Although with yesterday's weather, the last thing I wanted to do was don the all-black party duds, I couldn't pass up the gracious invitation (of college pal and graphics guy extraordinaire Doug Morris of Poulin + Morris) to the opening party for the midtown incarnation of Nobu.
David Rockwell designed the space and did not disappoint. The play of geometric and organic is the thing here, and the whole restaurant very much the stage.
With bar on first floor, main space upstairs, Rockwell's predilection for using the natural in highly structured ways was prevalent, with materials, shape and pattern subtly and cleverly underscoring the restaurant's seafood themes.
As in the Rockwell-designed Westside Rosa Mexicana, the staircase is given theatrical prominence, and guides the eye past a raised-block wood wall to a ceiling-scape of woven screens, botanically patterned "ceiling paper" and a sparkling grid of pearl-like low-voltage lights.
Matching the stairway's two story climb, a huge structure over the downstairs bar contains lashed-together sake barrels, the only literally Japanese note in the place. For that reason, it seems a bit out of place, more the odd set piece from Pacific Overtures than in keeping with other subtler takes on the Pacific Rim motifs.
The upstairs space showcases the artful manipulation of more interesting materials. Large see-through dividers of woven grasses look part re-bar, part fishing net, in organic shapes that are like large river rocks defining the main room's "shoreline". The river rock theme again comes into play in the dark and moody bathrooms, with a wall made from embedded stacked black river rock, and split-boulder granite sinks.
In spaces off the main room, Rockwell again uses the organic with skilled manipulation.
A swirl of shells over one seating area calls to mind Robert Smithson's "Spiral Jetty". The bubbly pattern in the sleek polished walls and ceilings off the theater-kitchen is actually cross-cuts of bamboo embedded in the surface. It's especially effective in one of the near-cube dining areas, where the playful rings bounce about the otherwise stark and polished geometry.
The large scorched-grain plank tables worked best in this part of the space, looking like intentional, gutsy slabs rather than ill-placed picnic tables, as they did elsewhere.
The grace note of the space has to be the "chandeliers" of abalone shells, strung in rigorously even intervals, creating massive shapes both structured and ethereal.They glow like two-story clouds near the entry in the otherwise dark space. They alone could have visually carried the entrance/bar space without the upended Gilligan's Island sake raft contraption beside them.
The grace/poetry/organic of one fights with the crude/literal/man-made of the other. But maybe that's the point.
There's lot to look at in this space. Last night's visual stimulation included an appearance by The Donald himself, lovely Melania literally in tow as he pulled her through the crowd. THer nearly-white outfit glowed like the abalone chandeliers as she passed beneath the downlights.
And, oh yes, the food.
If the appetizers served last night were any indication, the food will be every bit as stimulating to the senses as were the interiors. And in a moment of catering brilliance, each server had a chunk of lemon on his/her tray.
A repository for used toothpicks and skewers.
As the rock shrimp tempura dwindled, each citrus piece became studded with a plume of tiny wood spears. It was a mix of form and function, natural and man-made that Rockwell himself could not have orchestrated more deftly. P2