Since its opening, at the intersection of Chinatown and the Lower East Side in June, Nine Orchard has been a destination hotel for those seeking a plush New York experience in what is inarguably the city’s neighborhood of the moment. When the chef Ignacio Mattos opened Corner Bar and the lobby lounge Swan Room, the Beaux-Arts building that was formerly a bank became a gathering spot for New Yorkers.
Followers of the Uruguayan-born chef are used to the Uber ride. After time in the kitchens of Chez Panisse and Il Buco, he briefly helmed the cult restaurant Isa (since closed) in Williamsburg, where the food-curious flocked for such challenges as fried sardine skeletons. After opening Estela in Nolita in 2013—the closest thing New York had to the wine bars of Paris and Copenhagen at the time, complete with a Michelin star and a place on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2016—and Altro Paradiso in SoHo in 2016, he translated his uncompromising vision to the Upper East Side when he launched Flora Bar in the Met Breuer in 2017 (since closed).
There, the creative directors and fashion-industry types who filled his downtown spaces dined alongside collectors in high-brutalist splendor. In the summer of 2021, he miraculously got downtowners to Midtown with the opening of Lodi in Rockefeller Center, his tweak on a classic Milanese restaurant and standing bar.
The only through line in Mattos’s restaurants is his commitment to questioning what a dish can be, then minimally architecting it with the best possible ingredients. Mattos is the closest thing to a groundbreaking 21st-century chef that Chez Panisse has produced. And now Corner Bar reveals another side to the chef, with a more approachable menu that draws upon his classic culinary-school moves.
Corner Bar’s design, by Fernando Santangelo (known for his work at the Chateau Marmont) and others, was inspired by a playground and carousel in Biarritz, says Mattos. That light, French-ish feel means that it’s as bright and welcoming over oeufs brouillés with bottarga for a breakfast meeting as it is clubby and cozy when you return for a stellar late-night burger and cocktail at the wood-paneled bar alongside artists such as Harold Ancart and Vogue-anointed designers like Emily Adams Bode Aujla, whose men’s-wear store is nearby.
The menu is confident and streamlined while managing to appeal to a range of palates and moods. “I love the idea of universal flavors—things that you expect when you’re away from home,” says Mattos. The top of the breakfast menu skews celebratory (sunny-side-up eggs with chanterelles au poivre; smoked salmon with crème fraîche and trout roe), while the pastries and sides sections allow for small-scale indulgences, be it a single exemplary madeleine or canelé or the city’s best-sourced fruit plate. (“Are these blueberries wild?!” asked Food52 co-founder Amanda Hesser on a recent morning.)
The only through line in Mattos’s restaurants is his commitment to questioning what a dish can be, then minimally architecting it with the best possible ingredients.
At lunch, when the tables appear to be a mix of dressed-up tourists and Lower East Side gallerists, that salmon plate is joined by a Niçoise, a B.L.T., a deeply lush bowl of Bolognese, and salads and small plates that warrant repeat visits, ensuring that Corner Bar becomes the cafeteria for expense-account locals and those who’ve graduated from nearby Dimes.
Some dishes migrate to the dinner menu, as well as to the offerings of the scene-y Swan Room and room service upstairs, where they’re joined by skirt steak au poivre, mussels, hay-smoked roast chicken, and spaghetti pomodoro, with steak tartare, oysters Rockefeller, and a splurgy plâteau de fruits de mer to start. (The splurge factor is real: adding a plate of expertly bronzed frites with aioli to your moules will require $13. They do, however, come with the $185 rib-eye special.)
Asked if the French-accented dishes mark a turn, Mattos says, “I really hate boxes.... I’m a lover of good—any good—and that is what we aim for here.”
The kitchen, already running at top speed during dinner to keep up with demand at the 50-seat restaurant and 48-seat Swan Room, will get busier toward the end of the year, when Mattos opens Amado Grill in a windowless room hidden between the restaurant and bar. The 36-seat jewel box will be home to Mattos’s first tasting-menu restaurant, which intends, like everything in his portfolio, to upend the norm.
From the almost shockingly whimsical fin de siècle décor—inspired by Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, complete with gilt-edged “portals” painted by Gagosian artist Ancart—to the food, the seafood-focused restaurant will be unlike anything New Yorkers (or tourists) have seen.
“We’re trying to create an experience that is hard to find in New York right now, something that feels special: grand, but at the same time fun,” says Mattos. “We want to go overboard, but in a measured way.”
Christine Muhlke, a former editor for The New York Times and Bon Appétit, is the co-author of Wine Simple, with Le Bernardin’s Aldo Sohm, and Phaidon’s Signature Dishes That Matter. She is also the founder of culinary consultancy Bureau X and creator of the Xtine newsletter