When’s the last time you were invited to a dinner party hosted by a 19-year-old?
You should feel at easy accepting the invitation when it comes from teen prodigy chef Flynn McGarry, who’s been hosting dinner parties at his Los Angeles home since age 10, whipping up recipes out of Thomas Keller’s French Laundry cookbook.
Now, he’s bringing that idea to the Lower East Side with Gem, his first permanent restaurant after living a nomadic life of pop-ups for the past five years.
“It feels much nicer to be able to have control over not just the food but the design, the ambiance and take it a little bit further than just how the pop-ups were my food in someone else’s space,” says McGarry.
His pop-ups — most famously the $160-a-plate Eureka in the West Village in 2016 — were modeled on the fine dining skills he learned during formal stints in the kitchens of Eleven Madison Park and Alinea, among others.
But he’s taking a slightly different approach with Gem. First of all, it’s two restaurants in one: out front is The Living Room, a 12-seat all-day cafe serving a mix of housemade and Bien Cuit pastries like sweet potato bread and a savory tart with ricotta, grilled chicories and squash.
At night beginning Feb. 27, The Living Room will transform into the first phase of McGarry’s vision of a dinner party, with just 16 guests each night eating an 12-course menu priced at $155.
“You start your meal in one room and then move to another,” he explains. “When you’re at someone’s house for dinner, you start in the living room with a glass of champagne or a cocktail and some hors d’oeuvres, then you eat the main part of your meal, then you might hang out in the kitchen for a little bit.
“So we’re trying to transition that into the restaurant setting to make it feel a lot less like just another restaurant and more like you’re coming to my house for dinner.” Though we doubt even his house — home has been New York for three years — has Gem’s extensive list of wines, including bubbly and dessert vintages.
McGarry will continue serving his own style of New American food, including his signature amuse bouche of a peanut Ritz cracker with foie gras, but fitting with the dinner party vibe. The opening menu ranges from king crab to agnolotti with chicory, potatoes cooked in yogurt with mussels and an Italian fondue-style "lamb feast."
“My food recently has transitioned to a lot more not casual, per se, but a lot more relatable where it’s still using a little bit out there techniques and ingredients, but it’s presented in a lot more comforting way and a little less austere than I think I did at one point,” he explains.
“Now, I just want the food to taste good.”
The Living Room is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Reservations for The Dining Room open on Feb. 27, with two seatings Tuesday-Saturday at 6 and 9 p.m.