Openings: The Spectacular ’53’ Restaurant Takes its Position Above the New Wing of MoMA

As the energy (and head count) returns to the New York hospitality scene, what will assure that the city has regained its confidence is the opening a few here and there truly “statement” restaurants. After all, there are plenty enough charming little Brooklyn bistros at this point. And frankly, we’ve missed the exhilaration of walking into a truly spectacular space – like the nearby La Grand Boucherie, for instance – for the first time, and just soaking up the visual awesomeness of it all.

So in that regard, the breathtaking new restaurant 53, debuting this week in the 82-story, Jean Nouvel designed residential tower above MoMA‘s new extended wing, is a bit of a throwback to the turn of the Millennium, when such places seemed to be opening every couple of weeks or so. (Remember Spice Market? Buddakan? 66?) It’s from Ahmass Fakahany’s Altamarea Group, who have wracked up the rapturous reviews with the Michelin-starred Marea (New York and Dubai) and Ai Fiori (the latter in the plush Langham New York hotel), and the six outposts – from NYC to DC to Miami Beach to Istanbul, etc. – of the more casual but no less beloved Morini.

But here the Italian/ Mediterranean culinary principles on which this mini-empire was built have been eschewed in favor of a pan-Asian food program taking in the flavors of China, Japan and Southeast Asia to impressively original effect. Under the direction of exalted Singaporean chef Akmal Anuar, and with a kitchen helmed by former Pastis sous chef Mark Yu, the surprising menu is rife with adventure, from starters like the fluke kobujime, xiao long bao steamed buns, and beef carpaccio w/ Szechuan peppercorn & crispy leeks, to mains like Hainanese chicken and Wagyu beef sate, to wok dishes like kung pao quail to clay pot specialties like tiger prawns w/ curry and coriander.

And since 53 is just begging to be your next big splurge, a Reserve Cocktails selection includes the Truffled Rob Roy, at $55 and made with Balvenie Doublewood 12 year, and the $150 53 Karat Gold, with Kyoto Ki No Bi Green Tea Gin, Grand Marnier, lemon, Dom Perignon and…real gold.

But the real “statement” is the 11,000 square foot interior, as conjured by design superstars ICRAVE, whose portfolio already included the likes of STK Meatpacking, Lavo Singapore, Lavelle Toronto and Sushi Samba Vegas, as well as Amsterdam’s rocker Sir Adam Hotel and the Denver and Philadelphia International Airports. Specifically, the double-height main dining room sits under a canopy of glowing “bands” meant to represent the chi/energy of the space. Warm woods, muted color schemes and moody lighting give the whole place an air of sensual elegance.

But the adjacency to MoMA is paid its due by way of a creative partnership with Chelsea’s Friedrich Petzel Gallery, which will bring a series of rotating art installations, changing every few months or so. The first artist in residence under the program will be Cuban-American sculptor and MacArthur Fellowship recipient Jorge Pardo, followed by the exalted visceral abstractionist Ross Bleckner.

Considering the hit taken by Midtown as a result of the pandemic shutting down its sprawl of usually packed office towers, it’s actually encouraging to see such an ambitious new hospitality venture popping up between 34th and 59th Streets. And 53 promises to be just the sort of restaurant that could lead a genuine revitalization of the area in the coming months.

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