Rebelle (Fashion Update on the Bowery)
You had something to hide
Should have hidden it, shouldn’t you
Now you’re not satisfied
With what you’re being put through
It’s just time to pay the price
For not listening to advice
And deciding in your youth
On the policy of truth
Depeche Mode, Policy of Truth
What infinite use Dante would have made of the Bowery!
218 Bowery (between Prince and Spring)
New York, New York 10012
Atmosphere and Design
From the bar at Rebelle I look out onto the Bowery. I see The New Museum and its boat suspended high in front of the building across the street. The new museum of the International Center of Photography is up the block at 250 Bowery. I thought of the many shows I saw at CBGB and OMFUG which was across the street at 315 Bowery. Time flows reflecting the universal principle of impermanence.
The bar is bright and attractive and glassy; a scene was developing around 7:30. I sighted hipsters, post-modern hipsters and affluent twenty-somethings. Thankfully, there were no lumbersexuals.
The design of Rebelle is clean, sleek and minimal. The textures are brushed grey metal, marble and dark wood. There are abstract black and white paintings on the walls that reminded me of early Gerhard Richter. The globe lights that run down the center of the restaurant and on the side walls suggest traditional bistro design. It is not theatrical; it is quiet and subdued. It is an unusual combination of opulence, minimalism and comfort without being pretentious and cold.
Rebelle is a larger restaurant that it appears from the street. There is a second dining room and a chef’s table area in the back of the restaurant. Even when the space filled up as the evening progressed, it never felt crowded or frantic, and we had no problems with noise.
During dinner we heard “You Spin Me Round and Round” by Dead or Alive, “China Girl” by David Bowie, “Policy of Truth” by Depeche Mode, and “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads.
It makes me wonder if the playing of 1970s and 1980s music that was popular during the Bowery’s CBGB era in a restaurant with $4000 bottles of wine an expression of irony? Was the play list random? Was it intentional? It seemed incongruous at best but hipsterish at its worse.
Staff and Menu
The staff was efficient and knowledgeable and the pacing of the dinner was spot on. The staff was robotic and scripted at first but we managed to bring out some human responses after some questioning and conversation.
The staff was aggressively pushing appetizers on us. First, our waiter explained the menu. I find this annoying. I can read quite well and did not find the menu so ambiguous or opaque that it needed explaining. I would rather ask a question if I have one, rather than having to sit though a not-very-well-disguised sales pitch. I do not like upselling in restaurants. It is not truthful.
We were advised that most people buy separate appetizers to support the main dishes because the mains are not very large. When the waiter came back to take our order, we were encouraged twice more to buy appetizers. It was starting to feel like a high-pressure sales pitch. It felt like being trapped by a life insurance salesman.
The mains are in the $22 to $32 range and the appetizers are in the $15 to $18 range. The appetizers seemed too substantial to be appetizers but too slight to be mains. Examples of this are the seared scallop (with summer squash and basil) and cured fluke (with brown butter, caper and lemon).
However, if you buy an appetizer to support a main dish you are quickly in the $45 range. This is a very high price point for a restaurant like Rebelle. I would rather a restaurant increase the price of the main to make the profit it needs to make, rather than play the small plate game.
Food and Wine
We steeled ourselves out of principle and did not succumb to the pressure to buy appetizers. We did opt for two dishes “For The Table.” This category is distinct from appetizers but some of the dishes cost more than the appetizers. We ordered the smoked olives (with guindilla peppers) and anchovies (with olive, oil and orange zest). For our main we had the roast chicken for two (with confit potato and lemon preserve).
The smoked olives were some of the best olives I have ever had in my life. This is a strong statement because I love olives and eat them all over the world! Chef Eddy managed to create something new and exciting from something as basic as a dish of olives. They were smoked with wood and had subtle flavors.
The anchovies were also excellent. We noted a dominant sweet flavor rather than salt. This also was innovative and surprising.
The chicken was good but not memorable. The flavor was delicate and the skin had the right crispy texture but the potatoes were overdone and were overwhelmed by the lemon preserves. The chicken was a letdown from the excellence of the appetizers. Perhaps we should have taken the advice from the waiter and built a dinner out of the appetizers and avoided the mains? We think this was just an unfortunate inconsistency from the kitchen.
For dessert we had the chocolate torte (with caramelia ganache and yogurt sorbet). The chocolate was deep and rich and the sorbet was a perfect counterpoint.
The evening we ate at Rebelle it was about 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity. We opted for beer rather than wine. We apologize for the disservice we did to Rebelle because it is well known for its creative and formidable wine list.
The wine list is a 95 page PDF on the Website. Prices range from $50 for humble wines to over $2000 for lofty French Pinots. There are wines priced over $4000. There is a large variety of French wines and a limited selection of American wines. There is strength in the sparkling wine category.
The Owners, the Chef and the Wine Director
The management team at Rebelle is young, deep and experienced.
Brandon McGill is the manager and an owner of Rebelle. He has worked at The Modern with Danny Meyer, and with Jean-Georges, Benoit, The Mark Hotel, The Hotel Williamsburg, and The Red Rooster. He has also worked at several prestigious restaurants in Chicago including Alinea and Blackbird. In 2012, he opened Pearl and Ash which is next door to Rebelle at 220 Bowery.
Daniel Eddy is the chef at Rebelle. Daniel began his career in 2004 at Onera which was Michael Psilakis’ first restaurant. Over the next four years, he helped open Dona, Anthos, and Mia Dona. Daniel then moved to Paris and worked with Daniel Rose at Spring. Spring is one of the leading neo-bistros in Paris.
Patrick Cappiello is the Wine Director of both Pearl & Ash and Rebelle restaurants. He was the Chief Sommelier for Daniel Johnnes “La Paulée” and Wine Columnist for Playboy Magazine.
Patrick created the Renegade Wine Dinner. This is a monthly dinner and wine series at Pearl and Ash restaurant. The dinners are five courses with wine pairings for $135. There have been some intriguing dinners with names like Abruzzo, Sierra Foothills, Kermit Lynch and Germany vs. France.
Rebelle also offers a “Winemaker Series.” These are four course dinners and wine pairings that feature wines by a select vineyard. There are presentations by the winemakers.
Rebelle, Bistros and Bistronomy
Rebelle is not a bistro. It does not reflect bistro design elements, the culture or the history. Its menu does not feature any of the bistro standards. It is subtly influenced by bistro food and culture but is not a bistro.
Bistronomy is a new trend in Paris. It seems many younger chefs are no longer interested in working themselves up the Michelin ladder and becoming a head chef in a formal “crystal, ceremony and chandeliers” restaurant. François Simon was a leading food critic for Le Figaro. He has said that bistronomy have become “the principle axis of gastronomy” in France:
It’s between brasserie and restaurant with very technical chefs who know very well how to do classic dishes with a dash of originality and above all at much more affordable prices. Chefs now ask themselves: Do I shoot for the stars which is totally absurd and leads to a nervous breakdown? Do I want keep my wife and friends, or end up with a false blonde in 20 years?
New chefs would rather pursue a personal, creative vision and offer seasonal and local ingredients in an informal setting. Spring, where Chef Eddy worked, is a highly regarded example of bistronomy. In some of his interviews that I have read, he embraces the bistronomy aesthetic. We can see it in the small dishes and the creative use of fresh and limited ingredients with a clarity and intensity of flavor.
The Bowery Historic District
Revelle and Pearl and Ash are part of a new wave of restaurants, bars, shops, galleries, hotels, condos and museums that are transforming the Bowery. This is not a screed against gentrification. As a Buddhist, I practice the principle of impermanence. I accept the universal principle of change, and there is very rapid change in the Bowery.
I am writing about the Bowery because I am interested in situating bistros in their neighborhoods in New York City.
The Bowery was originally a footpath used by Native Americans before the Dutch arrived and began farming. When the Dutch settled Manhattan in the late 17th century, they named the trail Bouwerij road. “Bouwerij” is an old Dutch word for “farm.”
By the end of the 18th century, the Bowery became New York’s most elegant street. It had grand theaters, banks, mansions and fashionable shops. During the Civil War, they gave way to pawn shops, beer halls, flop houses and brothels. Tenements were built and gangs emerged. In 1878 the Third Avenue Elevated Train was constructed which darkened the streets below and contributed to the crime and seedy nature of the area.
From the 1940s until the 1990s, the Bowery was known as “Skid Row.”
“Skid row” comes from a logging term. In the old days, loggers would transport their logs to rivers by sliding them down roads made from greased skids. Loggers would wait for transportation to take them back up the hill to their logging camps. Skid row began to be used for places where people with no money and nothing to do gathered. It became a generic term for a depressed street in a city. Downtown Los Angeles has a neighborhood officially known as “Skid Row.”
The Bowery Historic District was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. Luc Sante, who wrote about the Bowery in his book “Low Life” said: “It may not seem as though there is much left of the Bowery at this point. But once you start really looking, there is quite a bit left: the Bowery Mission, the former YMCA across the street, where William Burroughs once lived, the extraordinary Fortress of Solitude at the corner of Spring Street, the ex-Bowery Savings Bank at Grand Street, and many humbler but still solid edifices that once contained flophouses and saloons and employment agencies, many of which are inhabited by artists who restored them back when such things were affordable to common humans.”
As I walk through the Bowery today, I see the area under huge real estate development pressure. Rental signs are everywhere and high-rise condos are being developed. Trendy boutiques, coffee shops and hipster bars have arrived. I accept all of this but my personal hope is that the Bowery retains some of its historical grittiness, creativity and vice, and does not de-evolve into an outdoor mall like Soho.
I recently had another dinner at Rebelle. It had the same 1980’s music. The staff was more personal and there was less upselling. I had the smoked olives once again and the Pan Roasted Hake (with mussels and sauce bouillabaisse).
The olives were as good as I remembered. The hake was properly cooked but was not as hot as it should be. The sauce had a earthy component which supported the lightness and delicacy of the fish. It was a good dish but not transcendental.
Service: 6. The service was efficient and timing was good. The staff seemed scripted but may become human if you made a conscious effort to break through. We disliked the upselling, the menu structure and the pricing. My son is a professional twenty-something (who are the target market) and he thought it was too expensive for what you got.
Atmosphere: 7. The music was uncool but we liked the space, the concept and the food. We liked the idea behind the Winemaker Dinner and the obvious commitment by the owners to creativity.
Food: 7. Rebelle is capable of serving an excellent dinner. We ate a limited meal and, on a Tuesday night, do not think the kitchen was performing at its absolute best. The appetizers were great but we were not overly excited by the single main that we had.
We will try Rebelle again and sample some other dishes. We like what the Rebelle team is doing and support the restaurant.
Archetype: 8. Revelle is not a bistro but there are a few subtle references to the bistro Archetype. Since it is a neo-bistro its design supports that aesthetic.
Luc Sante, Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003)