restaurant is definitely mine. As I walk in, I get chills,” he says.

He’s eyed the space since 1996, finally pulling the trigger for what he hopes to be an upscale, but welcoming atmosphere. “It’s kind of a fancy restaurant, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously,” he said. “There are white tablecloths and copper china and beautiful stemware and fantastic wine and very fancified food, but I have the Stones and Bob Dylan playing on the stereo system.”

Brian Leister designed the 50-seat room, where chef de cuisine Joe Abbruzzese turn out pastas — yes, there is a version of the Conant’s tomato basil spaghetti — appetizers like a truffled pea Caesar and entrees such as Guinea hen, among other Italian fare. The full menu is below.

“Of all the restaurants I’m doing and have done, this will be the most special one. I’m naming it after my grandmother, so I really am hoping that this can achieve its potential,” Conant said.

Fusco is now open daily from 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. at 43 East 20th Street.

Ortzi

Ortzi is in prime tourist land — Luma Hotel in Times Square — and as such opens right off the bat with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The menu is Basque, a cuisine that has captured Garces’ attention since his culinary school days and inspired Tinto, a Philly restaurant of his. The menu, in full below, includes crudos, conservas, and wood-fired tapas.

As for the CCS Architecture-designed, 74-seat space, it’s segmented into three areas: a front lounge that faces the street, a middle bar with a few low tables, and a back dining room with an open kitchen. Chef de cuisine Michael Han (Bouley, A Voce) will be running that kitchen when Garces isn’t around. Drinks are a focus here, too, with a lively bar just ready to pour some porron-dispatched wine into your mouth.

Ortzi is now open every day for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and dinner from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., with breakfast Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Ortzi Menus by Eater.com on Scribd

Fusco

43 East 20th Street, Manhattan, NY 10003 (212) 777-5314 Visit Website

Ortzi

120 W 41st St, New York, NY 10036 (212) 730-0099 Visit Website
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