2018 Best New Restaurants // No. 2 Billie-Jean
Having conquered Italy and France, Robinson puts diners in a New York state of mind at Billie-Jean. The exterior is the epitome of understated, with minimal signage and an entrance cloaked in black. Inside, black walls are adorned with black-on-white prints by abstract expressionist Robert Motherwell and striking celebrity portraits by photographer Harry Benson. Elegant, carved walnut chairs are tucked into tables draped in white.
The stylish staff wears New York fashion designer Todd Thomas uniforms – some embroidered with “Lover” or “Not Your Lover” playing off the restaurant’s shared name with the Michael Jackson song. Are you on the Upper West Side or in Clayton?
Even with such investment in a flawlessly chic aesthetic, the food is of primary importance at Billie-Jean. Settle into a soft black banquette, and you’ll soon be greeted by a plate of complimentary scallion pancakes, served with ginger-soy dipping sauce, to focus your attention.
Robinson’s longtime collaborator, executive chef Ny Vongsaly, prepares an array of dishes ranging through all manner of Asian and Mediterranean influences. Duck spring rolls rub shoulders with baked quail eggs. Shrimp and pork dumpling soup, full of tender mushrooms and fragrant lemongrass, shares menu space with a classic strip steak and frites.
The vibe here is a study in contrasts: bustling yet intimate, a place equally suited for a first date, a special anniversary or an after-work glass of wine and small plates with friends. If we had to choose a uniform, we’d definitely be lovers.
Matt Sorrell is staff writer at Sauce Magazine.
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