When the under-the-radar architecture firm Modellus Novus learned that they had won the commission to design Tatiana, the new restaurant at Lincoln Center, they’d be the first to admit they were surprised. The studio, known as MN, had made its reputation on designing such cool downtown Manhattan spots as Saga and Crown Shy. After a six-week proposal process, “we beat out all these heavy hitters for this commission,” says Preeti Sriratana, a principal at MN. Even better, they were selected by a pair of their idols: architects Billie Tsien and Tod Williams, who recently completed a transformative revamp of David Geffen Hall, the home of the New York Philharmonic.
“MN makes spaces that are intimate and seductive,” Tsien says of the selection of the small studio to design the hall’s restaurant. “We went to several of their restaurants, and each one had a different character. Each one was memorable. The entirety of the public space we designed is about welcome and glamour. MN’s work is a different take on the same values.”
Sriratana and his partner, architect Jonathan Garnett, set out to fashion an interior in keeping with the values of Tatiana’s chef, Bronx-born Kwame Onwuachi. “I think New York needs more places where people of African or Caribbean descent can see themselves reflected in the food while also enjoying a beautiful setting,” says Onwuachi, who named the restaurant after his sister.
The architects had also come to that realization and began their research by looking back at the history of San Juan Hill, the historic Black and Brown neighborhood on the Upper West Side that was completely destroyed in the 1950s to make way for Lincoln Center. As a counter to that act of erasure, MN teamed with Onwuachi to create a space centered on transparency. Tatiana’s kitchen and service stations are all on view, and the material palette consciously references the texture of the city. Guests ease into velvet banquettes whose form is reminiscent of park benches; dishes like oxtail with rice and peas are served to a soundtrack of Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, and Jay-Z. Chromated-steel columns shimmer like the oil spills that inspired them, while gold chain-link curtains bring fences to mind. In this way, the design for Tatiana becomes a prism, reflecting the best of the surrounding city while making all feel welcome. “To us,” Garnett says, “this is a civic project.”
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