Until now, we’ve known “Lowlife” as the title of Luc Sante’s history of Lower East Side vice and decrepitude, as well as the title of mad German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann’s moody free-jazz masterpiece. The name has never failed us. So we’re kind of curious about Lowlife, a new restaurant helmed by Alex Leonard, former chef de cuisine at Blanca, the Michelin-starred tasting-menu spot from Roberta’s.
This Lowlife, opening Monday, has a high-minded pedigree: Leonard has also put in time at a couple of temples of modern gastronomy, Corton and Noma, and owner Hugh Crickmore was previously a partner in chic West Village farm-to-table spot Mas (farmhouse). So you can imagine that, despite its name, it’s closer in spirit to neighbors like Contra and Wildair than it is to Katz’s. Sure, there are nods to the Lower East Side of yore, but as you can see below, the cold borscht with raw cream and trout roe is a bit daintier than the borscht you’ll get over at Russ & Daughters Cafe. And, at $12, it’s more expensive, too.
As with Blanca, there are some Japanese touches on the menu, posted below. But much of the produce is sourced locally, from an organic farm in the Catskills owned by Crickmore’s brother. The bread is sourced even more locally, from Leonard’s old buddies at Roberta’s. Vinegars, pickles, kimchi, butter and cheese are made in-house.
Crickmore was also the wine director at Mas (farmhouse) and the bar manager at Williamsburg’s beloved Marlow & Sons, so the beverage program means business. The wines (150 by the bottle, 20 by the glass) hail mostly from France and the United States, with a preference for natural and sustainable varieties. The “renegade” sommelier has also been an abstract painter, and it shows in the Robert Rauschenberg lithograph on display alongside contemporary pieces by artists like Angel Otero, whose work is represented by nearby Lehmann Maupin.
Have a look at the opening menu and ask yourself whether the $54 chicken yakitori (charcoal-grilled on a Japanese robata and served with charred scallions) will surpass Dirty French’s roast chicken as the flashiest clucker on the Lower East Side. (Update: a rep for Lowlife clarifies that the chicken is intended to feed four.)
Lowlife, 178 Stanton St., bet. Clinton and Attorney Sts, 212-257-0509