New York City’s prodigal chef Todd English has returned to open his first Big Apple restaurant in more than two decades, Side Dish has learned.
English – who made waves with Olives NY at the W Hotel in Union Square when it opened in 2000, and who launched a national food court trend with his eponymously named Plaza Hotel food hall – will helm Pappas Taverna in Greenwich Village.
The wood-fired Greek restaurant, which opens its doors Feb. 15, will provide a modern, playful take on Mediterranean cuisine, offer a $275-per-person 40-seat chef’s tasting room and serve $3,500 bottles of wine by the glass, English told Side Dish.
“I try to give it a little bit of a twist with some layers, like torched tuna — adding flavors and textures on top of tradition. That’s the exciting part,” said English, who is partnering with restaurateur Stratis Morfogen on the venture.
The 11,000-square-foot eatery will open in a landmark building at 103 Macdougal Street, with seating for 220 inside and 50 on the sidewalk. It will also have a Chefs’ Room with 40 seats — and no menu – costing $175 per person, or $275-a-plate if lobster and porterhouse steak are included.
“The chefs will cook until the table gives up,” Morforgen said. “They can have eight courses. Chef English and [chef de cuisine] Pavlos Devaris will consult with the guests and cook based on their preferences, more meat, or fish, or vegetarian.”
Pappas Taverna will also offer any of its wines by the glass — including from a 2009 Chateau Margaux, which costs $3,470 a bottle at the restaurant. Each glass will run a wine lover $870.
Once “uncorked,” the bottle will be listed on a chalkboard menu for others to order.
“It becomes a very social thing,” said Morfogen, adding that the wine list will offer a wide selection from Greece, France, Portugal, Spain and California.
“We are disrupting. It’s a very social thing and will work well in the Instagram world we live in.”
To preserve the wine from souring, the restaurant turned to the high-tech company Coravin, which has developed a method for inserting an “extremely thin” needle into the cork. After the wine is poured, the cork will naturally close up without damaging or destroying the seal, protecting the wine and helping it breathe.
“Using inert argon gas, the machine dispenses wine from the bottle while protecting it from oxygen entering the bottle, so every glass tastes as good as the first,” said Greg Lambrecht, the founder of Coravin, adding that there are also two additional models requiring the cork to be removed.
The system can preserve a wine for weeks, months and even years, the company claims. It’s available for home use, for $119 to $399 per system.
The restaurant – named for the Pappas restaurant Morforgen’s grandfather ran for 65 years until 1975 on W. 14th St. – will also provide takeout or delivery with a contactless system of lockers outside the restaurant.
Delivery drivers, or diners, are notified by phone when their orders are ready, and they use a QR code to open their lockers, which are individually adjusted for temperature and labeled accordingly. Cold foods are in blue colored lockers; hot foods are in red. Morfogen uses a similar system at his Brooklyn Dumpling Shop.
A sneak peak at the Pappas Taverna menu reveals dishes including mini-clay pots with tzatziki trios of whipped avocado and carrot hummus. Small plates feature filet mignon, torched crudo, wood roasted mussels, grilled halloumi and oak-roasted chili feta. There will also be classic oak-wood grilled fishes and meats, along with dishes like duck schwarma and pita pizzas of the day.
“Mediterranean food is delicious and healthy and what people really want to eat now,” Morforgen said. “Todd and I have the same thinking. Greek has been overexplained. We just want a fresh outlook on what Greek food can be.”
The opening has been delayed by the pandemic, as well as supply issues.
“Two and a half years of headaches and obstacles,” Morfogen said.
During the pandemic, Morfogen reconnected with English at a friend’s Halloween party and they decided to work together.
“He’s so talented. He needed to come back, put an apron on, and reclaim New York City,” Morfogen said. “English’s market exploded all over the world, and that’s pretty sexy. But it was time for him to go back to being an artist. New York City is the mecca of dining and his roots are here.”
Born in the Big Apple, the 62-year-old English was once named one of People’s 50 most beautiful people — and dubbed a “culinary lothario” by Page Six — almost a decade ago. English said those days are long behind him.
“I’ve learned a lot since then,” English said.
Like many chefs, some of English’s projects wound down during the pandemic — the food hall at the Plaza Hotel, for example, closed and never reopened, nor did eateries in places like Dubai, Manilla and Abu Dhabi, although English is in talks to open new spots in several of those cities.
His current portfolio spans the US, including a hotel in Las Vegas, and his staple restaurants Olives, Figs and others are still thriving in multiple locations, as is a restaurant in the Bahamas. However, the Olives in New York closed in 2012.But other New York City projects are in the works, sources told Side Dish.
“New York is the best food city in the world. I love the energy. It’s exciting to be back in New York in a great situation with a great partner. I’ve been doing this for 30-plus, 35 years, and it’s like anything. You always have to reinvent what you are doing and keep it fresh,” English said.
***We hear…that Lincoln Ristorante is hosting a tribute dinner for the late pastry chef Richard Capizzi on Feb. 19, to raise funds for his widow, Phyllis, and their two children. For $1,250 per person, diners will enjoy a cocktail hour followed by a six-course meal with wine pairings prepared by a star-studded cast of chefs, including Thomas Keller, Shea Gallante, Jonathan Benno, Artem Orlovskyy and Chad Palagi, while pastry chefs Sebastien Rouxel, Stefanie Morgado, Kara Blitz, Katie Backlund and Scott Cioe rule the dessert collaboration.
Capizzi suffered from glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain cancer. He died in September at age 45.
Patina Restaurant Group conceived of the tribute dinner, which will also launch a scholarship in his honor at his alma mater, The Culinary Institute of America.
“Richard was a tremendous talent and tremendous human being who graced our teams at Per Se and Bouchon Bakery. We owe to Richard how we make our Bouchons, how we make our confections, and so much else at the bakery. His legacy is everywhere,” Keller said in a statement.