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The Mondrian SoHo hotel, which opened this week on Crosby Street’s quieter end, shares a sense of aesthetics with its South Beach predecessor. Most of the surfaces are either mirrored, or a Miami-esque slick polished white; chandeliers and gold accents abound and its interiors are inspired by the 1946 Jean Cocteau film “La Belle et Le Bête” (fairy-tale interior inspiration in Miami came from Marcel Wanders’ interpretation of “Sleeping Beauty”’s castle). The latest Mondrian does, however, differ slightly from forbearers in Miami and Los Angeles when it comes to dining. Its first-floor restaurant, Imperial No. 9, which will open Tuesday, is the luxury chain’s first effort to base an eatery around a chef. Enter South Carolina-bred Sam Talbot, fan favorite and brief Bravo reality-TV celebrity.
“It’s all meant to be laid back,” Talbot explains. “Me, the food, the room, the experience.”
The restaurant is split into two seating areas. One dining room feels more traditional, with gold leather banquettes and chandeliers over shiny white enamel tables. The other is housed in a ballroom-size greenhouse, with wire garden-inspired seating and wooden tables. On sunny days it glows, literally, with the neighboring buildings fully visible through the glass walls and ceiling. (The garden may be familiar to recent fashion week revelers as the site of V Man’s make-it-rain party.)
At the table, Talbot has made an effort to create an ecologically sound dining experience. The restaurant has an emphasis on responsibly sourced seafood, but offers nonpescetarians alternatives in sharing-sized portions, such as an Iberico pork belly with seared toro; cauliflower fritters; toasted couscous with charred squash, pecorino and slow-poached egg; a skirt steak with duck fat peanut potatoes, or a Vermont white cheddar burger.
“That’s the whole point of it, to know the fisherman who caught this, the farmer who grew your tomato,” he says.
John Lermayer, of Delano fame, has created beverages with Talbot to be paired with the offerings on the menu. Gesturing at a piece of hamachi with a slice of grapefruit and a small shard of frozen coconut atop it, Talbot explains, “For example, that frozen piece of coconut will be complemented by a drink in a glass that’s been washed out with coconut water.”
The menu boasts flavorfully complex but deceptively simple dishes such as the “Imperial No. 9 Crab Louie,” inspired by a “gritty hole in the wall” in San Francisco called Swan’s Oyster Depot.
“I’ve watched those guys in their backward baseball caps and grubby T-shirts make this so many times that I have actually perfected it,” Talbot says. “The idea is not to have complicated food, it’s to have all these beautiful, simple, fresh ingredients that just found each other on this plate."