Despite some less-than-ecstatic reviews, New Yorkers clamor for seats at Keith McNally's two-month old Pulino's. Critics and bloggers still can't shut up about it. Martha Stewart tweets it. McNally's got the Midas touch. Which is why the tireless Brit should start scouting locations for his next cash cow now.
McNally is known for his painstakingly easygoing eateries scattered around downtown that serve modest but refined comfort food to hordes of below-14th scenesters, media types, the odd uptown interloper and not-so-odd tourist. The restaurateur also had a reputation for bringing the stylish masses to fringe neighborhoods back when there were fringe neighborhoods in Manhattan.
A timeline of McNally openings is a timeline of ever-shifting "it" neighborhoods: The Odeon in Tribeca (1980), Lucky Strike in West SoHo (1989), Balthazar in New (Media) SoHo (1997), Pastis in the Meatpacking District (1999) and Schiller's on the Lower East Side (2003).
More recent offerings Morandi (the Village), Minetta Tavern (the Village) and Pulino's (the Bowery) haven't been trailblazers to the same degree (although Pulino's staff claims it sits on a sketchy corner) but that's because most paths around town have been blazed, paved over and made safe for stilettos.
But that shouldn't stop McNally from seeking out the few that are left. Here are some suggestions:
Koreatown: In his mediocre review of Pulino's, New York's Adam Platt describes McNally's "fanboy frenzy" formula:
"McNally does it (as I’ve written before) by reconstituting trends that have been floating in the restaurant atmosphere (brasserie food at Balthazar, haute burgers at Minetta Tavern) in his own professionally polished, eminently glitzy way."
Consider other recent foodie sensations like pork and fried chicken, both staples of Americanized Korean grub. Then tip your chef's hat to downtown high/low restaurant impresario David Chang, whose Momofuku empire traffics in both (as well as other updated fusion takes on Korean cuisine) and you'll realize that there's no ethnic neighborhood in the city more primed for mainstream hipiffying than 32nd between 5th and 6th.
Even though the curmudgeonly McNally hates parties, the drunken buzz of nearby karaoke aficionados fresh off a mortifying rendition of "Take on Me" will lend whatever restaurant he opens in K-Town the requisite McNally bonhomie.
Lower Lower East Side/Chinatown: Not exactly under-the-radar. But then, neither was the corner of Bowery and Houston or Morandi's Village address. A few hipster-friendly venues--White Slab Palace, B*East, Bacaro, Sweet Paradise, White Star, Donut Plant--have staked out the neighborhood east of Bowery, south of Delancey and north of Canal. But, to the relief of residents and Chinatown traditionalists, none have generated McNally-level heat. The area's Yiddish history and Chinese present would make for one hell of a fusion combo--chicken feet knish, anyone?--and McNally could continue to enrage Lower East Siders who fled its flashier precincts and claimed Schiller's killed the 'hood.
Garment District: The only substantial neighborhood in Manhattan (at least below 125th St.) that can claim to have largely avoided the tidal wave of gentrification that's swept over the island these past 25 years, the Garment District is a no-brainer for McNally if the restaurateur wants to restore his pioneer cred. Plenty of designers and artists--the types who McNally surely prefers at this tables over investment bankers--have set up shop in the district's warehouses. And its myriad porn shops and stray streetwalkers lend it a Meatpacking District circa-1999 vibe, which is just when Pastis made that derelict zone (briefly) reputable.