Entries in March (2)


Wayne Nish's Career Path

wayne_nish.jpgWayne Nish is now in charge of the menu at Spitzer’s Corner, the Lower East Side gastropub. Incidentally, it’s named for a former dress shop that occupied the space, not for the disgraced former governor of New York.

What an odd career path Nish has had:

  • In the 1980s, he served an apprenticeship at the Quilted Giraffe, rated four stars.
  • In 1988, he took over one of the city’s old-guard French palaces, La Colombe d’Or, earning three stars.
  • In 1990, he opened March, earning three stars.
  • In 2007, he closed March and opened Nish in the same space, a much more casual restaurant that earned two stars. It closed within six months.
  • While Nish (the restaurant) was in its death throes, Nish (the chef) signed on at Varietal, which had recently been slammed with one star. It also quickly closed.
  • As of this week, with no restaurants to his name, he’s designing the menu at the “zero-star” Spitzer’s Corner.

If you’re keeping track, it’s taken Nish a bit over twenty years to get from four stars to zero. (To be fair, no one has actually given Spitzer’s Corner zero stars; no critic that awards stars has rated it at all.)

March was a serious restaurant, no doubt about it. But by the time it closed, in 2007, it had lost some of the early luster. My own visit there, in 2004, was mildly disappointing.

The casual make-over that turned March into Nish was a miscalculation. Though it won rave reviews, Nish (the chef) had turned a destination restaurant into a neighborhood joint, and there wasn’t enough foot traffic at 58th & First to pay the freight.

The failure at Varietal wasn’t Nish’s fault: after blistering reviews, the place was clearly on life support, and Nish’s menu—which won praise from the few who tried it—arrived too late.

So now he is at a Lower East Side gastropub, where he says, “What I’m really looking to do here is three-star bar food.” I’m actually eager to try it. It might be great, or it might not, but at these prices—nothing over $16—who wouldn’t be curious?

Yet it is a strange career path: four stars to zero. I wonder if Nish has another serious restaurant in him?


March Restaurant

Note: Owners Wayne Nish and Joseph Scalice closed March at the end of 2006, re-opening in early 2007 as a more casual restaurant, Nish. Alas, the new version was no longer the destination restaurant that March had been, and there wasn’t enough neighborhood traffic to keep Nish in business. Despite favorable reviews, it was gone by the end of June. The space is now Bistro Vendôme.


March restaurant is an occasion place. I visited recently to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Without question, we were treated lavishly. The maitre d’ presented her with a bouquet of roses. Service throughout was impeccable. But for the price, none of the courses at March wowed us. Or perhaps, as my friend suggested, Wayne Nish’s cuisine is just too subtle. Mind you, it was all good, but I expected to be transported, and we weren’t.

March’s menu is an interesting hybrid between the tasting menu and the prix fixe. You choose a number of courses, from three to six. ($68, $74, $85, or $102). Wine pairings are another $10 per course (or, like anywhere, you can just order from the wine list). You can select which courses you want — listed in broad categories like “raw,” “vegetarian,” “shellfish,” “fish,” “poultry,” and “meat,” with about three or four options per category. Or, you can put yourself in the chef’s hands.

We selected the four-course menu with wine pairings and allowed the chef to choose for us. Each of us got different items, and we swapped plates about halfway through each course. This, indeed, is encouraged at March. Another of the menu options is called the Five Course Dual Tasting Menu ($270 for two, including wines), with which it’s assumed that a couple will share plates.

Now to the food … and here I’m afraid I’ve failed as a food writer. I can’t remember exactly what we had. The first plate for each of us was a cold item, then a fish course, then a meat course, then dessert. What were they? I don’t recall, except that they were all very good without being transcendent. At these prices, I wanted at least some of the courses to reach culinary orgasm, and none did.

March is located in a gorgeous East Side townhouse. The tables are on three levels, with ample space between them. It is a lovely and romantic setting that makes you feel like you’re in another world. The food failed to transport me, it is true, but I would still try March again on the right occasion.

March (405 East 58th Street, just east of First Avenue, Sutton Place)

Food: **
Service: ****
Ambiance: ***½
Overall: **½