Note: It turns out I overrated Ellabess. Reviews were lukewarm, and the place never caught on. It closed in February 2012 after seven months in business.
If you want to know if a new restaurant will be good, look at the company it keeps. Danny Meyer, for instance, couldn’t open a bad restaurant if he tried.
The same, I think, is true of the less well known Epicurean Management, which runs a duo of wonderful, casual Italian restaurants in the West Village (dell’anima and L’Artusi) and a nearby wine bar (Anfora).
With three hit restaurants to their name, they could have upped their game or stuck with what works. They’ve done the latter: the proffer at ellabess falls squarely within the dell’anima/L’Artusi idiom, except that it is not Italian. The owners are apparently happy to grow within a successful model, rather than to challenge it.
The restaurant is located in the boutique Nolitan Hotel, one of many largely interchangeable places dotting the East Village, the Lower East Side, and adjacent neighborhoods. The designer has thoughtfully given the dining room floor-to-ceiling glass picture windows, perhaps hoping that a view worth looking at will come later. At least it admits plenty of natural light.
Gabe Thompson and Joe Campanale, chef and sommelier respectively of the group’s West Village establishments, aren’t involved here. Troy Unruh, a former dell’anima chef de cuisine, runs the kitchen. He serves a mid-priced “seasonal American” (aren’t they all?) downtown menu, with appetizers $8–18, mains $22–32, sides $7. The list of selections at the three-week-old restaurant is brief—just nine appetizers and five entrées—but presumably will rotate frequently, as its seasonal emphasis is fairly apparent.
We shared an octopus salad ($16; above left), an excellent savory–sweet–tart justaposition with melon, cucumber, and mint. The same good judgment was evident in a comped fluke ceviche (above right) with watermelon, chili, radish, and mint.
The chef is fond of melon in savory dishes, but handles it well, as seen in a delightful striped bass ($27; above left) with melon consommé and heirloom cherry tomatoes. A gorgeous, lightly-poached king salmon ($32; above right) lay in a bed of porcini mushrooms, blueberries, and juniper lamb jus.
The wine list is not the conversation piece it is at the group’s West Village places, though it may blossom into one. A Domaine Ostertag Riesling ($40) paired well with our food choices.
The dining room was busy, but not full, on a Wednesday evening. Service was attentive, and the host seated me before my girlfriend arrived. There are no tablecloths, but with plenty of open space the room is not an echo chamber, as it is at so many other new places we’ve visited lately.
If not yet rising to destination status, ellabess has made a promising start.
ellabess (153 Elizabeth Street at Kenmare Street, NoLIta)