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Schoolhouse Chic: An Artful Restaurant in Long Island City

by LiveModern Webmaster last modified Sep 10, 2013 01:05 AM
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by Margot Guralnick last modified Sep 09, 2013

Québécois chef Hugue Dufour and his wife, Sarah Obraitis, have been the talk of New York's fringe restaurant scene even since they arrived in Queens a few years ago and rewrote the rules of diner cooking. They've since moved to PS1, the Museum of Modern Art's outpost in Long Island City. At their cafe, M.Wells Dinette, they dish up veal cheek stroganoff, shrimp spaetzle with spicy sausage, blood pudding, meat pie of "coxcomb and balls," and other hearty fare lauded by every restaurant critic in town (the Village Voice called it "extreme grand-mere cuisine"). But it's the clever and economical school room design that has us taking note. For more information, go to M. Wells Dinette . Above: Inspired by the building's former use as an elementary school, the cafe is furnished classroom-style. Sarah Obraitis and Dinette partner Keith Cappucicio masterminded the design by corraling talented friends and using finds from obscure corners of the web, such as military supply sites for mess hall trays.The communal tables are made of plywood with a walnut veneer and were custom-built by architect/furniture-maker  Andrew Coslow . They're paired with classic metal and plastic school chairs from W.B. Mason, some of which have book racks. Photograph by Jesse Winter .  Above: Clipboards painted with chalkboard paint serve as hand-written specials menus. The dinette is open during museum hours: Thursday to Monday from 12 to 6 pm, and closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Photograph by Robert Caplin via The New York Times .   Above: Notebooks, crayons, pencils, and toy magnifying glasses are tucked inside the cubbies at each seat. "People come just for us, but we also have have a built-in audience of museum goers who like to sit and write and draw," says Sarah. Photograph by Robert Caplin via The New York Times . Above: The kitchen is divided from the dining room by a metal showcase. The stools and stainless steel paneling pay homage to the couple's diner days. Photograph by Jesse Winter.   Above: The matte stainless panels and shelves were fabricated by  De Raffele , an old-school diner manufacturer based in New Rochelle, New York. The kitchen sink was found at salvage source  Build It Green NYC! in Astoria. Other fixtures include a Groen Eclipse 30-gallon braising pan (big enough to cook 40 lobsters) and an  Alto-Shaam   Electric CombiOven that steams, smokes, broils, grills, and fries. Photograph by Jesse Winter. Above: A sandwich of caviar and whipped butter served on a stainless steel tray. Above: The M.Wells bread saw , made of ash and cherry by chef Hugue's family workshop in Canada, is available for $40 each via the dinette's website. He says its blade never dulls and is ideal for slicing paper-thin tomatoes and roast beef, as well as baguettes.  Above: Lone diners get their own desks on a wall that overlooks the museum book shop. Photograph via Yelp . Above: One of two chalkboards display the ever-changing menu. Escargot + bone marrow = ? Photograph by Robert Caplin via The New York Times . For more lessons in school house style see, Restaurant Visit: Nanashi in Paris ,  Design Sleuth: School Lockers , and A New Take on the Classic School Chair .






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