Dining in thoroughly reclaimed settings
Simon & the Whale New York City
You almost wouldn’t recognize the old flophouse at 23rd and Lex, said Adam Platt in New York magazine. The bricks have been cleaned, the handsome lobby is refurbished, and restaurateur Gabriel Stulman has sprinkled his “special brand of hospitality dust” on the two in-house restaurants. Stulman is “one of the masters” of the cozy, accessible aesthetic that’s been sweeping the New York dining scene, and he’s done particularly well with this foray into the Flatiron District’s Freehand Hotel. Built in 1928 as the George Washington, the old-school hotel lends itself to touches like the restaurant’s polished-wood bar and shelves of books and glasses. Better yet, Stulman excels at finding and empowering talented chefs. Here, Matt Griffin does creative things with standards, making his carpaccio with lamb, not beef, topping oysters with ginger granita, and dressing his crudo with shiso, puffed rice, and a splash of coconut milk. “If squid is your obsession, the dish to get is the squid confit with mussels, beech mushrooms, and black barley.” 23 Lexington Ave., (212) 475-1924
Woolworth on 5th Nashville
“Before you go inside Woolworth on 5th, look at the black-and-white photograph displayed left of the entry,” said Nancy Vienneau in the Nashville Tennessean. In it, a young African-American man standing on the same sidewalk holds a sign that reads “Human Rights Before Profit.” Taken during the 1960 Nashville sit-ins, the image is a reminder that this site once turned away black customers—and that the restaurant that occupies the restored landmark celebrates the better city that was born in that confrontation. The restoration itself will “leave you agog—the grand feel of the main dining room, the nostalgic look of the soda fountain counter, the original terrazzo floors.” The menu, created by owner Tom Morales and chef Matt Farley, only begins with breakfast grits and dime-store burgers: Dinner offerings include a “must-have” sweet potato–and-kale soup, family-style pots of pork-peanut stew, and cornmeal-dusted fish fillets with “bitterly delicious” collard greens. When you’re done, check out the New Era Ballroom downstairs. The house band plays big-band swing, and local R&B legends also perform regularly. 221 Fifth Ave. N, (615) 891-1361
Postal Fish Co. Pittsboro, N.C.
There are boatloads of restaurants in the Raleigh-Durham area, but there’s now a reason to travel even farther inland for seafood, said Greg Cox in the Raleigh, N.C., News & Observer. In a handsomely converted mid-20th-century post office in the historic town of Pittsboro, chefs James Clark and Bill Hartley offer a daily-changing menu featuring catch “as fresh and expertly prepared as you’ll find in these parts.” The chefs take turns driving to the coast to buy off boats there, making their fare a bargain as well. Cast your line in the menu’s fresh-catch category and you might snag wood-grilled Southport cobia, a rarity this far from the coast, or North Carolina sheepshead, pan roasted with sugar snap peas and crab roe velouté. You can finish with an excellent black-walnut tart made by Clark’s wife, Marcey, but before you make the journey, get a reservation. “Judging by the crowds, a lot of people have already discovered this place.” 75 W. Salisbury St., (919) 704-8612