NYC FINE/DINING...THE SIMONE BY CAMILLE COGSWELL

by STUDIO TRAVELER


Camille Cogswell is back this week with a NYC FINE/DINING review of The Simone a new Upper East Side restaurant that is drawing the attention of the ultra-discriminating.  There's a lot to rave about--and we needed a bit more space than usual to do this new spot justice so read the post now or file it away for later when you have time to do a little savoring. Either way, trust us, you'll want to remember this name  --The Simone. AT

The Simone’s entrance at 151 East 82nd Street. 

The Simone’s entrance at 151 East 82nd Street. 

In the past year much of the buzz in New York City food news has centered around the departure of talented chefs from this city that has always been deemed the culinary capital of the United States and arguably of the world. Our culinary landscape is changing and it's widely known and accepted that incredible food and dining experiences can now be found anywhere across the country. Many chefs are leaving the Big Apple in favor of opening establishments in their hometowns and other areas that harbor the potential for more freedom, comfort, and lower rent for business owners than NYC.

While this expansion of gastronomic possibility and availability is an exciting progression, it's with a heavy heart that New Yorkers say goodbye to these chefs and restaurateurs.

Tina’s handwritten menu

Tina’s handwritten menu

Thankfully for us, Chip Smith and Tina Vaughn took the exact opposite progression in their careers. The business partners and husband and wife team had two restaurants in Smith's home state of North Carolina, most recently Bonne Soiree in Chapel Hill, before their move to New York City. In November 2013 they quietly opened The Simone's doors, at 151 E 82nd Street, with partner Robert Margolis.

 With only eleven tables that seat 35 guests, the dining room feels intimate and sedate. Everything about Chip and Tina's restaurant is simple, tasteful, and elegant, with no unnecessary frills or flourishes of pomp. White walls and tablecloths contrasted by rich wooden chairs, hardwood floor, and perfectly dimmed lighting exudes a deep warmth that envelops you in comfort. The atmosphere is steeped with a beautifully Zen calm that seeps into you, making it easy to simply be present in the moment, unconcerned by time or the outside world. Their polite request to limit cell phone use to outside helps you shed any other responsibilities and distractions and let yourself truly appreciate the incredible meal.

 It's hard for me to talk about my experience at The Simone without sounding overly romantic, but there is no other way to describe how they entranced me with their unrivaled hospitality. It's the fact that no detail is overlooked, the personal touches, that make this place so one-of-a-kind in today's sea of trendy restaurant prototypes.

Tina, the queen of the front of the house, regally floats around the dining room with an wonderfully gracious smile and infectious excitement; greeting each party at the door while also managing to spend an impossibly long amount of time at every table, making each feel like they are the singularly most important guests in the house. She pops by to give advice on her expertly constructed wine list and answer any questions about the frequently changing menu, which she hand-writes in beautiful antique script. Chip, the chef, comes out of the kitchen during slow moments to visit with the diners. They are backed by one of the most professional, yet genuine wait staff I've ever experienced who are formal, yet warmly embracing.  

With only two other cooks by his side, Chip manages an impressive number of simple, yet involved dishes out of the tiny kitchen: eight first courses, eight second courses, and six desserts. Night after night, their small team employs classic French techniques to showcase American ingredients.  He also makes his own bread in house, including brioche and time-consuming puff pastry.  I had the pleasure of experiencing this pastry in the savory tart where it provided a flaky bed for roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions, and ricotta pesto.  

Flounder is a staple of the menu, the filet doubled over and then seared, thick and tenderly moist.  On the night we dined at The Simone it was served over a sauté of fresh shrimp, spinach, and golden chanterelles. Sweet seared scallops were also a revelation with corn, chanterelles, and green onion. Topping the scallops with crispy sweetbreads and black truffles sounded like an overindulgence, but it was beautifully balanced and not heavy or overwhelming at all, in fact, possibly my favorite dish of the night. 

Luscious lamb chops (Photo credit: New York Times)

Luscious lamb chops (Photo credit: New York Times)

Chip's Southern heritage also strikes distinctive notes, too.  Take for example, his preparation of duck, which included the thigh slow roasted to a state so tender that it pulled apart like North Carolina's beloved BBQ.  Next to it lay the perfectly cooked breast, sliced atop sautéed greens, pickled cherries, and farro. Another southern favorite, the deviled egg, took a more delicate form as a miniature quail’s egg, accompanying the naturally sweet Alaskan salmon tartar which was brightened by flecks of preserved lemon, cucumber, red onion, and dill mustard, and crowned by thin rye crisps. 

And as for dessert--my heart practically stopped while eating the pavlova, a classic dessert that is hardly ever found on a menu, but one of the best sweets that I've had in the city. This version was more of a pavlova-vacherin hybrid, its requisite bed of meringue crispy on the outside and sumptuously soft inside, cradling a quenelle of raspberry-and-vanilla-swirled ice cream topped with whipped cream, blackberry sauce, and fresh blackberries and raspberries. 

Lord Baltimore Cake Tower at The Simone (photo credit: New York Times)

Lord Baltimore Cake Tower at The Simone (photo credit: New York Times)

The Simone has earned much praise during its first year, including a glowing three-star review by Pete Wells in The New York Times. Tina Vaughn's wealth of wine knowledge and seamlessly beautiful pairings with her husband's food earned this team  New York Magazine's choice for 2014's Best Wine Pairings.

Yet somehow, the restaurant has still been flying under the mainstream radar. I'm constantly surprised at how many peers in the industry I talk to that draw a blank at the name. 

Chip and Tina's restaurant is somewhat of a time-capsule, where they nurture and breathe new life into the formal, classic, and old-school way of dining. You will never find a centrifuge in their kitchen or a foam on their plate. Quite simply, they are an anchor in the whirlwind of the fleeting trends that surround them. Because of this, The Simone has quite a following of sophisticated clientele. The night I dined, I found myself to be the youngest in the restaurant by at least twenty years. But it deserves the attention of a wider audience. I sincerely hope it begins to find a place in younger hearts—and palates--as it has in mine. I left feeling like Chip and Tina had welcomed me into their family, taking care of me as a guest in their home, and isn't that what hospitality is really all about?

 

The Simone

151 E 82nd St.

(212) 772-8861

Mon-Thurs

6pm - 9:30pm

Fri-Sat

6pm - 10:30pm

First Course $15 - $21

Second Course $37 - $46

Dessert $14