Design

Design for Dinner: Juliet Burrows on the Staying Power of the Odeon

Hostler Burrows's Juliet Burrows delves into her allegiance to the downtown New York stalwart.

Cultured Magazine

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My history with the Odeon goes way back to when I used to work at El Teddy’s (a few blocks north on West Broadway) while I was still dancing. It was the late 1980s and TribeCa was still fairly deserted. Artists Space was right next door to Teddy’s and the clientele was a fabulous mix of gallerists, artists, Wall Streeters and locals. A bunch of us would walk down to have a drink after our shift. After Kim and I opened the gallery on Franklin Street, we became regulars and when our girls came home it became our family’s absolute go-to for every special occasion, as well as brunch and “work” lunches. We’ve lived in Battery Park City since 1998, so the Odeon was the perfect walking distance and made for magical family outings. TribeCa would not be the same without that blazing corner—their red neon sign. The same servers stay for years and years, the same food runners, kitchen staff, managers. This consistency matters.

They are always happy to see your children. Or your mother. Paper over the tablecloths and crayons. We still get crayons and our youngest is in 9th grade. Both our daughters used to draw and we would have to tear off the “tablecloth” at the end of the meal.

Our favorite banquette.

Aaron (Crowley), the general manager, always comes and sits with us for a visit if he emerges from his office downstairs. And Roya, beautiful Roya, wears the most amazing vintage outfits every night and glides through the room with the ultimate grace. And then there’s Austin (Nixon), another manager whom we adore. The Odeon is great because no matter how old and tired I feel, I somehow always find that little part of me that feels fabulous when I’m there. I do remember that, on one occasion, our younger daughter pocketed the salt and pepper from our table. Our only souvenir.

When I order, I usually have some oysters and the amazing grilled brook trout. They serve it with delicious julienned vegetables, quinoa and almonds. And I order my own fries with the famous aioli because nobody shares their Odeon fries. Ugh, I miss it. For dessert we order an Odeon hot fudge sundae with four spoons. They make their own ice cream and vanilla never tasted so exciting. If a meat-eating friend were going for the first time, I would tell them to have either the Odeon Burger or the steak frites au poivre.

Foods share all the elements that make for good design; when I cook I love to see the progression of a dish from raw to cooked: the variations in color, texture and the way it transforms as you add another ingredient. You are building a layered flavor profile in the same way a ceramic artist might build up glazes on a vessel. Well, okay, not exactly—but there are so many connections. I do believe that when food is beautiful in a clean, honest, natural and unpretentious way that it is more pleasurable. This is very much the kind of design I gravitate towards as well.

Tabletop artworks.

When it comes to the design of the Odeon itself, the key is lighting, lighting, lighting and the restaurant’s ability to make even a large, crowded room seem so intimate. Banquettes that sit you close to your neighbors always feel fine at the Odeon. And on coat hooks all around the room, no one is afraid to hang theirs over someone else’s.

Here’s what the website says: The Odeon, a beacon for Manhattan night crawlers since the early 1980s, may be the most consistent restaurant ever to put down roots south of 14th Street.

I always tell anyone to whom I recommend the Odeon that they will have that quintessential New York brasserie experience and get a real sense of the history of the place. They will eat delicious food: possibly the most consistent over so many years of almost anywhere I can think of. (It’s really true). It will be a little noisy, a little pricey, with a bustling, hip, arty crowd and wonderfully warm staff, some of whom have been there forever, like the regulars.