THE EAST POLE
The most surprising thing about the East Pole is not how far east it is, but how far north. The new restaurant from Ben Towill and Phil Winser—the team behind New York staple the Fat Radish—sits at a far remove from the downtown circles where they have made their name, tucked onto a quiet block in the Sixties on the Upper East Side. “When we opened the Fat Radish down on Orchard Street, there wasn’t a crazy amount happening down there,” says Winser. “The appeal for us in opening there as opposed to somewhere like the West Village was that it was never really a destination. The Upper East Side has a connotation of just being stuffy, but I feel like there’s so much more in that neighborhood. We wanted to go uptown and open something for the neighborhood up there.”
The Upper East Side is, of course, not quite the culinary hinterlands that the far reaches of the Lower East Side were when Towill and Winser opened the Fat Radish in 2010, but the comparison works. With the East Pole, which opens today, the pair have injected a vibrant energy to a dining scene better known for staid French and Italian restaurants serving classics with little flair or imagination. “There are few people in New York City who know more about seasonal, regional cuisine than our executive chef, Nicholas Wilber, who has been with us since the beginning,” says Winser. “We sent him over to London for a month to explore all things British. He went and worked at a few restaurants and just got out of New York, and we’re very excited with what he’s come back with.”
Wilber spent some time working in the legendary kitchen at Daniel (which Winser points out is about a block away from the East Pole), and a dabble in British cuisine is a homecoming of sorts for Towill and Winser as well. The two have been friends since they were twelve-year-old boys growing up just outside Oxford. After years working on their own—Towill in a number of restaurants including Gordon Ramsay’s and Winser as a production designer—the two reconvened in New York in 2008 and decided the time was right to launch a catering company, Silkstone. “When we started off, we had a sandwich company and it was really one of the worst ideas,” Winser laughs. “We bought all of the best ingredients from these amazing local farms at the Union Square Market. I think they were costing us about fourteen dollars each to make and we were selling them for about eight dollars.”
Through Silkstone, however, the pair eventually began catering magazine shoots and fashion shows, building up a loyal fan base that made the Fat Radish an instant smash as soon as it opened its doors. “Creating a restaurant and meeting place for people was always another dream of ours. The feeling for us was that it didn’t have to fit into any particular genre as a restaurant but that it would just be a place where you could enjoy great food,” says Winser. “We wanted a place for people from all different walks of life—with the ingredients on the plate being the focal point. That place was the Fat Radish.”
The pair have only increased their profile since then, overseeing the kitchen at Montauk’s Ruschmeyer’s hotel in 2011 and opening up the Leadbelly down the street from the Fat Radish last year. Their latest venture, however, is in many ways a step up to the next level. The bilevel space has a mature, clean design that Winser says is a conscious rejection of the taxidermy-and-reclaimed wood æsthetic that has become rampant across lower Manhattan and inner Brooklyn. “I’ve only used three materials on the ground-floor space,” he explains. “It’s just white plaster, black steel, and walnut. I used the curvatures and dimensions to create this almost nautical feel, like a ship that would take you on your expedition.” That sense of adventure and exploration is strikingly apt for the two, who are sailing into uncharted territories with their move uptown and, they hope, into the big leagues. “I think for everyone involved in this project, it’s the next stage in our career,” says Winser. “We’re trying to elevate everything slightly, even for ourselves. It’s our next performance.”
The East Pole is now open at 133 East 65th Street, New York. For more information, please visit TheEastPoleNYC.com.