The dining room of John McDonald's Sessanta (60 Thompson Street; 212-219-8119) in the Sixty Soho hotel looks like it could have been plucked straight from 1960s Italy. Leaning toward glam, the décor features vertical-striped maple walls, vintage-style wood framed chairs, orb light fixtures, and plush azure couches and seating. The fare at Sessanta is a bit more rustic, focusing on authentic coastal Southern Italian cuisine, with a strong emphasis on Sicily.
However, the restaurant goes way beyond red sauce and sausage and peppers. Flavors and ingredients from across the world are incorporated into the menu: couscous and figs from Africa, tomatoes from the New World, seafood from the Mediterranean, spices and dried fruits from the Middle East. "It's an interesting cuisine, because culturally there are influences from most of the global empires from the past 3,000 years," says chef Jordan Frosolone. "People don't really think about that."
A coastal Italian breeze is wafting through Thompson Street in SoHo thanks to Sessanta—the new hotel restaurant inside SIXTY SoHo—opened by John McDonald and Steven Eckler of Bowery Meat Company, Lure Fishbar et al. For the 100-seat eatery, Martin Brudnizki Design Studioeschewed sea shells for plush banquettes and an abundance of wood paneling. They're going for the "avant-garde aesthetic of Giò Ponti with the glamour and warmth of Federico Fellini;" BYO imaginary Trevi Fountain for an impromptu dip.
The team tapped Chef Jordan Frosolone, who spent time on the line at Momofuku and Hearth, to head up the kitchen, which turns out dishes reminiscent of Sicily and other watery shores of Italy. A pile of Frito Misto ($12) is playfully served atop a "newspaper," with other "Cibo Siciliano di Strada" (Sicilian street food) like Arancina ($10) and Pane con la Lingua ($12, beef tongue) offered to start. From there it's crudos, salads and grains—like the Sorghum prepared "Risotto Style" ($15) with fresh peas—composed with an abundance of nuts, citrus fruits and olives, befitting the region of inspiration.
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Someone you’re fond of.
Right now, just call them.
Now repeat after us...
“I heard about this place. You should come get dinner with me there. It’s called Sessanta, and it’s a sexy Southern Italian hotel restaurant from the owner of Lure Fishbar, and it’s now open at Sixty SoHo.”
You got a little technical there for a minute, but we think you nailed it.
The point is, what you’re working with here is a date spot, as evidenced by tomahawk steak, roasted chicken, baked pork and whole roasted fish, all prepared for an amount of people exactly between one and three.
If you want to see more of it and its belowdecks-meets-Fellini datiness, check out this series of slides.
And take this under advisement: arrive early for the date. Channel your best Mastroianni, but with a you-like spin, and neglect to look at your phone while casually sipping your Marasca Wheat Sour (cachaça, hefeweizen, sour-cherry syrup) at the marble bar.
Best to let them make the entrance.
See slideshow here.
Check out our big and juicy Chicken For Two at Sessanta, served with a side of Caponata for $57.
Come Monday, John McDonald — of Bowery Meat Company, Lure Fishbar, and Burger & Barrel fame — will open his newest project inside the SIXTY Soho hotel. Both the vibe and the cuisine take after that easy-breezy coastal Italian feeling: Chef Jordan Frosolone, who has put in time at Momofuku and Hearth, has crafted a menu that includes beef-tongue sliders, braised octopus, fennel tortelli with sardines, and, of course, a roast chicken for two. The 100-seat space, designed by Martin Brudnizki Design Studio, is filled with warm, earthy tones, giving it a relaxed, airy feel. And with a 30-seat outdoor patio, this might just be a perfect light, casual restaurant for summer.
Sessanta inside the Sixty SoHo hotel might be John McDonald’s seventh restaurant, but that doesn’t mean he’s any less nervous to open this weekend. “I live with such a constant level of fear that I become anesthetized to fear,” says the restaurateur. “You put your ass on the line, especially today with social media where everybody can so easily criticize you.” Fortunately for McDonald, a healthy sense of humor — not to mention a very successful run of projects that includes Lure Fishbar, El Toro Blanco and Bowery Meat Company — helps him work through his anxiety.
“How you doin’?” he asks, “Sopranos”-style, to his chef Jordan Frosolone. The latest addition to McDonald’s lineup of popular spots is Sicilian-inspired Italian, which apparently gives him permission to slip into a phony mobster accent whenever he so pleases. But Sessanta is not so much a hangout for Joey Tribbiani as it is for the downtown set — think fresh seaside fare. “A lot of families came to the United States 150 years ago from the southern part of Italy, and that food has been more represented in things like spaghetti and meatballs and red sauces and sausage and peppers — very Italian-American cuisine,” says Frosolone. “In fact it’s much simpler in the sense that they really just live off of what they have locally and what the agriculture brings, and that was never really translated.”
For Frosolone, who has Sicilian lineage on his mom’s side, that means dishes such as fennel tortelli with sardines, pine nuts and raisins or grilled eggplant with burrata sourced from Puglia are key to his menu. “To be honest we [interviewed] a couple chefs that you could tell kind of tried to cheat it,” says McDonald. “They did tastings for us. We ate the food and I was like, I guarantee this guy Googled ‘Sicilian ingredients.’” As if Frosolone’s descent and cooking ability (he previously worked at Bouley, Hearth and Momofuku) weren’t enough, he also brought local connections with him to the role — he’s best friends with a boutique olive oil producer on the island who’s now supplying the restaurant.
Ingredients aren’t the only things coming directly from Italy; much of the decor was sourced from the region, including vintage chandeliers and posters. “As many things we could bring into the room that were old, that was the goal — to avoid bringing anything in that was new,” says McDonald. “[Sessanta] takes inspiration from Forties, Fifties, Sixties — Gio Ponti-inspired, Italian midcentury. So if you were a real architectural buff you’d look at the way the wood walls are done with the slat board, certain techniques with the wallpaper and mullions, the plaster done in a particular style. We didn’t want it to feel like another Italian restaurant in the city.”
The interior design of the spot, which opened Tuesday, was headed up by Martin Brudnizki, whose other clients include Soho Beach House in Miami, Union Jacks in London and Le Caprice in New York. Stepping into the space feels like traveling back in time and into someone’s living room. And while McDonald and Frosolone looked to Sicily for inspiration, they also made sure Sessanta felt New York. “Italian food I really feel is, especially in New York, the most accessible go-to kind of restaurant if you do it right,” says McDonald. “I think it works for neighborhoods, and Thompson Street has this great old-world feel. It wasn’t long ago you had these great mobsters still walking around the streets.” Cue the accent.