Undoubtedly the first thing to notice after stepping off the elevator on the 60th floor of the midcentury 28 Liberty St. tower, where Danny Meyer’s new FiDi restaurant Manhatta lives, is the view.
Behind the walnut and granite bar, the rest of downtown Manhattan is visible, and the dining room also looks out onto the East River, the Manhattan Bridge, and Brooklyn. Open today, Manhatta is certain to attract skyline gawkers hoping to snap pics through the massive windows. But Union Square Hospitality Group team, known for building fine dining restaurants and neighborhood stand-bys, makes it clear that it wants Manhatta to be defined by more than its views.
While a lot of “restaurants with a view” usually coast by on that alone, getting away with serving middling food and drink, the idea here was to put more thought into the menu. Executive chef Jason Pfeifer — who has worked at Gramercy Tavern, Maialino, Per Se, and Noma in Denmark — says his eclectic kitchen background played a role in shaping things here. Roman trattoria Maialino gave him a clear roadmap with its regional specificity, but with Manhatta, he says he was excited by the idea of creating something from a blank slate, allowing him to pull from different cuisines. A wagyu bavette with pommes Anna — thinly sliced potato cooked in butter — combines Japanese and French cooking. Tempura scallops on the bar menu also lend some Japanese flavor.
For dinner, there’s a three-course prix fixe menu for $78 with dishes like peekytoe crab salad with poached leeks and artichokes; veal blanquette with wilted greens and mushrooms; and lobster quenelles with trumpet mushrooms and chervil. For dessert, there’s a warm date cake with crème fraîche ice cream and whiskey sauce; blackberries with walnut gelato and sabayon; and a butterscotch soufflé.
The bar offers a more casual à la carte menu with snacks like fried chicken with hot honey and escargot in pork sausage with a garlic and parsley butter sauce. There are also more substantial dishes like a fried ricotta gnocchi, a burger, and Atlantic turbot fish served with English peas and hollandaise.
Aesthetically, Manhatta’s design provides some contrast for the sprawling views it looks out onto, with an emphasis on domestic decor as Meyer and Wade Little told Architectural Digest earlier this week. It’s yet another NYC restaurant to hop on the blue banquette train. And while certain elements of the design were intended to elevate and complement the views, general manager Tom Mackenzie explains that it was never the goal for Manhatta to be solely defined by its access to the skyline.
“The view’s great; it’s fantastic; it’s magical,” Mackenzie says. “But one of the first things we ever said when we started conceptualizing Manhatta was ‘Let’s make sure we design this restaurant with the blinds down. Let’s make sure that we design a restaurant that we would still love even if it was in the basement.’” During staff training, the blinds were kept down to emphasize this, he adds. “The view doesn’t create hospitality. We create hospitality.”