Chef Dan Barber's Blue Hill Restaurants Change Up Concepts

Plus, Thomas Keller shuts down his Hudson Yards concepts, the founders of Chicago’s Spiaggia take over food and beverage for a Nashville hotel, and bicoastal Champagne bar the Riddler closes both locations

Chef Dan Barber's Blue Hill Restaurants Change Up Concepts
Before Blue Hill at Stone Barns switches its format, guests can enjoy outdoor picnic dining. (Hayley Ryan)
Aug 27, 2020

Dan Barber is stepping away from his chef position and switching up the formats at Wine Spectator Grand Award winner Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., and the Award of Excellence–winning Blue Hill in New York City. While details aren’t available yet on the future of the Manhattan branch, the Grand Award winner is slated to reopen in early 2021 with a chef-in-residence program. Instead of Barber, a different chef will lead the kitchen each season, with the chef’s name replacing the “Blue Hill” portion of the famous Blue Hill at Stone Barns name.

“The Blue Hill team will support each resident chef and be an integral part of helping them interpret the Hudson Valley agricultural landscape during their time at Stone Barns,” read a statement given to Wine Spectator by Blue Hill. It’s an opportunity to add more diversity and innovation to New York’s dining scene, as the chefs will reflect “different experiences, backgrounds, and cultures.”

When it opened in 2004, the restaurant began as a place for Barber to highlight the hyper-local produce grown at Stone Barns and other farms in the area. A year later, Blue Hill at Stone Barns earned its first Wine Spectator Restaurant Award, and was promoted to a Grand Award in 2016. Beverage director Hannah Williams will continue to lead the wine program, but there’s no word yet on how the change will impact the list of more than 2,100 labels that excels in numerous regions, from Burgundy, the Rhône, Bordeaux and Champagne to Italy, Germany, Austria and Madeira.

In the meantime, guests can take advantage of Stone Barns’ outdoor picnic dining program, and purchase to-go boxes of produce and proteins from the farm. The boxes are available for pick-up at both Blue Hill locations and at various pick-up points throughout New York City, Sharon, Conn., and the Hamptons. The restaurant also teamed up with specialty food purveyor Baldor to offer delivery to certain areas of the East Coast.—Taylor McBride

Thomas Keller’s TAK Room Closure Turns Permanent

Table set in TAK Room’s dining room
TAK Room was one of several restaurants in New York’s Hudson Yards development backed by a big-name chef. (Adrian Gaut)

On Aug. 13, chef Thomas Keller announced that his TAK Room restaurant in New York’s Hudson Yards development will not reopen, and neither will the Hudson Yards location of Bouchon Bakery. In an announcement shared on Instagram, Keller explained that the closures were due to the challenging environment created by the COVID-19 pandemic. “We could not find an economically viable path to continue operating without expected seasonal New York tourism,” the statement read.

A Best of Award of Excellence winner, TAK Room opened in 2019 with a wine list focused on California, Burgundy, Bordeaux and Italy, overseen by the beverage director of Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, Michel Couvreux. It is not yet clear what will be done with the restaurant’s 6,000-bottle wine collection, which matched chef Jarrod Huth’s menu of American and Continental classics. The space had what Keller described as an “old-meets-new aesthetic” that featured live jazz music. “Meals are about making memories,” Keller wrote in the statement. “It is to the credit of our amazing managers, dining and culinary teams, and support staff that we were able to realize these dreams.”—Collin Dreizen

Spiaggia Founders Debut Dining Concepts in New Nashville Hotel

Tony and Cathy Mantuano; a fish dish with a glass of white wine at Yolan
Tony and Cathy Mantuano’s Yolan restaurant is all about celebrating simple Italian classics. (Haas & Haas Photography)

After departing from their longtime Best of Award of Excellence winner Spiaggia in Chicago, chef Tony Mantuano and his wife, Cathy, have taken on a new venture in Nashville. The seasoned hospitality duo now oversee food and beverage programs for the Pizzuti Company’s The Joseph hotel, which opened Aug. 25. This includes the flagship restaurant, Yolan, the more casual Denim and a forthcoming Bourbon-focused bar called Four Walls.

Yolan features à la carte and tasting-menu options inspired by the couple’s Italian heritage and travels, with a mission to “keep it simple and delicious and do the culture proud,” according to chef Tony. His cuisine utilizes specialty ingredients imported from Italy along with locally sourced produce and proteins, some of which are roasted in a wood-burning oven. Classic pasta dishes made in-house, such as cacio e pepe and carbonara, are particularly a “love letter to Rome.”

“People all over the world identify with those pastas,” he told Wine Spectator. “They’ve often been bastardized, so we’re sort of just returning to the roots.”

Opening with about 350 labels, the wine program is managed by Cathy and predominantly focused on Italian classics, though you’ll also find smaller producers and lesser-known grape varieties, “because there’s more to life than Pinot Grigio and Chianti,” as Cathy put it. Some French and American selections are available as well. The wine list is available property-wide, but Denim has its own abbreviated list, similarly emphasizing Italy and rounded out by French and American picks. Expect pizzas from a wood-burning oven, gnocchi from a passed-down family recipe and American staples like a smash burger and fries.

Though it’s undoubtedly a challenge to open amidst the coronavirus pandemic, that’s not something the Mantuanos shy away from, and the hotel is taking safety precautions such as requiring employees to wear masks and checking the temperatures of anyone who enters the building. “Tony and I love a challenge,” Cathy said. “The food and hospitality and the wines that we’re bringing to Nashville are something that really doesn’t exist here right now.”—Julie Harans

The Riddler Champagne Bar Closes Both Locations

Champagne bottles, poured glasses and popcorn by the window at the Riddler’s New York location
The Riddler expanded to New York in October 2019. (Jordan Wise)

Champagne-centric wine bar the Riddler, which had Award of Excellence–winning outposts in San Francisco and New York, will not reopen either of its two locations. In a statement shared with Wine Spectator, owner Jen Pelka pointed to insurmountable challenges from the coronavirus pandemic.

“We had an extraordinarily talented team, who worked with us to experiment with new realities and business models as we tried to make this work … Unfortunately, even with our support system, we simply can’t make the numbers work,” the statement read in part. That support system included an all-women investment team, reflecting the female-power mission that served as the backbone for both the restaurants as well as the Champagne brand that Pelka launched this year with her brother, Zach, Une Femme Wines.

Occupying cozy corner spots, the wine bars were known for their friendly, neighborhood feel and for pairing coveted wines with playful menu items like tater-tot waffles and caviar with potato chips. Both the San Francisco original and the New York location that opened last year featured more than 150 wine selections, most of which were bubblies. The collection is now for sale at 50 percent off list prices, available for pickup at both locations, through the Riddler’s website. This fall, the team will partner with Bonhams Auction House to auction off items from the dining rooms including lighting, art, crystal glassware and antique silver Champagne buckets.—J.H.

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