Sometimes, the hype around a restaurant opening is more about the crowds it draws than the caliber of the concept. And no doubt, La Sirena—the first New York City concept from restaurateur Joe Bastianich and celebrity chef Mario Batali in a nearly a decade (not counting their Eataly food halls)—is a “scene,” with a capital S.
But even amid all the people-watching and design gawking to be had, the Italian restaurant manages to pull the focus back to the food and drink. Its trick: designing an intimate guest experience—even within the 14,000-square-foot space—and surprising diners with scene-stealing details on the plate.
Surprise No. 1: A reason to shoot the plate
The most image-searing design feature of the restaurant is the boldly patterned, custom tile floor that runs throughout the entire space—including both inside and outside on the patio.
So, it’s not lost on guests who order an espresso or latte that the same bold pattern is repeated in the saucers their cups are served on. And this little detail gives those customers a reason to shoot and share photographs of the detail on social media, creating instant ambassadors.
Surprise No. 2: The bar is open—at breakfast
After walking away from the hourlong wait for a single seat in the bar area on a busy Thursday night, we returned to scout La Sirena at breakfast. Even at 7:30 in the morning, the centerpiece of the operation—the massive 38-foot bar—was all lit up and active.
If its shine wasn’t enough to incite interest, the menu was ready to step in. The first page of the menu—even for breakfast—lists seven cocktails, with and without alcohol. There are breakfast and brunch classics (bloody mary, bellini) as well as more ambitious drinks, such as the Tequila Fizz or The Gardener, with cucumber, mint and ginger beer.
Surprise No. 3: Pop-up sides
The menu doesn’t mention that the omelette, for example, is served with a roasted stuffed tomato topped with breadcrumbs on the side. The surprise item sparked curiosity, as well as a conversation with the waiter about what it was and what was in it, prompting an extra opportunity for engagement.
Surprise No. 4: Dollar-store details
Batali admitted to Grubstreet.com that La Sirena was “millions of dollars” over budget. No surprise given the gargantuan footprint, custom tile, quartz bar, high-end lighting and other elements.
So it is somewhat astonishing to notice paper doilies—inexpensive, yet an effective touch—employed in the plating. (Whether they actually are the dollar-store staples or some imported fancy version remains an open question.)