The guy on the bar stool to my right turns to me. “I love new restaurants,” he says, “when there are as many staff running around as there are people dining, and they’re all really happy.” We’re dining in the bar room at Loring Place, chef Dan Kluger’s new restaurant. While hyperbolic, the statement is accurate in spirit: Clad in sharp denim aprons, servers seem to swarm, eager to please. No one more so than the chef himself. During each of my visits, Kluger was frequently out in the dining and bar rooms chatting with guests, beaming a radiant smile. We can assume that he—like everyone else—was just happy his restaurant was finally open.
We last saw Kluger at ABC Kitchen and ABC Cocina, the Jean-Georges Vongerichten spots where he became known for Greenmarket produce-driven cooking. He’d gained a loyal following by the time he departed in June 2014 to open his own place. Anticipation grew... and then dropped off, as months and then years went by with no word. Two and a half years passed.
Now, finally, his first solo venture is open. Kluger is cooking like he’s trying to make up for lost time, producing bright, bold flavors that incorporate influences from his previous stints: hot chili peppers, likely a remnant from ABC Cocina; Indian-inflected spices, no doubt carried over from his time under Floyd Cardoz at Tabla; a hint of Asian, possibly from Vongerichten’s influence.
Diners who loved what Kluger did at ABC Kitchen will thrill to his new spot. Here, too, vegetables are the star; the best dishes are those that provide flashbacks to his previous strengths—that is, small plates of local, seasonal produce. Kluger knows his way around the Greenmarket, and it shows in dishes like wood-grilled broccoli with kohlrabi, pistachios and mint; leeks and pears with candied walnuts; or pieces of butternut squash, cut into chunks, tempura-fried and served with a lemony Parmesan sauce.