Situated on a bustling corner in NYC's Chinatown, Nickel & Diner's storefront isn't quite what one would expect. For starters, a Chinese-inspired pagoda motif spans along the exterior of the establishment, cleverly concealing what's inside: a classic diner, with a modern twist.
Nickel & Diner may not be the most traditional version of a diner, but its ambience and menu of reimagined classics certainly play the part. We caught up with Selwyn Chan and Ivy Tsang, Partners and co-founders of Nickel & Diner, now that they're a few months in (the spot opened in October) to get the scoop on everything from the decor to the food—we even got the recipe for their famous Ricotta Dumpling Chicken Soup.
What was the inspiration behind the decor of the space?
The inspiration of the space was drawn from the golden era of classic diners and five and dime department store lunch counters, with a heavy influence by the Art Deco period of the '20s and '30s. Our design was executed with contemporary flair and a streamlined palette that extends onto the exterior of the building as well.
Anything else you can tell us about the design?
We knew we needed to have a long, dramatic dining counter, with booth seating directly across from the counter. Linear details and patterns are echoed throughout the space to subtly evoke the streamlined Art Deco influence. Coffee is also ubiquitous when you think of diners, so to highlight our premium coffee program, we devised a virtual stand-alone cafe area at our main entry with a full service coffee bar and cafe seating.
How does the classic diner experience translate to the menu?
Nickel & Diner takes an eclectic approach to new American cuisine, with a focus on fresh, seasonal ingredients. We don't offer an exhaustive number of items on the menu, which can often be found at traditional diners, but rather a well-balanced approach curated by our chef, James Friedberg. Our breakfast, lunch, and brunch menus reflect Chef Friedberg's take on many diner-inspired dishes, and the dinner menu is where he is able to showcase his new American cuisine. The dishes are beautifully composed yet offered in an informal and comfortable, diner-inspired setting.
The chicken soup is definitely an interesting take on the classic. How did this come about?
Chef Friedberg's approach to the menu draws inspiration from the surrounding neighborhoods of Chinatown, Little Italy, and Soho. The chicken soup is a clear example of this. Made from scratch with the freshest ingredients, it offers a perfect balance of a quintessential chicken consommé, together with housemade ricotta dumplings, and a hint of fresh ginger and dill. The appearance of the ricotta dumplings in the soup initially evokes a classic matzo ball soup—another traditional New York City diner staple.
What's the story behind the coffee bar?
Apart from complementing the dining, our coffee program has been designed to stand on its own. In fact, the main entry at Nickel & Diner is designed as a virtual stand-alone full service coffee bar. We also have an exciting beverage and cocktail program in the works and hope to offer sidewalk seating in time for the summer.
Kale Cashew Bowl
N & D Chicken Soup