Angie Mar's Grand Return
"When I was eight I campaigned to stay in France," Angie Mar tells me, laughing. After eating a bite of veal kidney at a restaurant with her family while on vacation, she decided that Paris, instead of her hometown of Seattle, was where she was meant to be, she remembers. "I was so obsessed with the food there."
It's January 2021, and we're sitting in the back dining room of the Beatrice Inn, Mar's subterranean palace dedicated to all things meat and New York City. As she tells this story, Mar's face softens to a wistful smile. It's a different side of the chef and restaurateur than what I expected after reading headlines about her uncompromising commitment to her style of cooking and excellence, but a lot of things had changed within her and around her since the release of her cookbook Butcher + Beast in 2019. The conversation naturally progresses to family and next steps in an uncertain time in restaurants and in New York City.
"I've done a really good job of this restaurant being a huge party, but it's also chaos 24/7," Mar says from a banquette. In the cubicle-sized kitchen around the corner from where we're sitting, a small team cooks and packs to-go orders, once unthinkable for this fine-dining institution but necessary in the current reality. Just outside of where we're sitting, the West Village looks gray and desolate against the brutal winter cold and the boarded up businesses along Hudson Street. "I just want peace," Mar says as she looks around the darkened space.
Months earlier, in November, Mar announced the Beatrice Inn, the nearly 100-year-old steakhouse that she's co-owned since 2016, would be closing and moving next door to a vacant restaurant space. The reason, Mar told the press, was a landlord who refused to budge on an exorbitant rent increase.
The Beatrice Inn had been open since 1920, and taking it over was a daunting task. But she excelled, garnering rave reviews, earning a F&W 2017 Best New Chef nod, and making the menu and dining experience a celebration of opulence, with enormous aged steaks, caviar, and magnums of Champagne. It was a party and Mar was the hostess, "transforming it into a nocturnal palace where massive cuts of aged Pat LaFrieda beef are served on silver platters… and many of the offerings are presented, carved, or prepared tableside for maximum visceral, animalistic, hedonistic, Rome-is-burning pleasure," wrote F&W Editor in Chief Hunter Lewis in 2019. It made sense, post-Covid, to restart the party next door as soon as possible.
But that's not the full story.
"I've grown creatively, and I've grown as a business owner," she says. Running a party 24/7 has its downsides, and as Mar writes in her book, she's been "sued, extorted, and had [her] face splashed across Page Six" in the time since she's owned the Beatrice Inn. In the weeks after the announcement, instead of thinking about reopening "The Bea," as it's affectionately called, Mar thought about what she wanted to do next. "I'm ready to have a place that is a little less chaotic." Instead of reopening the Beatrice Inn as guests have known it, she's opening a new restaurant concept next door. Inspired by the nickname her father and uncles called her and her two brothers, "the three horses," her new restaurant, Les Trois Chevaux, will be an ode to her family, her favorite type of food to cook and eat, to the city that has become her adopted home, and where she wants New York to go after a devastating year.
It's March 2021, and the West Village looks more alive than it had on previous visits, with flowers in front of corner stores and the sounds of children playing in Bleecker Playground. Outdoor dining spaces lining Hudson Street are full of people chatting cautiously about the future.
I find Mar at 283 West 12th Street, a space still very much a work in progress. She's wearing a sparkling white chef coat and looks perplexed. In front of her are three 22-ounce steaks at varying degrees of aging: a 30-day aged steak, a 45-day aged steak, and 60-day aged steak, all perfectly seared and thickly sliced. Today is a menu-testing day in the new space, and she wants to figure out what age of steak to serve with a pile of frites and bone marrow.
Mar grabs a piece of the 30-day aged steak and turns it over in her hands, observing it before ripping it in two and placing a piece in her mouth with the seriousness of a sommelier blind-tasting a bottle of wine, before doing the same to the other steaks. Each one is gorgeously marbled with lines of opaque fat and cooked to a perfect rare. "Do you think we should go with one bone marrow or two for this dish," she asks her crew who are working to help with menu development that day. They laugh. "I think one is enough," Aaron Chang, her executive sous chef, says.
A strong throughline in Mar's cooking is a commitment to luxury, and it's apparent in the new space as well. Luscious banquettes are upholstered in navy blue (the color of her late father's favorite blazer); the marble of the wraparound bar was handpicked by Mar herself; and the gleaming crystal chandelier that dangles above the dining room is from the Waldorf Astoria circa 1931. But Les Trois Chevaux's luxury is about communicating a different message, Mar says.
Being above ground, in a space that she has completely tailored to her liking, top to bottom, is about being seen as a chef and person, maybe for the first time. "I felt upset that people were coming to check it off the list instead of actually seeing it," she says about the Beatrice Inn, but I get the sense that she's speaking about herself. "I felt handcuffed by that iconic name."
As I'm standing in the kitchen, she's tasting everything that her team is working on and offering feedback. Frog's legs confited in duck fat and seared in a hot pan aren't up to par, so the team discusses prepping them differently, maybe poached instead. After tasting a bordelaise sauce she instructs her sous chef to reduce the wine "to almost nothing" to extract flavor and get rid of the bitterness. A truffle croissant, flaky and layered with thin slices of black truffles made in-house as an homage to Lutece, the French restaurant helmed by chef André Soltner that was often regarded as the best in New York City during its 43-year run, will definitely be on the menu, but it has to pass Mar's taste test before it gets the greenlight. She tears at it and thinks it over as she chews.
Soltner holds a special place as a mentor to Mar. He told Mar that during his time at Lutece he wanted to cook food that he believed in and was interested in, and that he hoped people would understand it. And if they didn't? So be it, he would keep cooking it anyway. "I identify with him in that aspect," Mar says. Her menu at Les Trois Chevaux is a nod to restaurants from New York City's fine-dining past like Le Cirque and Lutece, spurred by her deep research into old French cookbooks and a dedication to doing what she wants to do now. But today, the truffle croissant gets disparaging remarks, signaling to the crew that the recipe still needs tweaking. "It's not insane yet," she says.
Mar's deep reverence for French cooking is evident in everything she cooks. Chef Jacques Pepin remembers his first time eating at the Beatrice Inn, a dinner with his daughter Claudine. Mar presented them a tin of caviar and a bottle of Champagne, but the dish that made him understand her soul as a cook was a perfect, flavorful country-style paté. "Her food has personality, very strong character and personality," he says. "And like the best cooks, she's very generous. That passion and fortitude plus proper technique and talent makes her cooking exceptional." Pepin also helped out a little with decorating the new space: He gifted her one of his paintings to hang in the dining room.
In Butcher + Beast, Mar writes: "Whether you think a piece of food is good or bad, the process is more meaningful to its creator than whatever your opinion may be." On the surface it seems like a brash refusal to cater to critics, but underneath that comment is someone who thinks long and hard about their next move and what they want to say, and steels themself to the potential feedback before sharing their work with the world. In another part of the book, she talks about a writer, or as she says, "a food blogger turned critic," who she blacklisted for writing that her whiskey-aged steak catered to the 1%. Although she says her chef motto is "zero fucks given," to me, this anecdote and her new restaurant shows that Mar is an artist who in fact cares about a lot of things, including how people react to her food.
"The first time I met Angie, I'd read the stories, and the word badass came up a lot, and a lot of the press was very much like, 'woman make steak?'," remembers Jamie Feldmar, food writer and co-author of Butcher + Beast. "But someone who doesn't care very deeply and isn't as sensitive wouldn't put so much into the food that they cook."
And probably no dish on the new menu shows that more than the crown of lamb. Flambéed and carved tableside, it's seemingly just a delicious cut of meat served in grand form, which has become part of Mar's signature. But the dish is actually in honor of her father, who passed in 2018 as she was working on her cookbook and whose absence feels like it fills in the spaces in the story she's trying to tell in those pages. He cooked simple broiled lamb chops with black pepper and marmalade for her and her siblings when she was growing up, and in the quiet of 2020, with New York City and its restaurants closed, she found herself longing for those meals. "I'm actually quite antisocial and like to eat by myself because it's my time to reflect," she told me during our first meeting. At the time, it struck me as an admission of being impacted by others so intensely that solitude feels like safety.
When I say as much to her, she sits back and sighs. "I think we've all learned a lot about ourselves during this time," she says. "I felt pigeonholed for a long time, and this whole past year has really just reinforced that I'm ready for change and growth." Les Trois Chevaux is about embracing those quieter instincts or, as she puts it, putting away "the black nail polish."
I left the kitchen of the new space that day and thanked the crew for letting me hang out, but it was clear there was still much work to be done.
The last time I met with Mar she was moving through the dining room and kitchen of Les Trois Chevaux as the spaces were in the final stages of being put together. It was late May, and the West Village seemed to be in full swing with cars playing loud music, friends laughing along the sidewalk tables over brunch, and a production crew filming an episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel at the end of the street. Mar seemed to be in better spirits too, buoyed by the energy of the neighborhood and the buzz of putting finishing touches on the kitchen and dining space. In true Mar fashion, not just any creative team will do, she has to have the best. She assembled a top-tier team to help realize her vision for the restaurant, including the award-winning architectural firm BWArchitects for the décor, Raul Avila for flowers, and Christian Siriano for her team's attire. "I'm so excited to open," she told me over high tea at Tea & Sympathy.
She also had some news. "I'm not going to have steak on the menu," she said, unflinchingly. Despite what people expect of her, the opening menu at Les Trois Chevaux won't have a beef steak. Instead, she's opting for what's inspiring to her right now, like calves' brain quenelles with aerated bechamel and truffles. The point is not to be contrarian, but to leave the door open to cook whatever she wants in the future. "I'm sure that'll change as time goes on and I'm inspired by new things," she said. She's also been looking to Chinatown to support local businesses and working with local, family-run seafood purveyors. She uses words like old school, chic, and fantasy when describing how Les Trois Chevaux will feel.
In her book, she writes, "New York has welcomed me, embraced my oddities, fed my neuroses, and nurtured my creativity." With Les Trois Chevaux, she'll be putting her current obsessions and point of view on a platter to be consumed, on her terms. "The new place is like a clean slate, and she doesn't have a heritage to live up to there," Feldmar says. "This is really going to be Angie Mar in her element, just Angie completely like a thousand percent herself."
And it seems a newly reopened New York City may be once again ready for Ms. Mar, who is just as energized and ready to host a different kind of party. "This is the direction that New York needs to go," she says. "Someone has to do it."