The mix master *
Patrick Jouin makes his stateside design debut at Alain Ducasse's latest, New York bistro Mix
Christine Schwartz Hartley -- Interior Design, 11/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
When France's starriest chef opened his first New York venture, Alain Ducasse at the Essex House, he lovingly restored the interior's deco gilt, rosewood, and granite to a level of opulence appropriate to the $165 prix fixe. For his new, less formal venture, he asked French designer Patrick Jouin for something considerably more relaxed, "un bistro chic, sexy, et moderne."
Jouin had worked for Ducasse at his Plaza Athénée and 59 Poincaré restaurants in Paris and Spoon Byblos in Saint-Tropez. Never before, however, did the 36-year-old former employee of Philippe Starck have a chance to make a mark in the U.S. "I'm lucky to do something that might attract attention," remarks Jouin, whose use of the conditional is typically modest.
Indeed, Mix stands out for its carefully conceived design as much as for the menu, which mixes the Atlantic-coast cuisines of the U.S. and Europe—thus the bison pot-au-feu and the macaroni and cheese with truffle jus. Chef de cuisine Douglas Psaltis is also a newcomer, having served as chef de partie at Ducasse's Essex House restaurant. (Mix partner Jeffrey Chodorow is a veteran, with such enduring successes as China Grill and Asia de Cuba under his belt.)
The 2,300-square-foot Mix space was previously a traditional French bistro, and the renovation began with Jouin's namesake firm stripping the interior to its century-old brick walls and painting them white. "It was an old building. I couldn't really design it—or over it—so I preserved it," he explains, comparing his work to that of an archaeologist.
His next move was to enclose the white-painted sidewalls and ceiling in pink-tinted glass panels, held in place by foot-long stainless-steel poles, to inject sensuality and color. He then installed incandescent lights at the base of the panels. The pink's intensity increases as the night progresses, bathing the room in an ever warmer glow. "It helps everyone relax," he says.
Among his archaeological finds, the greatest was a row of five structural arches that now function as single-table dining alcoves at the rear of the space. These alcoves are the most intimate option among the various seating areas, all equipped with custom furniture: bevel-edge tables of zebrawood or Corian as well as high-backed banquettes and 1950's-style chairs upholstered in butter-soft taupe, beige, and cream faux leather.
Rows of tables and chairs line the sides of the room. In a rear corner sits a six-person table, above which a silk-wrapped projector is suspended. And the room's see-and-be-seen central axis is occupied by what Jouin calls the bateau: a row of tables enclosed by the backs of its fiberglass banquettes. Besides requiring waiters and waitresses to perform complicated maneuvers, the bateau also fulfills Ducasses's request for chic, sexy, and modern.
So does Jouin's tunnellike front bar area, whose ceiling is covered in chocolate-brown faux leather and hand-embroidered with an abstract map of North America. The bar counter is a 4-inch-thick slab of bulletproof glass through which light shines in nearly infinite combinations of colors. Across the way, Corian drink shelves diffuse either white light or projected videos of the kitchen. "It shows the life of the restaurant," says Jouin, pointing to an additional kitchen-video projection outside the front door—the only vibrant spot on a faux-concrete facade that's often draped by a foreboding curtain of stainless-steel mesh.
Seeing his work with Ducasse as an "opportunity to advance design," Jouin also collaborated with his engineer and craftsman father to develop a "new tool" for more efficient dining. The X, a narrow Corian-topped presentation stand, allows guests to pick freshly made appetizers and desserts and can also hold stacks of used dishes to reduce clutter. "He and I have such a good time together, figuring out how to make something work, or the best way to fabricate an object," says Jouin fils.
Working with Ducasse clearly affords Jouin a similar kind of pleasure. "Our goal is to make the service a different experience, not just interesting but also smooth," he says. With Mix done, he's busy meeting the myriad challenges of Ducasse's next outposts, an Alain Ducasse in Moscow and Spoon in Gstaad, Switzerland. "Each place is to be unique, otherwise we've taken a step backward," Jouin says. "With Ducasse, we take things as far as we can."
At Mix restaurant by Patrick Jouin, an X marks New York's spot on an abstract U.S. map that Philippe David stitched onto the faux leather covering the bar area's ceiling.
Jouin outfitted the faux-concrete facade with a 27-foot-wide curtain of stainless-steel mesh, drawn back in mild weather.
Between the entry and the bar, a fiberglass banquette serves as a small lounge area.
Custom stools line the 16-foot-long bar, topped by 4-inch-thick bulletproof glass through which light shines in continually changing colors. Behind, Jouin built up-lit Corian drink shelves. The floor is resin.
Custom Corian-topped tables and fiberglass banquettes form the bateau running down the center of the 16-foot-high main dining area.
Jouin uncovered and retained the structural arches along the rear wall and covered the ceiling in glass panels.
The pink translucent glass encasing the painted brick walls is up-lit by incandescents; the tables are topped in zebrawood.
Custom 1950's-style chairs, upholstered in faux leather, surround the six-person table in a rear corner. A silk-wrapped projector hangs above, and the floor planks are double kiln-dried oak taken from centuries-old French cattle cars. Jouin and his father collaborated on the X serving table, a Corian tray on a folding stainless-steel base.
The glass plates were handmade in France.