MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS — A Michelin-starred chef is hoping to redefine the Morningside Heights dining scene with a restaurant that combines upscale seafood with a casual, Downtown atmosphere.
Executive chef Derrick Styczek and his team have overhauled the Mediterranean spot Vareli, on Broadway between West 111th and 112th streets, to create the new seafood-centric venture Domain.
Styczek hails from some of the city’s top restaurants, including Gramercy Tavern, the River Café and Etas-Unis, where he garnered his first Michelin star. He earned his second at Bagatelle in Oslo, Norway, where he’s been executive chef since 2011.
“The Upper West Side is kind of a dead land for nice restaurants besides Telepan, Dovetail, Ouest," said Styczek, who is hoping his reputation will draw locals to Domain, which is owned by George Zoitas and Ian Joskowitz. Zoitas and his family own the grocery store chain West Side Market, where Joskowitz is COO.
Styczek admitted he’d rather be operating Downtown than acting as a trailblazer uptown, but he’s nonetheless bringing that sensibility to Domain.
“We’re offering a very Downtown-esque restaurant," he said, by creating a casual vibe that’s not “a jacket-and-tie atmosphere.
“It shouldn’t be a standard that you have to dress up to get a nice meal."
The offerings on the menu — from small plates of gravlax, baby octopus and smoked rainbow trout, to shellfish carbonara and Atlantic salmon — have global influences from France, Japan and Norway, among other countries.
The meals, with main dishes ranging from $22 to $32, are meant to showcase the freshness of the ingredients, Styczek said.
“At too many places the actual ingredient gets lost with all the nonsense on the plate,” he said.
Instead, Styczek noted, Domain’s food will include “some small garnishes to make the fish shine."
In sourcing the fish, meat and vegetables on the menu, Domain strives for organic ingredients harvested sustainably.
But the emphasis on presentation and creating Michelin star-caliber food may not be an easy sell so close to Columbia University, Styczek admitted.
“People are looking for something cheap… [and] for a big plate of food,” he said. “It’s a tough neighborhood."
But his partner in running the restaurant, wine director Richard Bill, said its name originated in part from their confidence in the concept.
“We feel that this neighborhood is our domain,” Bill explained.
The restaurant is open for dinner and will be offering brunch at the end of the month, a representative said.