By Rayna Katz
When Chef John Fraser opened a West Village bistro in 2017, he reportedly named it The Loyal to suggest it’s “there for you when you need it.”
After a forced shut down during the pandemic, the eatery has reopened and is serving up American comfort food but with a twist and, in many cases, a dash of nostalgia.
The spins on traditional food are coming from Chef Nicole Gajadhar, chef de cuisine at The Loyal since May. Originally from Trinidad, but a New Yorker for many years, she was appointed to the job by Fraser—the restaurant’s owner and original culinarian—who has six other dining spots and a nightlife venue in the city.
Surprise and Delight
Gajadhar previously served as chef de cuisine at Nix, a vegetarian hot spot of Fraser’s that permanently closed in the pandemic. She sees her newest venture as a meeting of the minds with her boss. “Since we reopened, we’ve kept our classic dishes, but John and I collaborated on a few dishes and elevated them.”
Those classics include a caesar salad appetizer ($14) a filet mignon entree ($42) and some other dishes. The chefs upgraded their silky burrata appetizer ($18) by combining it with another off-the-beaten-path introductory course: “shaken sweet 100 tomatoes.” The latter dish mixes tomatoes with several other ingredients, including lemon zest, and is poured onto the burrata, table side, from a cocktail shaker table side, creating a surprising presentation.
Other tasty classics include the miso-honey glazed chicken served with peanut sauce ($28) and surprisingly, the cheeseburger ($30) ordinarily a simple dish yet delicious when combined with a stewed tomato instead of ketchup and Comte cheese. But the pièce de résistance is the “sundae set ($20),” which features three scoops of ice cream in the Neapolitan flavors alongside chocolate balls, gummy bears and a zillion other potential toppings all served—literally—on a silver platter.
Storytelling with Food
Many of the dishes have stories, like a relatively new to the menu offering, jerk spiced cauliflower, derives from Chef Nicole’s Caribbean childhood and memories of jerk chicken, she said. The sundae derived in part from Chef John’s teen gig in an ice cream parlor, as well as from Gajadhar’s discovery of candy shops in the U.S. when she arrived at nine years old.
Diners appreciate The Loyal’s tasty and whimsical dishes. “The PH rolls [like a fluffy monkey bread] were delicious and had the perfect sprinkle of salt, I didn’t even need to add the accompanying butter,” said Dawn S., a recent customer. “The creamy burrata was decadent and the tomatoes served as a delightful accompaniment.”
Chef Nicole has big plans for the food going forward too. “We’re going to be more market driven because of my experience at Nix, and because that’s how I started eating during the pandemic. Chef John is a vegetarian, and people are much more conscious now of where their food comes from, so it all comes together.”
The restaurant, which seats 50 to 55 people in the main dining room, another 20 outside and 30 to 37 in an expansive bar area, also serves brunch on the weekends. Service at the restaurant is attentive without being overbearing.
But for Gajadhar, 36, her role at The Loyal isn’t just about the opportunity to cook on-site. It presents the chance to make a difference in society, she said.
“For me, being a chef is about service and something that has a purpose. I can cook anywhere but as the city reboots, I want to make sure I can find organizations to help that are close to John or me,” she said. "Having a restaurant allows me to give back to the community.”
The Loyal is at 289 Bleeker St.
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