Anyone who was a fan of chef Angie Mar’s last restaurant, the dark, moody, subterranean temple of beef The Beatrice Inn, will be surprised by the look of her follow-up Les Trois Chevaux in the space next door. For one, it’s above ground, with a deep blue velvet banquette, antique etched mirrors and one with a frame gold leafed by the Florence based restorer who worked on the frame of the Mona Lisa, filled with art and one of a kind finds such as lamps with metal horse bases from an antiquities dealer in Antwerp and the original 1931 chandelier from the Waldorf. It’s a little jewel box. The cooking style also could not be more different. “This is what I’ve wanted to cook,” she says. “I was so attached to what that restaurant was but I’m French trained and I refer to this menu as hyper inspirational, a beautiful expression of art, literature, the ingredients we love.”
Her transition, admittedly, was not by choice. After the onset of the pandemic, a 40% rent increase coupled with the shutdown of indoor dining signaled the end of The Beatrice. It also signaled the end of this restaurant’s previous tenant, the farm to table Blenheim, so she snapped up the space. But she was dissuaded from simply recreating The Beatrice by famed chef, mentor and artist Jacques Pepin. (The Matisse-like painting on the left wall at the entrance is his.) “He said you’ve got to let it go. You have to believe that you are ready to do something for you, not something that’s been handed down to you. When somebody like Jacques tells you you’re ready you have to listen. You have to move on.”
What that translates to is a concentration on French cuisine, the food that she has always loved, with aspects of the cuisine of her Chinese heritage and other Asian ingredients concentrating on the sea and the air, fish and fowl, often mixed in what may seem like unconventional ways. That’s in evidence in dishes such as cannelloni de fruits de Mer prepared with Chinese crystal dumpling technique, razor clams from Washington state, mussels from Prince Edward Island and cockles from New Zealand; monkfish with black truffles wrapped in pheasant skin during roasting creating moisture and tenderness rarely seen in that usually hard to cook fish and a cross between Mallard duck and Peking duck in which the duck is dry aged for two weeks then buried in Japanese Sakura blossoms and Okinawan Kokuto sugar for five days and served in a sauce containing lotuses and Armagnac. And all are arranged in visually arresting ways such as the duck which she says is reminiscent of her front yard growing up in Washington State with the koi pond, lotuses, and ducks.
Beef hasn’t been part of the mix. “When I was at the Beatrice it was all about steak and meats. When I opened this restaurant, I thought people think that’s all that I can do but I really wanted to do something else,” she says. A year after opening, though, she decided to finally put a beef dish on the menu. But like the other dishes on the menu, it’s ingredient perfectionist and labor intensive: entrecote cooked for hours with a slow fire technique over coals wrapped in seaweed: starting three feet up and moving it closer every half hour. It’s then served with a mille feuille of pommes de terre: thin potatoes cooked in chestnut butter and served with osetra caviar.
This is undeniably elite dining in a neighborhood known for its wide variety of restaurants but ones that are definitely more casual, a type of restaurant Mar can’t see herself doing. But she insists that even if well heeled diners are among her regulars (including with Le Bernardin’s exalted chef Eric Ripert who comes in on his days off) her restaurant isn’t just for the 1%. She recalls how in the beginning of her career after graduating from culinary school, she would save up to have a transcendent meal at Per Se, Le Bernardin or Daniel and knows that other young aspirational chefs are doing the same thing; they’re among her customers here as are travelers who’ve come to New York specifically for the restaurants.
“Restaurants truly bring everybody to the table. You come here because we can transport you to another world for a few hours,” she says. So she’s disturbed by what she sees as a critical backlash to the idea of fine dining because it’s perceived as only for the elite. “These restaurants are so important in a city like New York which has always been aspirational to the world. If these restaurants aren’t supported, it will be the decline of an entire industry within one generation,” she says. “We can’t always eat just fried fish.”