BISTROT LEO: THE PERFECT DATE NIGHT
BY – GEORGE WAYNE
The perfect Autumn date night- as we traverse the first winter of the post-corona era. That perfect date night begins for GW at the anchor of Soho’s coolest foodie street and the 60 Thompson Hotel and its buzzy informal French-style bistro – Bistrot Leo.
The 60 Thompson remains the coolest and busiest (weekends are always sold out) Downtown Manhattan hotel. The Thompson Hotel of Jason Pomeranc is a timeless classic and John McDonald the legendary restaurateur has kept a loyal clientele (including one of his favorite Jean-Georges Vongerichten) popping in for dinner at the joint he owns and runs in the hotel’s lobby area.
The deliciously capable menu is devised here by the wonderful young, 28-year-old Executive Chef that this arbiter will now claim is – currently the coolest, sexiest chef dude in Soho. His name is Jesse Freijo. With indoor dining now back at 25 % and with an already chic and perfectly appointed patio dining which seats 200 this has long been the fashionable place to people watch in Soho. And the Bistrot Leo is perfectly poised to have a very fun and busy new season.
The supremely confident offerings from Chef Freijo stretch from a fresh and flavour-filled salmon ceviche to a still tantalizing bone marrow casino of Maine lobster scallion and a proper relish of toast points. The Sardines, I am told, are also a huge hit and personal first course for the owner himself who often dines here to keep a tight reign on his still very buzzy Soho restaurant.
But the perfect date night ought, to begin with, the Bistrot Leo signature Bibb lettuce lobster-laden salad drizzled with a champagne vinaigrette and ripe avocado nestled amongst the greenery. Make sure, this date night, to wear something green to match the Instagram-ready presentation here of this simply exquisite lobster salad. Dine a Deux from Table #63, or Tables #71, #74 which are my absolute first choice favourites at the Bistrot Leo.
The most savoury to savour here include the Gambas al Ajillo a flavour-bomb of a shrimp dish ladled with a Calabrian chilli-garlic sauce and where even the toasted basil is ethereal. The classic steak frites you can’t go wrong here either. Perfect plating of a classic meat dish with a gorgeous and equally tasty green chimichurri-ish signature house sauce. The entire presentation is pitch-perfect. Suffice to say that this steak dish alone ought to guarantee a sleep-over after this perfect date night. Lobster is one of the main staples from Chef Jesse’s kitchen and the House Specials do vary from night to night but rest assured that one will surely be a divine lobster based dish. Every orgasmic dollop here lends itself for the perfect climax to any evening. The Dry-Aged T-Bone is what GW has been salivating for of late and now assures yet another visit to the Bistrot Leo.
Try Dessert on the roof of the 60 Thompson Hotel and the metamorphosis to the hotel’s fabulous rooftop and the re-invention of the Nur Khan’s always hip boite- Butterfly. The Butterfly rooftop of 60 Thompson remains the chicest and most exclusive after-dinner hang in Manhattan. The Dessert menu is limited but the perfect change of pace for dessert at Bistrot Leo is the roof of Butterfly and some further house cocktails which will no doubt guarantee a second date.
The new normal with a nod to the old normal –all that and more virtually assures Bistrot Leo – 60 Thompson Street — worth a visit this Autumn in Manhattan.
MEET THE CHEF – JESSE FREIJO
GW – Where are you from Chef Jesse?
Chef Jesse- Upstate. New York in Orange county. I was washing dishes at my father’s restaurant after school and one day the sous chef didn’t show up for work and I was thrust into the role. I was around 14 years old.
GW- Walk me through your bone marrow dish.
Chef Jesse- It’s my take on a baked clam just with the seafood incorporated into the crust. leaving room for the terrestrial element beneath. Bone marrow is one dish that is here to stay. It’s too primal, too simple and too good.
GW- Now the Autumn/Winter 2020/21 menu…the thought process here. Why sardines on the menu for instance? Your boss (John McDonald) says it his favourite starter from the menu.
Chef Jesse- Who is to say you can’t enjoy sardines even not the dish in season. Bread, butter and oily fish are seasonless.
GW- As hospitality tries to pivot and survive the post-corona era. What’s your mindset running your kitchen at the Thompson Hotel?
Chef Jesse- We have to make the most of every ingredient even more so now than ever. I can’t afford to waste a cent. I have duck three ways, lobster three ways and so on.
GW- The region of Spain where you trace your heritage.
Chef Jesse- The Asturias Northern coast known for its fishermen and farmers and miners. That’s where my Dad was born.
GW- The one dish on the menu at Bistrot Leo that best defines your Spaniard roots would be?
Chef Jesse- The Gambas al Ajillo. If a taste is a memory then this is it for me. The wild shrimp and great garlic and a classic on our menu.
GW- Your father was a key figure and integral link to the iconic and still revered Elaines now closed.
Chef Jesse- He was her right hand for years. The stories he told me about Elaines are unforgettbable. He was as much as character as she was.
GW- Your fish is sourced from?
Chef Jesse- Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx. I take a lot of trips there most early mornings to pick out the catch for the restaurant.
GW- And what’s that green signature sauce on the steak ?
Chef Jesse- Maitre’d butter loaded with bone marrow and herbs. You can put it on anything.
GW- It’s delicious! And you are doing an exceptional job at Bistrot Leo. Keep it up
Chef Jesse…all the way up.