1/08/2013 04:31:00 PM

First Bite: Cherry Below the Dream Downtown in Chelsea

Uni poached egg
Romera may have only lasted six months, with the year anniversary of the memorable one-star Pete Wells review around the corner (January 17 to be exact), but it made a lasting impression on the New York restaurant scene. After the ambitious neurogastronomy palace closed in March, rumors were swirling about which restaurateurs Dream Downtown Hotel owner Vikram Chatwal was approaching to take over the space. Jonathan Morr (known for Bond St and Republic) answered the call with Cherry, a moody, romantic den serving French-inflected Japanese fare, debuting in Chelsea tomorrow.

The Food: The wide-ranging menu (divided into 10 categories like salads, soups, raw seafood, tempura, sushi/sashimi) features seafood-heavy selections, with everything from bouillabaisse to tacos, miso-glazed sea bass and steak au poivre. Chef Andy Choi (formerly at Le Cirque and Má Pêche) has priced the menu with flexibility in mind, with appetizers falling between $8-$18 and entrees $22-$34. Given the tiny PYTs who are likely to be visiting, the shareable format makes sense. For those who care to be more serious about dinner, a full tasting and chef's selection sushi/sashimi omakase will be available. After midnight, late-night menus will kick in, to aid in the transition to more of a lounge, with the kitchen staying open till 2 AM Sunday-Wednesday and 4 AM Thursday-Saturday.

The Space: As befitting its name, the restaurant is swathed in deep-red tones, including tufted velvet banquettes, textured lampshades and rich, wine-colored fabric wallpaper. Compared to the stark, clinical feel of Romera, Cherry is stylish and seductive. Previously sectioned-off spaces containing the library and private dining room have been incorporated to the main dining room, more than doubling the number of seats. In a nod to Japanese tradition, chairs are supposedly designed lower to the ground - while a thoughtful idea, we didn't notice, nor did others we asked.

The Drinks: Sake is the star here. Morr and sake specialist Chris Johnson have curated the menu to include some exclusive varieties, and pairings will be available for each course. If that's not your thing, cocktails, whiskeys, scotches, wine and beer round out the options, and guests will be able to reserve bottles if they wish for return visits.

The Atmosphere: Unlike esoteric Romera, Cherry fits with the hotel and its encompassing neighborhood. It's an attractive, expertly cultivated restaurant that will likely suit its visiting and local scene-driven crowds well. Dim lighting, intimate seating and R&B lounge-ready covers of pop hits (think Leela James' "Don't Speak") help set the mood, and given its Meatpacking-adjacent digs and handsome bar, the late-night hours are sure to heat up too.

Details: 355 W. 16th St.; 212-929-5800


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