Rising star

Nico Abello has taken the culinary scene by surprise, with a Michelin star nine months after opening his restaurant

Peter Poulakakos, owner of Le District and L’Appart, chef Abello and David Cheikin of Brookfield Properties

One of the funny things about New York is that its shopping malls can boast the city’s finest dining. Columbus Circle’s Time Warner Center, of course, has Masa and Per Se, two of New York’s six three-Michelin-star restaurants. The dining suite at Hudson Yards promises to be similarly head-turning. And Brookfield Place, the sprawling office and shopping center across from the World Trade Center, is becoming yet another unlikely culinary hub, earning Fidi its first and only star in the 2017 Michelin guide.

Head to Fidi after six p.m. and you’ll still find shuttered storefronts, empty streets and a few tourists polishing the nether regions of the Charging Bull. But it’s all about knowing where to go. On a recent Friday night, Le District, the French food court within Brookfield Place, was electric with wine-sipping couples enjoying charcuterie spreads. And behind a set of unprepossessing double doors off a corridor of Le District is L’Appart, a small restaurant that feels like a chef’s own apartment.

“My influence is the season,” Nico Abello, chef de cuisine of L’Appart, told LLNYC. “I’m spontaneous. If I have something in my mind, I put it on the plate. But I’m not making the same dish for two weeks to get perfection.”

The young chef has taken the city’s culinary scene by surprise, earning a Michelin star only nine months after opening his first restaurant. That restaurant is now Fidi’s only Michelin-starred dining room, for now anyway.

For now, Fidi’s best meal can be found
in a food court.

“Le District and L’Appart will be joined by several other Michelin-star award winners in the next couple years. The Downtown culinary scene is in its infancy. At the Beekman Hotel, Tom Colicchio and Keith McNally are opening restaurants,” said David Cheikin, executive vice president of Brookfield Properties.

Abello and his team prepare ever-changing multicourse menus ranging in price from $105 to $145. Abello, who has worked with legendary French chef Gérard Vié in Versailles and Daniel Boulud in New York City, says that his style is best defined by ingredients rather than specific dishes — such as his celeriac cut like pasta with black truffle and Iberico or fluke with Buddha’s Hand and sucrine.

“I am more interested in taste before presentation,” he says, although all of the dishes at L’Appart were elegantly plated. “If you eat a strawberry, you need to feel the strawberry. I like citrus, acid, lemongrass and ginger. If I could put lemongrass everywhere, I would — in my drawers, in my pants, everywhere!”

Working with Boulud at Daniel taught Abello to balance textures and to compose with flavors. At L’Appart, he has borrowed Boulud’s approach to acidity and his love of pickles.

But Abello’s show couldn’t be more different than Boulud’s. L’Appart is almost unique among fine dining operations in its design: an intimate square room with a few tables and a large open kitchen. Funky floral motifs, geometric shelving and a convivial staff produce the feeling of being at a spectacular private dinner party.

“There is more of a connection with the customer,” Abello says of his open kitchen. ”Some people come to the kitchen and take a picture or ask a question. It makes everything interesting. It’s a nice ballet, nice mise-en-scène.”

For now, L’Appart is the best meal in the Financial District, but at less than a year old, the restaurant still faces the test of time — a test Abello says he is happy to face.

“I’m very reserved, very simple,” he says. “I don’t like to talk. I like to cook.”