When the snow begins to fall and the sky turns pitch black at 5 PM, hungry New Yorkers look for more than just a good meal come dinnertime. They want a place where they can check their troubles at the door (along with their winter parka) and cozy up with a stiff cocktail and a plate of gnocchi—or pretzel covered cheesecake bites. Tucked away in the basement of a historic brownstone in Greenwich Village sits Omar’s La Ranita, a restaurant and private dining club that attracts both socialites and celebrities for its old-school vibe and market-driven menu.
Featuring a sizeable main dining room and five auxiliary rooms including a library bar, garden room and wine cellar, Omar’s feels like a classic New York eatery infused with modern touches. Hand-drawn murals and eclectic photography offset a traditional black and white color palette, creating the perfect mix of uptown sophistication with downtown cool. But the real standout is the food, prepared by Executive Chef, Julian Projanski. The former Eleven Madison Park protégé tells Haute Living about skipping culinary school, highlighting seasonal ingredients, and creating menu items based on what he eats for dinner at home.
What inspired you to become a chef?
I like to eat and I like to cook. As a kid, I used to cook with my family for fun. I was working in a yacht club in Nantucket and towards the end of the season I came across a French Laundry cookbook and my head exploded. I thought to myself, this is so much better than this yacht club food! I need to be doing this!
Did you go to culinary school?
No. My plan was to come to New York, try cooking in a fancy restaurant, and if I liked it, go to culinary school. And I did like it, and then I was like, why bother? I saw the kids coming out of culinary school and they didn’t know more than me.
What prompted you to leave Eleven Madison Park and come to Omar’s?
I wanted to do my own thing and be in charge of what the food was like. The food at Eleven Madison Park is extremely refined, cutting edge and modern, but it’s a little esoteric for my tastes. It’s not really feasible for most people to cook that way. Here, I can do a little more classic French-driven food, which is what I like to do.
Which chefs do you admire?
So many! Daniel Humm and Harold Moore have to be two because those are the guys I worked with the most. I worked with both of them for three-and-a-half years. Every time I cook, I hear one of their voices in my head telling me it’s wrong.
Describe your cooking style.
A lot of my ideas come from what I do at home. The veal blanquette came from something I made at home for dinner. It’s on the menu now. I take ideas from all over like looking at cookbooks, watching old videos on YouTube of other chefs, and walking around the greenmarket. I try to take ideas from everywhere.
Do you listen to music in the kitchen?
We listen to music lightly during prep time. Some days it’s hip hop, some days it’s The Pixies. Today, it was folk music. During service, there’s no music for communication purposes.
What’s one of your favorite dishes currently on the menu?
I really like the gnocchi as a first course. It’s very light. It’s something that you see all around, but I think I do it better than everybody else.
Oh really! What’s your trick?
I can’t say! It’s very light. It’s not heavy like lead, and I use a lot of fresh herbs and a broccoli puree with garlic chips. It’s classic flavor, but really light and subtle.
What’s your favorite entrée?
I go through phases. I’m really liking the blanquette now because it’s a cool technique—the sauce is really light and foamy, but still a braise. But in six weeks, I’ll probably be sick of looking at it.
And for dessert?
It’s got to be the s’mores with toasted meringue or the cheesecake pretzel bites.
Does the menu change seasonally?
It’s a rolling change. It’s based on what’s coming in and what’s going out. We had a young chicken with braised fennel and radishes previously on the menu, but I couldn’t get baby fennel anymore, so rather than use normal big fennel and compromise the dish, we got rid of it. Things are constantly changing and constantly evolving.
What ingredient do you love cooking with?
Potatoes. They’re so versatile and there are a million different techniques… it’s not just mashed potatoes or fried potatoes. You can use them as a base for things like gnocchi or you can make really light blinis. It’s the mark of a good chef when he or she can take something really normal like a potato and turn it into something that you wouldn’t recognize as potato driven.
What is your least favorite food?
I can’t stand fruit that’s past its prime. I’m very texturally driven and if fruit is not perfect, I can’t mess with it. No spots on bananas, no mealy apples. I can’t stand pulp in my orange juice either.
What would you choose as your last meal on earth?
A really long fine dining experience like at Per Se or Eleven Madison Park. When I eat a perfect fine dining meal, time stands still. It’s just a rolling course of perfect food and service. I had a six-hour meal at Per Se and I barely even noticed that time was moving. I know the trend these days is less complicated, family style, but I enjoy the theater and the dramatics of a fine dining meal.