A Chinese restaurant, a bakery, and a pizzeria—all whet New Yorkers' appetite for sustainable design
Annie Block -- Interior Design, 6/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Hold The Spareribs
Michelle Jean paid attention in high school—especially to her Chinese history class. The myriad dynasties fascinated her. So much so that she continued her education with a master's in hospitality management from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, before launching Orient, a New York pan-Asian restaurant, in 1999.
That first effort closed after a fire. Still, she says, "It was open long enough for me to see there was a market for quality, healthy Asian food that isn't expensive." She's now proving that theory with an organic Chinese restaurant, Ginger.
The new restaurant, some 100 blocks north of Chinatown, is in Harlem's first green mixed-use development. Named 1400 on 5th, the building was designed by Roberta Washington Architects for the developer Full Spectrum of NY. The top seven stories are residential, the ground level retail. Constructed with 60 percent recycled or renewable materials and heated and cooled entirely by geothermal energy, the building is going for a LEED-silver certification.
Jean jumped at the opportunity to stake a claim in a burgeoning area—eco Chinese-style. To help do it, she rallied Fu. Design, which had collaborated on Orient, and Andrew Phillips Architects, the firm behind überhip Butter, where she'd worked while earning her master's.
Heating up the 3,800-square-foot restaurant's envelope of slate and bamboo is a red-lacquered bar. A monumental driftwood base supports the restroom's stainless-steel sink. And overlooking the kitchen, which doles out grade-A fare that's rarely fried, is a gilded Chinese foo dog.
From the day he opened New York's City Bakery, 16 years ago, Maury Rubin has been ecologically conscious. The muffins, pastries, and scones on his menu are prepared from locally grown, organic ingredients. And the nearly 100 pounds of kitchen scraps produced each day are picked up and composted.
"As a chef, my decision-making is closely tied to the environment," he explains. "It was time to connect environmentally sound food to the venue it's sold in." With that, his all-green bakeshop, Birdbath, was born.
Built in just five weeks for $10,000—with the assistance of City Bakery general manager Sara Weeks and carpenter David Schutz—the 240-square-foot storefront is a showroom of the sustainable, the re-purposed, and the found. Flooring is cork. Walls are covered in sky-blue recycled polyester, farmhouse-red milk paint, or wheat board trimmed with a non-VOC composite derived from sunflower seeds. A slab of marble is a stone-yard scrap. The Depression-era cash register was discovered in the basement.
The display table in front of the register has a bamboo-laminate top and a base that's actually insulation made from recycled blue jeans, folded into a 4-foot-high stack. "I was going for something along the lines of Joseph Beuys," says the baker, who's exploring his next vocation: sculpture.
Piece Of The Pie
You can take the designer out of the Rocky Mountains, but you can't take the Rocky Mountains out of the designer. Make partner Ian Colburn's pizzeria, Slice, the Perfect Food, pays homage to his Colorado upbringing. "The general sentiment there is to respect nature," he says. "My choice of materials refers back to that—and to what's healthy."
Colburn's initial concept for the 330 square feet was to clad the floor and all the walls in bamboo. But behind the old plasterboard, he discovered original brick that required only minor repairs. With the bamboo used for the floor and just one wall, Colburn had enough left over for a bench. "It was a nice reuse of material," he says.
The notion of reuse reappears in the prep-baking area. Floor and walls are covered in black subway tile that's new, but the stainless-steel oven and shelves are all in their second life, purchased used from kitchen suppliers. "It's not always necessary to have a new product," the designer insists.
What's necessary at Slice is ingredients that are organic, all-natural, or free of dairy, wheat, or gluten. Think whole-wheat crust topped with hummus, soy mozzarella, and plum tomatoes. "It's alternative pizza for the health nut," owner Miki Agrawal says. Sounds very Colorado. Fitting, then, that a Boulder branch is in the works.