For some megawatt talents—your Diana Rosses, your George Michaels, your Beyoncés—stepping out on one’s own feels inevitable, an obligatory move in the trajectory of a successful career. But for all its outward eventuality, quitting the band for solo ambitions is still a risk: Deviate too much from the sound that made you, and core fans may feel alienated or, as the kids say, shook. (And not in a good way.)
Dan Kluger doesn’t seem worried about backlash at his years-in-the-making solo debut, Loring Place, his first restaurant gig since shedding the security blanket of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC restaurant empire back in 2014. For 20 years, Kluger worked in the shadow of food-world superstars—Danny Meyer at Union Square Cafe, Floyd Cardoz at Tabla, Tom Colicchio at the Core Club—but it was his tenure at ABC Kitchen and later its tapas offshoot ABC Cocina that put Kluger under some real spotlight.
His vibrant Greenmarket riffs not only earned ABC Kitchen a James Beard Award in 2011 but also a legion of locavore followers who have seemingly tailed the chef the 10 blocks downtown to his new dining room, a split-level, ABC-lite expanse of whitewashed walls and sleek neutrals. Suited salt-and-pepper men and ponytailed women in shaggy fur coats populate the pinewood tables, dipping butternut fries in lemony parmesan dressing ($11) and excavating rainbow cauliflower from beneath a flaky fillet of black bass ($30).
Kluger isn’t so much striving for a new sound as he is remixing familiar rhythms. And why shouldn’t he? It’s not like Justin Timberlake stopped crooning pop tunes post-’N Sync. As at Jean-Georges’s restaurant, there’s a starter of ricotta, kabocha squash and toast ($11), but here it’s given a lustier beat: Drag slices of grilled sourdough through a cast-iron skillet of baked, bubbling ricotta topped with squash that’s roasted until it’s as soft and sticky as jam. There’s a whole-wheat brussels-sprout pizza ($17) as well, the green leaves lightly charred from a turn in the wood-fired oven, but Kluger gives all of that virtuous vegetation a welcome jolt of jalapeño and plenty of salty aged cheddar.
The chef’s acclaimed layering techniques—finding harmony in a clang of sweet, sour and salt—are showcased in plates like crispy bulbs of Indian-spiced cauliflower brightened with a tart swipe of Meyer lemon jam ($11) and a hyperseasonal grain salad with earthy-sweet root vegetables dressed in smoky chili aioli and a punch of lemon ($14).
On paper it may all look very ABC Kitchen, but Loring Place is entirely Kluger, in all of his seasonal, solo glory.