Down on Ludlow Street in NYC’s historic Lower East Side, The Metrograph Commissary is a new concept taking the way we think about “dinner and a movie” to another level. The unique restaurant — with its stellar food and design — is a part of Metrograph, the first independent movie theater to open in Manhattan in over a decade.
With its old Hollywood-inspired design by founder, filmmaker and designer, Alexander Olch and a menu of timeless dishes it’s modern twists (think steak tartare, Waldorf salad and spaghetti pomodoro) by executive chef Dennis Spina, the cultural hot spot features two stylish bars and a cinema-dedicated bookshop. Metrograph programming by co-creator Jake Perlin features a curated selection of classic films, rarely seen archive prints on 35mm, as well as independent new releases from all over the world. Reserve recently chatted with the Metrograph Commissary team about the relationship between food and design, how to keep a great staff and the influencers that restaurateurs should be listening to.
Restaurant Food and Design
Tips from The Metrograph Commissary’s Founder & Chef
What was your inspiration for Metrograph Commissary?
AO: The Metrograph Commissary is inspired by the restaurants of the same name on the old Hollywood studio lots from the 1920s to the1950s, where cast and crew all ate their meals together while shooting a movie.
Why is this the right time for a concept like this?
AO: As our culture makes everything faster and more accessible online, I think we miss the feeling of what genuinely feels magical. Going to see a film should be an occasion. Seeing a movie should be a special experience, and a very social one. Enjoying an excellent meal, with friends, in an atmosphere designed for conversation, inspiration, and even work (a lot of writers are going to be spending mornings and afternoons working on screenplays here), is an important idea for us.
Considering the restaurant business is so competitive these days, to what extent should restaurateurs have a unique vision?
AO: To be honest I have never thought very much about competition. The challenge in life I think is to make something as wonderful and special as possible and hope that all the hard work pays off. The plan of Metrograph is unique — a restaurant, two bars, a bookstore, a candy store and two movie theaters — all designed with one aesthetic, one coherent, magical experience in mind. And I very much hope all the hard work pays off!
Why should restaurant owners be thinking about design?
AO: In our case, the design is particularly important, as we’re playing with an idea of cinema and romance, playing with design motifs across history, playing with the idea of what is classic — both in the space and in the menu itself.
To what extent does design affect one’s experience of a restaurant?
AO: Without amazing food, the design will go unnoticed. But if the food is working, the design can elevate the experience. That’s a big deal here, as we have guests who are spending so much time in the space, not just eating, but hanging out, reading, seeing films. The design is very much like the production design of a film — a way of telling a story for our guests.
What kind of experience do you hope your guests have?
AO: We hope they’ll never leave. Come for a cocktail, stay for a film, browse the bookstore, try another cocktail, eat a few appetizers, stay for dinner. There are so many different experiences here. You could work, take a meeting, take a date, come by yourself. This is hopefully a place that means a lot of different things to many different people.
How do you define good design?
AO: I might end up spending my whole life working on that.
Where should restaurateurs be looking for inspiration?
DS: Great inspiration can come from any walk of life. It’s so important to travel and get out of the New York bubble, to remember that countless other places are thriving and doing things differently — from cultural influences that affect flavor profiles to the visual aspects of dining.
How do you plan on keeping menus fresh?
DS: We’ve created a backbone for the menu, which hopefully includes some signature dishes that people will want to return for. We will change accents and specials with the seasons to keep things interesting.
Should restaurant operators pay attention to trends?
DS: Generally if you’re following trends in restaurants you’re already probably too late. Better that the restaurateur/chef/owner create something that is completely genuine to him or her. Gimmicks are pretty transparent.
Biggest tip for restaurateurs?
DS: Be nice to your staff as well as your customers. Travel. It’s so important to leave New York and see what’s happening in different cities and cultures.
How do you train and keep a great staff?
DS: I have great relationships with people I have worked with in other kitchens, so some of them have joined me here.
AO: It’s important to always listen. A good sense of humor also helps a lot.
How do you turn first-time guests into loyal, repeat customers?
AO: Being a host is a critical and fascinating job. We encourage guests to enjoy the space in any way they’d like, whether it’s to eat at the bar, drink at the couches or set up a large table — to feel at ease. I think if you feel at ease, you’ll be coming back.
Who or what influencers should restaurateurs be paying attention to?
DS: Brooks Headley — his cookbook is amazing, like a zine for chefs, and his spot Superiority Burger is so great and cheap. I like Robert Sietsema on Eater and Scarlet Lindeman.
What are your favorite restaurants?
AO: In New York, I adore the classics: Odeon and Indochine. Paris: Chez Omar. Tokyo: Toriyoshi.
DS: Le Baratin in Paris,. In NYC, Roman’s in Fort Greene, Katz’s Deli, Four Horsemen in Brooklyn, Ushiwakamaru.