11:19 am Sep. 28, 2012
M. Wells, the lauded Hunts Point diner that snagged two stars from the New York Times despite the occasional eruption of smoke in the dining room, closed down in August of 2011, after a prolonged dispute with the landlord.
But on Thursday, coinciding with the launch of the New York Art Book Fair, the French Canadian-influenced restaurant finally re-opened, not in a crumbling diner on the edge of the Long Island Rail Road but inside MoMA PS1, under the name M. Wells Dinette.
The owners, chef Hugue Dufour (previously of Montreal foodie haven Au Pied de Cochon) and his wife Sarah Obraitis, spent most Saturdays this summer cooking in the museum’s courtyard as part of the Warm Up 2012 outdoor concert series. And with the help of partner Keith Cappuccio, a licensed plumber, they’ve transformed the former schoolroom-turned-museum-café into a museum café masquerading as a schoolroom, making much use of chalkboards, "schoolhouse lighting," desk-like seating and other academic accoutrements.
At 4 p.m. yesterday, a thoroughly tattooed employee was standing before one of the restaurant’s two green chalkboards, carefully filling in letters of the menu with blue and yellow chalk. Long desks stocked with fresh crayons and Playskool Draw and Story Pad faced the kitchen at the front of the room. On the wall a photo of the Montreal Canadiens circa 1963 hung below portraits of PS1’s graduating classes of 1947 and 1954, the students from ’54 looking noticeably less happy than those from '47. Folk Implosion’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop the Flow” played on the stereo. Eccentrically dressed people were drawing in the books and talking about Berlin. It felt like the first day of class at an experimental culinary art school in which the concept of students and teachers has been scrapped.
In the lead-up to the opening, food bloggers have avidly speculated about the contents on the menu. Former Times food critic Sam Sifton had raved about M. Wells’ ground aged meatloaf, blue cheese salad, and veal brains (“served as two lightly crisp lobes,” he wrote). But the new incarnation, inspired by French and Japanese cuisine, may threaten to one-up its predecessor with such delicacies as bone-marrow tarts, clam blanquette, and “horse tartare,” which will eventually be stored chilled inside a sushi display case (and which probably risks being the distractingly famous thing about the establishment).
On opening day, the options were more quotidian: clam chowder ($8), rabbit terrine ($12), vegetarian bahn mi sandwiches ($10). M. Wells T-shirts were also available for $20. Once things settle, entrees are expected to range between around $15 and $50.
The space seats around 54, and diners are not required to pay museum admission to eat there. Hours of operation coincide with those of the museum (noon to 6 p.m. Thursday to Monday, and from 10 a.m. on weekends). Massive lines can be expected this weekend—15,000 people showed up to last year's event—but the Fair's 283 international art book exhibitors should provide some reading material for the wait.
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