Milos in Manhattan: Estiatorio Milos, New York, New York
ARCHITECTS Alain Carle Architecte with Dyami Architecture & Interior Architecture
PHOTOS James Brittain
In the early years of his Montreal-based practice, Alain Carle thrived on urban analysis. Although today his work focuses on high-end residential design, he still aspires to “dismantle the dream house,” as he puts it, by drawing on an awareness of alterity and context. His recent expansion of the New York location of Greek seafood restaurant Estiatorio Milos reveals a similar agenda. Intending to sidestep folkoric traps, he instead sought an architectural and material expression of a specific culinary approach: that of chef Costas Spiliadis, for whom food is about precision, simplicity and freshness.
The restaurant is adorned with its share of cultural artefacts—for example, immense pithari, or earthenware jars. But Carle’s real interest is more properly understood in less literal yet more viscerally real terms—as though inspired by memories of white, crisp architecture against a clear sky and sea.
We can see this in the spiral staircase that flows downwards from just inside the restaurant’s entrance. A scalloped, sensual cascade of white steel and Pentelic marble, it shows a clear affinity with the raw materials that animate this dining place: shellfish, curds of yogurt, husks of fresh fruit. If the materials of cooking please the tongue, these architectural materials please the hand. They are simultaneously rough and refined: the marble flooring is interspersed with broad floorboards of white oak that is harvested from centennial trees, butterfly jointed and finished with a Danish wax. The hand is acknowledged too by the stair’s guardrail: one’s fingers slip into the hollow between a three-quarter steel round and the thin blade of steel protecting it. The staircase is a small miracle of making. Fabricated to precise tolerances by the Pennsylvania-based steel manufacturer CMF, it was dismantled, shipped to Manhattan, dropped into place through the front of the restaurant (after the removal of the entire glass facade) and welded together. That was just one phase of a complex and costly building process.
The staircase leads us down to a space divided by sliding slatted screens, also of white oak. Their straight lines—a counterpoint to the curving stairs—serve to separate a bar, private dining spaces and a secondary kitchen. Walls are up-lit from floor level, so the rooms seem to glow. Raw concrete frames the space far above head height. Diverse sources of indirect light are coordinated to highlight the food. One could find fault in the finish of the steel staircase: painted rather than powder-coated, the stairs have already begun to show wear. Yet this criticism would miss the point. The steel stair is not an abstraction; its finish intentionally shows traces of use. Like the worn pithari, it reveals the passage of time.
Though its origins are in a form of “slow food,” the excellence of Milos’ seafood depends on the almost-obsessive management of an international supply chain of fresh ingredients. Fish caught at night in the Mediterranean, for example, is flown to New York in the morning and soon arrayed on ice before the enraptured diner.
Carle has also designed Milos restaurants in Montreal and London, and he is the design architect for New York’s next Milos Estiatario, which will open next year in Manhattan’s Hudson Yards—okne of the world’s densest urban areas, itself a hub for the concentration of resources from far-flung places. Other projects in the Yards (by Heatherwick Studio and Diller Scofidio & Renfro for example) will celebrate movement and the raw beauty of industrial heritage. One looks forward to a similarly inventive installation of Milos: crisp, clear, sensual and evocative—a raw and sustaining beauty.
Lawrence Bird, MRAIC is a Winnipeg-based visual artist, planner and architect.
Photos by James Brittain.