A duo that first met at Wildair and worked side-by-side at Cool World have ambitions to buck some of the homogeneity of wine bar menus in Manhattan. That’s the point of Demo, opening February 6, at 34 Carmine Street, near Bleecker Street, from chef Quang “Q” Nguyen and beverage director Jacob Nass.
They could just as easily opened with only tinned fish with focaccia and cultured butter and no one in the West Village would bat an eye. (Well, they will serve all of that, but Chef Q set his sights higher.) “We just couldn’t help ourselves and kept adding things,” says Nguyen.
Demo will serve dishes like beef tartare with soy-cured egg yolks, Crab Casino with Ritz crackers, a salad with miso-dijon vinaigrette, half chicken with Tokyo turnips vin juane — plus, an adult banana pudding with brown butter, coconut, toasted almonds for dessert. Nguyen first made a version of the lobster au poivre that appears on the menu — flavored with lobster roe and miso, plus fries — during a pop-up at Peoples Wine. “Jacob told me I had to write this one down and keep it in my back pocket,” he says. “I wanted to make food that would let Jacob’s wine list lead.”
Nass — who also throws roving wine parties under the name NY Beverages — and Nguyen are the latest Wildair and Contra alums to break off on their own, joining colleagues like Fidel Caballero from Corima, and Jesse Merchant Zuñiga and Javier Zuñiga the duo behind Bad Habit, who’ve become first-time operators.
Though not explicitly French, the Demo menu veers into remixed bistro food — something that seems to be popular with young people looking for vestiges of old New York through visits to Bemelman’s, clinking martinis and doing caviar bumps, both ironically and very much not.
Demo checks many on-trend boxes — marble countertops, leather seating, and a pre-opening mood board. Still, it’s most apparent in its multidisciplinary approach, which seems to be increasingly appealing to new businesses. By day, Demo is already serving coffee and baked goods like cookies with flavors such as miso chocolate chip, coffee cardamom, and black sesame chamomile (made by Nguyen and Dina Fan, whom he first cooked with at David Chang’s Má Pêche more than a decade ago).
Sandwiches might follow down the line. In the meantime, there’s grab-n-go: Shelves are lined with pantry products ranging from fish sauce to dried pasta. They hope Demo will be used as a spot that fills a void where you can stop in at any hour.
While the menu is new, Nguyen experimented with a similar theme through dishes like duck croquettes and granola-garnished wedge salads he served at Cool World. (The owners of the Greenpoint restaurant pulled the plug on Cool World after less than a year). “This time around, I’m figuring out a way to get some of those same rich flavors, but pair it back a bit,” says Nguyen.
A bar area seats 10 and is reserved for walk-ins, which appears to be aiming to capture a similar counterstool feeling that Le French Diner, a favorite of the hospitality industry, has mastered. The main dining room, a sexy back area, seats 30, spread between a bar, banquettes, and tables, in a room designed by Courtney Schneider, of Corn Studios: “We always wanted a design that would stand the test of time while still feeling culturally relevant to the restaurant scene in NYC right now,” Schneider says.
Unusually, Demo shares a kitchen with the neighboring Manhattan location of Greenberg’s (a third co-owner, Ian Henderson-Charnow, is a partner in both the bagel shop and now wine bar). The team says they’re thinking about ways the two spaces can collaborate down the line. An au poivre or fried chicken bagel with schmear is not entirely out of the question.