It was over a decade ago when white tablecloths went out of fashion in New York, save for the fine dining holdouts dotting upper Manhattan. But what’s old appears to be new again, only remixed for 2022, at Casino, a new restaurant opening Tuesday, December 13.
Located at 171 East Broadway, near Rutgers Street, Casino is Aisa Shelley’s first restaurant. But it is by no means his first hospitality project, known for sceney nightlife hits Mr. Fong’s, a bar in Chinatown, as well as Primo’s, a cocktail lounge in Tribeca.
Shelley describes Casino’s food as looking to the “Italian and French Riviera,” essentially coastal dishes that feel like a luxurious vacation. For his first restaurant, he tapped restaurant veteran Ken Addington to lead the kitchen, who Shelley met years back at Fives Leaves. As of late, Addington also owns Strangeways, a restaurant in Williamsburg.
Despite the name, there are no slot machines at Casino (Shelley says Casino is actually a reference to the Italian word for a house of entertainment). No expense seems to have been spared with the design, by Camilla Deterre, who also outfitted Primo’s with its signature Art Deco glamour.
At Casino, there is a front, walk-in-friendly cafe with a bar, with its checkerboard red-and-white flooring, and curvy walls. Step in further past a chain curtain, and you’re in the main dining room, clad with red booths and white tablecloths, with capacity for 70. Past the dining room and down a few steps is another 30-seat cocktail lounge that will be used for private events. Customers may remember the Casino space for its years as Mission Chinese Food, which closed, unceremoniously, in 2020. While the Casino team is gambling on a less sullied future for the space, it will no doubt continue on Mission’s legacy of being a party spot, flocked to by the fashion and art worlds (and already is, if its pre-opening events displayed all over Instagram are any indication). Whether the food will back up the movie set-ready interiors remains to be seen.
Seafood anchors Addington’s menu: fritto misti (squid, rock shrimp, anchovies, and zucchini, with Meyer lemon), crudo, whole roasted turbot, and the lobster Cioppino Casino, seafood stew with a tomato, fennel, and saffron broth base with shrimp, mussels, clams, black bass, crab, and, needless to say, lobster. But meat and veggies also play a role: A crespelle, a crepe with ricotta and artichokes, pork collar with braised beans, duck with figs, and a smoked lamb-black garlic sugo with pappardelle, fill out the menu. Addington makes use of the wood-fired oven throughout.
For dessert, there’s butterscotch budino with kumquat conserve and an amaretti cookie, a lemon tart with lavender and crema, as well as a Paris brest with hazelnut choux and salted Sicilian pistachio ice cream, in collaboration with Morgenstern’s.
Overall, Shelley wants the space to feel timeless, like “the Odeon,” with white table cloths, yes, but in a way that doesn’t come off buttoned up or “pretentious.” No matter how you slice it though, the trendy Casino marks the increase in high-profile restaurants to have opened on the Lower East Side. Over the past year alone: there’s Ignacio Mattos handling the food at the Nine Orchard hotel, Time sushi, Le Dive, and Parcelle all within the couple block radius, increasingly referred to by a select group as Dimes Square. Money is flowing in and this will be another spendy spot, with entrees in the $28 - $52 range (with $78 and $135 dollar dishes made to share).
Casino is just one of several projects Shelley has in the works downtown, as he becomes the next operator to watch. Next year, he will open an all-day cafe sibling to Casino at 61 Hester Street, near Essex Street, and it was previously reported that Shelley had taken over a space next to his coffee shop, Oliver, at 5 Oliver Street, near St. James Place; though Shelley says he’s hasn’t yet nailed down the full concept for it yet.