A well-appointed restaurant sponsored by a luxury car brand located in the heart of the Meatpacking District sounds like a place that I would not want to eat. And yet! This week at Intersect by Lexus I had one of the most fun and interesting meals of the year, a delicious twelve-course feast created by a world famous chef, delivered in relaxed but flawlessly professional manner in a plush setting. And it all cost less than a hundred bucks. What's going on here?
First you should know that Intersect is a Danny Meyer, Union Square Hospitality Group restaurant, and brings with it all the gracious service and attention to detail that that implies. And though there's no denying that the space, however subtly executed, functions as a giant car commercial—or, as the website would have it, as an opportunity "to experience the ethos of the Lexus lifestyle without getting behind the steering wheel of one of our cars"—designer Masamichi Katayama of Wonderwall has an elegant eye, and includes enough playful touches to keep things from feeling too self-important.
Of course, it's the actual food that really makes Intersect so exciting. The concept here is simple: every four to six months a different, internationally renowned chef takes over the menu, which the crack in-house team, led by Nickolas Martinez, executes. The restaurant's inaugural chef-in-residency duties fell to Gregory Marchand, which people seemed to enjoy, and this week Chile's Sergio Barroso in is town to launch a version of his acclaimed tasting menu from his Santiago hotspot, 040.
Barroso is an El Bulli alum who embraces the kind of visual delight combined with intense, often surprising flavors that made that restaurant one of the best on the planet. What used to be called avant-garde food, or molecular gastronomy, before those terms fell out favor. No matter. Just know that everything here arrives at your table in an unexpected format, and you would be hard-pressed to predict what anything tastes like without an introduction from your server. And even then, it’s best to keep an open palate when popping something in your mouth.
For the most part each of the twelve courses are meant to be devoured in a single bite, and without silverware. I love this sort of plunge-right-in dining, but timid eaters might be less giddy. Since surprise is a big part of the 040 experience I'll warn "possible spoilers ahead" before telling you that my favorite dishes included the Gunkan "sushi," in which the fish (a palometa) functioned as the nori, with a bit of rice and a puddle of spicy miso filling the boat, and what appeared to be Flaming Hot Cheeto crumbs on top; the Vuelve a la Vida Venezolano, for which Barraso takes three "proven" Venezuelan beach hangover cures—cotton candy, raw shellfish, and a Bloody Mary—and combines them in shocking fashion; and the Shank Dumpling, topped with an impossibly creamy quail egg and a chaser of smoked broth.
The most unusual dish may have been the Almond Ice Cream on a stick, with candied almond chunks on the bottom, along with wasabi and... raw salmon. Yeah, it was a little weird.
There's also a paella that looks like onigiri, an insanely rich Caramelized Tomato with lettuce sauce and a briny secret, and an Oxtail Sandwich wearing adorable little pickled vegetables. Both desserts were spectacular as well, each involving the best yogurt you'll likely ever eat. The meal lasts about two hours, and is never even a little bit boring. Frankly it feels like a bargain for $95, tip included, subsidized as it is by all that easily-ignored car advertising.
But even if you don't go for the full dinner, there are other ways to check out the three-story space. At street level there's a coffee shop with an array of first-rate pastries and a really cool bathroom. In the sunny bar area on the second floor you can get a drink (obviously) and order food from the permanent al la carte menu. And on the top level there's a free "immersive exhibit" featuring a bunch of angled mirrors and more than 1,000 orchids, which will be on display through Monday, April 15th, presumably with another Insta-friendly piece coming soon after that.
Intersect by Lexus, featuring Sergio Barroso's 040 tasting menu through mid-August, is located at 412 West 14th Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues (intersect-nyc.com)