Despite closures during the last two years, NYC is still home to an ever-expanding roster of acclaimed culinary and cocktail destinations. Among the upper echelons of fine dining, where gastronomy is only one awe-inspiring component of an entire sensorial experience, stands chef Angie Mar‘s Les Trois Chevaux. Opened in July 2021, the Greenwich Village jewel arrived with purpose: perfect service would accompany contemporary cuisine prepared using classical French techniques. To enter, one must dress the part: suit jackets are a requirement; blue jeans aren’t welcome. Once inside, visitors immediately succumb to Mar’s exploratory and entrancing vision, which begins with pieces of her personal art collection and concludes with blood orange pets de nonne.
Mar first amassed a following as the executive chef and proprietor of the Beatrice Inn, which she took over in 2013 and acquired from Graydon Carter in 2016. Le Trois Chevaux, her second restaurant, was built from a blank slate and as such, it’s the purest expression of Mar’s capabilities thus far. “I wanted it to be very French and feel like it’s been here a 100 years and still feel like it’s modern and fresh,” Mar tells us during a multi-course tasting of her prix-fixe spring menu. “It’s important to have juxtapositions—you need that tension. That’s what creates texture.” Texture is a word Mar often returns to, whether it’s spoken by her or through her food.
Mar worked with BWArchitects (the same award-winning team behind the Beatrice Inn) to build the visual harmony of the space. There are bombastic moments, but no one element overpowers another. “It was really important to work with people that new me very well—my design aesthetic and my sensibilities because everything here was done with a very personal touch,” she says. “For instance, we may have gone through a million shades of white to get to the white on the walls, but we found the most beautiful shade of crème fraîche.”
Among the concise, sometimes colorful visual delights, the back bar is an undeniable highlight. “The framer that I used, Marcelo Bavaro, he’s a fourth-generation framer from Florence and he restored the frame of the ‘Mona Lisa,'” Mar says. Bavaro and his team gold-leafed the mirror, which casts an earthly glow. This attribute—as well as the crystal chandelier acquired from the original Waldorf Astoria—are some of many that affirm the role of art and design in Les Trois Chevaux and its importance to Mar in general.
“I think that there are a lot of restaurateurs and chefs that create the world around them based solely off the cuisine or a theme,” Mar says. “This restaurant, I want it to be a living piece of art. I want to be surrounded by beautiful things, inspiring things, things that are aspirational but create a sense of home.” Further, she adds, “I wanted to make this whole space about artisans, artists, poets and designers: the people that have made what New York City is founded upon.”
The cuisine here is classically French though conceptually from the imagination of Mar alone. “A lot of people cook seasonally and call their cuisine hyper-seasonal,” she says. “Instead, we call ours hyper-inspirational. Of course we use seasonal ingredients but sometimes local isn’t the best. I want to cook with the best ingredients.” During the restaurant and menu development, Mar says, “I looked around New York and saw that everyone was doing comfort food and casual and I asked myself, ‘Why would I open something like that? It’s what everyone else is doing.’ That works for right now but I do not build things for right now. I build things that define the direction of cuisine moving forward.” Thus a downtown spin on fine dining was born.
“When we were conceiving of the restaurant and the menu, one word kept returning: texture,” Mar says. “You feel it from the velvet on the banquets to the ridged napkins and even the lighting and, of course, the cuisine. For the cuisine, we know that it should be art and it should say something.” The easiest way to understand the poetry of Mar’s vision is to describe components of the menu that we experienced, with the first being a Millefeuille de Foie Gras incorporating candied morels. “This is a play on texture and temperature,” Mar explains. “It’s tremendously rich but not heavy. We use armagnac and cognac to cut through the foie gras, which is whipped like a butter cream.” In fact, this dish is almost dessert-like and composed of contrasting sensations.
A quieter but no less creative moment appeared with frog legs and gentle aerated cream, accentuated with osetra caviar. However, the ensuing turbot au jus de queue de bœuf proved to be the centerpiece of the entire experience—a dish both thrilling and ponderous. This deceiving fish plate smells—and tastes—like a Sunday roast. “Everything in your head is telling you that you’re eating prime rib right now, but you’re not,” Mar explains. “You can taste the hours that it took to roast this.”
The recipe for the turbot came together in three days because Mar knew what she wanted to do. “We take oxtail and let it roast for eight hours,” she says. “As the meat slowly starts to roast, you get the drippings from the fat and the juice from flesh comes out. We take those drippings and roast the turbot in it. There’s a little bit of dehydrated truffle that the turbot is seasoned with first and it’s wrapped in russet potatoes. There’s a bit of porcini mushrooms and spring onions. The sauce is a beaujolais.” As with previous plates, it’s both light and substantial, unexpected and familiar. It sums up Mar’s textural mission.
For the spring menu, one highly conceptual addition was born from Mar addressing her success at the Beatrice Inn. “I hadn’t been ready to cook duck for a long time,” she says. “The Beatrice was so famous for it and I couldn’t handle it. I didn’t want to do anything that could be compared to next door. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t cook beef here. I needed a fresh start.” A breakthrough occurred when she cooked at duck at the behest of her friend (Samuel L Jackson), which sent her on a path to develop a new recipe.
The recipe was three or four months in the making, due in part to the fact that Mar ships sakura blossoms in from Japan to complete it. “This dish for me is super-important because it’s less about the duck and more about the cherry tree. In Chinese and Japanese cultures, the cherry blossom carries huge significance. In Japan, it’s about life and death and renewal. In China, it’s about beauty and strength and female dominance. For me, it was really about the story of the cherry blossom tree which we had in our backyard in Seattle when I was growing up.” Mar uses rouen duck for the dish, because she wanted something to taste more wild than the Peking duck she used at the Beatrice. The duck is buried in sakura blossoms with a little bit of kokuto sugar, which comes from the Okinawa prefecture in Japan and contains intense umami flavors. It’s served alongside lentils and will not disappoint.
“The philosophy of the food is that nothing takes you out at the knees with flavor,” Mar says. “When I was younger and I was creating, and this is true of many young chefs, I had a tendency to want to be loud and have this wow factor in every single dish and every single bite. As I’ve gotten older, I am so much happier not making food that screams for attention but that has this refined, dignified quality to it. It takes your breath away.” Mar looks to the work of chef Paul Bocuse and the cuisine of Lyon, as well as Fernand Point and Paul Haeberlin and the cuisine of Alsace and the ’50s and ’60s. “These happen to be the books that I’m reading right now,” she says. “I’m bringing dishes back that people haven’t heard of but, by using ingredients with purpose, I am infusing myself into them.”
Mar intends to create lifetime memories for her guests. “This is New York and this should be one of the culinary capitals of the world and it is not,” she says. “There are a handful of restaurants here that say that we are, but in the ’80s and ’90s this is where it was happening. I look around now and I don’t see anything inspiring—outside of omakase counters, that is. That’s the only sector that’s representative of the awakening of the palate. It needs to happen. That’s one of the reasons why we cook the way we cook here.” There’s an intellectual infusion into each dish, which Mar plates in designs drawn from memories. But nothing is too intellectual to be enjoyed because, with every course, even the most subtle touch enhances the deliciousness.
Hero image courtesy of William Hereford