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At Altamarea Group’s newest concept, 53, the ambiance is just as important as the food. Named after its address—53 West 53rd Street—the restaurant is adjacent to the Museum of Modern Art. The group retained design firm ICRAVE for the restaurant’s three-story interior, which sports mid-century modern details. And thanks to a partnership with the Friedrich Petzel Gallery, 53 will feature a rotating selection of fine art.

The end result is a stunning property helmed by renowned Singaporean chef Akmal Anuar. But bringing all the pieces together, especially at the height of Covid, was an art unto itself, as founder and CEO Ahmass Fakahany explains.

World-changing challenges

We were building all of this during Covid. The world went through a very difficult period and some of the things that needed to be delivered, whether it was equipment or furniture, were a bit challenging. The other challenge was being able to not only hire great chefs with Asian cuisine expertise and capabilities in the U.S., but also work with chefs from outside the U.S. Certainly, there were travel difficulties with Covid and visa challenges.

Fine design and dining

We decided to be uncompromising on the design, look, and feel, as well as the quality of the food; if we had to sacrifice something, it wasn’t going to be those two things. 53 is a multisensory experience, and I think all the senses need to be stimulated concurrently. The important part is having this living organism of a restaurant that continually recalibrates throughout the evening, visually capturing the art and essence of the beauty of what’s around while you’re eating good food.

New directions

I would say 53 is a new direction for the Altamarea Group portfolio. Here, we’re going into contemporary Asian cuisine. Frankly, we went straight to Asia with chef Akmal in Singapore—I have known him for many years. Still, creating a new brand with a new cuisine was a lot of pressure for us; you have to believe in yourself and have purpose. I lived in Asia for years, so I knew what the end goal and product could be. I’m very proud of where we are, and the reaction has been phenomenal.

A bet on New York

It is definitely a supportive and respectful move to bet on New York City, and Manhattan specifically. A restaurant this size doesn’t open magically when Covid starts to disappear; these things take time to build. So, it’s definitely a heartfelt moment to do that and employ people and get them excited.

Word to the wise

If you have a concept in mind, stay true to the vision. Everyone has an opinion on food and feels very strongly about it, and I respect that. But you need to stay true to the vision because sometimes, especially at the beginning, it all goes back to self belief.

Chef Profiles, Feature