"Skylights!" proclaims Wu, formerly of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. "How many one-story restaurants do you know in the city?"
Wong, who had longed for a lofty, refined space to house his upscale New American cuisine, was more than happy to OK the blueprint. So, Jefferson, a vision in sun-drenched minimalism that opens Jan. 8, now boasts three of them.
Perched on a cappuccino-colored banquette on a recent morning, Wong explains why the restaurant’s name stuck. After all, Jefferson evokes visions of all-American standbys like steak and potatoes, not Wong’s inventive fare like rice flake-crusted Diver scallops or edamame ravioli with ginkgo nuts. "Initially, we thought of calling it J Squared," says Wong, gazing across the street at the historic Jefferson Market Garden, the manicured Village courtyard that once held a women’s prison. "But it was too hip. Too Internet. So Jefferson just stuck."
Hip, however, is the only word to describe Wu’s flawless interior. French white-oak paneling, embedded with rectangular incandescent lights, contrasts with dark concrete-poured floors. The ceiling is made of special acoustic Japanese tiles, new to America. "You could have a party for 100 and it would still be quiet," boasts Wu, who recently completed a project restoring a Japanese teahouse on Kykuit, the Rockefeller estate in the Hudson Valley. The dining room seats 65, plus additional bar seating and a smoking lounge downstairs.
Come spring, the roof will be Wong’s greenhouse, where he will grow herbs and a few vegetables. And eventually, he plans to serve a proper afternoon tea. But for now, he is poring over Chinatown’s fruit and vegetable markets for Jefferson’s inspiration. He’s tested much of the new menu on the Pad Thai-loving crowd at Cafe Asean as nightly specials.
The winner? Organic black silky chicken with red Asian wine leeks and Malabar spinach ($19). Other dishes include seared sea bass in a lobster lemongrass reduction ($20), seared toro and foie gras with garlic stems ($25) and grilled Guyana shrimp with chrysanthemum risotto ($15).