It’ll tell you how hopelessly un-hip I am, that, until yesterday, I had never been to the Meatpacking District since it became anything other than a neighborhood where wholesale meats are sold. The area is bounded roughly by Gansevoort St on the south, 14th St on the north, and Ninth and Tenth avenues. I say “roughly,” because like any hip neighborhood its boundaries are stretching. My Manhattan street atlas limits the district to the two square blocks bounded by Little West 12th, 14th, and Ninth and Tenth Avenues. But nowadays, even places on 15th St have Meatpacking aspirations.
A lot of the district’s hip nightclubs hadn’t opened their doors when my friend and I walked by in the late afternoon, but we were able to get a look in many of the restaurants. After a long walk from the Financial District, we were ready for a short break. Zitoune (46 Gansevoort St) snootily refused us an outdoor table when we ordered soft drinks, claiming a $10 minimum outside. We tried Macelleria next door, where they happily accepted our order for soft drinks and biscotti (ironically, we spent more than $10 anyway). The whole time, Zitoune never did use the outdoor table they denied us.
There’s a large triangular space where Gansevoort, Little West 12th, Ninth Ave, and Greenwich St converge at odd angles. At one of the outdoor tables at Zitoune, Macelleria, or nearby Pastis (9 Ninth Ave) you get a panoramic view of the Meatpacking crowd’s comings and goings. The intersection seems to demand a life-size statue of Mr. Gansevoort (or whoever/whatever that street was named for). If we were in Europe, it would have one.
I wanted to see what Spice Market (403 W. 13th St.), Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s latest hit, was about. From the outside, you’d barely know it’s a restaurant. Inside, the $5 million decor overwhelms the senses. It seems no one opens a destination restaurant in New York these days on the strength of the food alone. We peeked in around 6pm, as the place was just beginning to fill up, and the staff didn’t mind terribly that we were there only to gawk.
We were particularly intrigued by the sensuous private rooms at the back of the downstairs bar, where you pass through curtains of gauze into a world of your own. I wonder how those creamy white luxuroious sofa pillows will look after red wine is spilled on them a few times, but for now they look inviting. Whether or not Spice Market deserves the three stars the Times awarded, as eye candy it amazes.
Many other restaurants caught our eye, but we were struck by the friendly reception we received at Vento (intersection of 9th Ave and 14th St), which doesn’t even open to the public until April 19th. The staff are just practicing for now, and the tables were all set for a friends-and-family dinner. The flatiron-shaped building, dating from the Civil War, is all the decor Vento needs.