Design For Dessert
Dan Shaw -- Interior Design, 7/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
For Andre Kikoski, Pichet Ong's imaginative Asian-influenced desserts read like a Rorschach test. The striations of Ong's deconstructed chocolate cake remind Kikoski of Arata Isozaki & Associates's Palasport Olimpico stadium in Turin, Italy. The chef's steamed rice cake suggests the prismatic cubes of José Rafael Moneo Arquitecto's Palacio Kursaal in San Sebastian, Spain.
"All of Pichet's desserts have architectural equivalents," Kikoski explains. "His food is sculptural, structural, and colorful." Those same words could easily describe P'ong, the restaurant that Andre Kikoski Architect designed for Ong in New York.
When architect and client first met, Ong had just finished photographing his first cookbook, The Sweet Spot: Asian Inspired Desserts, and he brought Polaroids along to the appointment. "I went home and tried to make his crème brûlée," Kikoski says. "It was a way of getting inside his head."
From that moment on, he and senior project manager Kristopher Musumano took their cues from Ong's desserts. As Kikoski puts it, "The food spoke for itself. And it spoke to us." The goal was to approach familiar elements in surprising ways—like when Ong makes a banana cream pie, then fills it with ginger as a twist.
The first steps were to organize the space, two storefronts with landmarked facades, and to decide where Ong would work. The chef wanted an open kitchen behind the bar—but he didn't want to bump into the bartender all night long. So Kikoski built an inner bar for the kitchen and an outer one for diners. By making both a vaguely boomerang shape, he was able to create a larger work surface and more seating than at conventional, straight counters.
Mirrors behind the bar-kitchen and on the adjacent back wall bounce light around the 1,200-square-foot interior. Although P'ong has two big windows up front, it was designed as a nocturnal place. "It's wonderful when you walk by at night," Kikoski says. "From the sidewalk, it looks like a glowing jewel box."
In homage to the layered desserts, Kikoski chose grainy sycamore laminate for the base of the bar and a striated ash-veneer product for the walls behind the undulating banquette opposite. Glowing niches, which punctuate the walls above the banquette, are saffron yellow and raspberry, referencing two of the exotic flavors Ong often uses. The remaining painted surfaces are chocolate brown, tea green, raspberry, and banana cream.
"Our architecture attempts to capture the spatial relationships in Pichet's food. The plates are small, but the taste is big," Kikoski says. "If this were a cupcake café, we would have never come up with this design."
Ong's tilted panna cotta with shaved pears inspired the dining room's angled drywall canopy, which subtly puts the focus on the chef. There's a modernist precedent for this element, too. Ong, who studied architecture before turning to food, immediately recognized the reference to Le Corbusier's Notre-Dame-du-Haut chapel in northeastern France—announcing, "That's Ronchamp."