Shaggy Icelandic sheepskin makes the best bar seats. I know this now that I’ve sampled the Shaw Bijou, the ambitious debut restaurant from Kwame Onwuachi, a “Top Chef” contestant and former caterer from New York who says he wants his customers to feel as if they’re guests in his (lovely contemporary) home.
Surely you’ve heard about the place. Several years in the making, Shaw Bijou created headlines even before it opened, after the chef announced plans to charge $185 per diner — not counting drinks, tax or tip — meaning that with the priciest wine pairing, the bill would approach $500. The price of admission puts the new kid on the block in the big leagues, along with standard bearers such as the four-star Minibar by José Andrés. Can the fresh face deliver?
Arrivals are escorted to a cocoon of a bar on the second floor of a onetime townhouse, where a gent on the other side of a smooth black walnut counter makes drinks based on a brief conversation involving your preferences. When I say I’m thinking “mezcal” and “heat,” he tells me I’m somebody with whom he could see himself drinking, then gets busy turning tequila, simple syrup, orange bitters and citrus peels into a Oaxaca Old-Fashioned. The fuzzy embrace of the black sheepskin almost puts me to sleep; an alluring twist on a charcuterie plate revives me. Picture jerk-marinated duck prosciutto with a “cigarette” of crackling pastry containing La Tur cheese whipped with hazelnut oil, a nibble staged with dots of pineapple curd, borage blossoms and pesto powder for extra kicks.