The restaurant featured a rotating cast of guest chefs from around the world.
Photo: Daniel Krieger / The New York Times / REDUX
Over the past two years, the sadness has continued in a way that has become almost shockingly predictable. In turn, we have made a habit of mourning the places we will never visit again. In general agreement, we mark the loss of institutions like the ’21’ club and Egg with elegies distinct from those with which we mourn the loss of hot spots like MeMe’s Diner or Flora Bar. The passing of Jeepney and Hua Ji Pork Chop Fast Food causes lamentations in a different tone than that of a Hunky Dory or a West ~ bourne. Some were the end of an era, others seemed to be the end of this one in particular.
It’s a little less clear what we’re doing to mark the closure of a particular establishment like Intersect by Lexus.
The awkwardly named restaurant, which will serve its final dinner next weekend, was one of the first to enter the “restaurant as experiential marketing” category. It opened in November 2018 as “a unique creative space for people looking to be inspired by fashion, art, food, music and technology”. The first floor was devoted to sleek furniture that looked like free-standing car seats, an assortment of Lexus gadgets, a full-size prototype car, and, if I remember correctly, a Lexus hoverboard. The shelves were well stocked with tomes published by Taschen, Rizzoli and Phaidon, each hand-selected by two curators. Especially for me, who considers myself a bit of a bathroom connoisseur, the toilets were accessible through a hallway bordered by a wall of small cars and the automatic doors opened with a satisfying, even diuretic, whisper.
The main dining room, on the other hand, was accessed by climbing a staircase against a wall of dismembered Lexus rooms ghostly white, like an automobile death mask. The concept, which was operated by Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, was designed to accommodate chef residences of four to six months each. The first conductor, Gregory Marchand from Frenchie in Paris, was followed by Sergio Barroso from Restaurante 040 in Chile and Tomás Kalika from Mishiguene in Buenos Aires. The list of visitors continued to grow until last October, when Nina Compton from Compère Lapin in New Orleans would become the final guest.
Although the chefs in question were present for part of their residences, the day-to-day interpretation of their dishes was the responsibility of the restaurant’s executive chef, a man named Nickolas Martinez, and his team. When I went up the stairs for the last time last week, I saw Martinez on the other side of the bar. He was getting some sort of what I guess was a farewell gift from a regular. On Instagram, I saw that Compton was shaving truffles at his new restaurant, the Bywater American Bistro in New Orleans, but his physical absence didn’t matter. Over the years, I’ve watched Martinez and his team change shapes to perform Barroso’s whimsical bites (such as venezolano ‘vuelve a la vida’, ceviche on a little Bloody Mary sorbet and a cotton candy pillow, which surprisingly didn’t hate), Kalika’s hearty short rib and tongue pastrami sandwiches, and beyond. This is the edible activity of Zelig, a kitchen-to-kitchen telescope. It was also a passport for people who do not globe-trot.
When I got it, the final menu was an iteration of what’s available at Compton’s New Orleans restaurant, a test of West African, Caribbean, and Coast Creole cuisine. Two buttermilk and chive cookies were warm pillows that melted honey butter and bacon butter. A trio of fried blood sausage balls spilled their guts (and rice) when they were split open and soaked in sour orange mojo. The tango curry goat cheese with sweet potato and cashew gnocchi, and West African peanut soup had a heat that crept in like a mugger. Frankly, this was one hell of a good meal at an out of town restaurant that I have wanted to visit for a long time – and I’ve been saying the same for the three years since Intersect has been open. When it closes, I will lose this particular edible teleportation vehicle for the foreseeable future.
To be fair, maybe the weirdest part of Intersect by Lexus wasn’t that it was essentially a ship for the marketing team of a luxury car brand. (As Genesis House says around the corner, this may have been one of the early entrants into a booming category.) It wasn’t even that remarkably good. It was the very idea that an open, shape-changing restaurant could exist in Manhattan in the first place.
While the durability of pop-ups has ratified the idea that we diners love impermanence, a pop-up is a time-bound thing. The only change he undergoes is whether he is there or not. A restaurant like this, on the other hand, is – or was – a permanent place that was constantly evolving. an idea quite slippery, more squirrel. It’s a kind of meta-restaurant. The fact that the place has lasted as long as it has – and by all accounts that it is doing well – has given me hope for the adventure of the food-eating public. our city.
Equally outlier and unlikely was to find a chef like Martinez, who was skilled enough to faithfully execute a wide range of recipes and styles in the service of other chefs. Nobody wants to lead a cover band. And yet, for me, this selflessness was, and continues to be, a model of commendable talent.
At the end of this week, Martinez and the administrative staff will be absorbed into USHG. Books, sculptures and artwork will be distributed to friends, family and staff. (I marked a copy of Teju Cole’s very good Blind spot.) The hoverboard is gone, but most of the furniture will end up at Lexus dealerships. Where are the small cars? Who knows, maybe at a small dump. Either way, Intersect by Lexus will cease to exist in New York City, and the destinations it served as a portal to will only become more distant. If it is difficult to mourn the restaurant, it is because it is not a simple thing that gets lost, but a very strange place, very improbable indeed.