An authentic welcome home and a new attitude in premium dining: introducing Tatiana

Jamila Robinson - 25/05/2023


Less than a year old, Tatiana by Kwame Onwuachi is not only New York’s hottest restaurant, but is rewriting the narrative around high-end dining experiences. As it’s named the Resy One To Watch ahead of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, Jamila Robinson explains how and why this eatery is a gastronomic gamechanger

When you walk into Tatiana, you are greeted with a mix of ’90s and early 2000s-era hip hop and R&B and a huge “welcome home” from the staff. It will make you want to Soul Train Line your way into the dining room. If Chef Kwame Onwuachi recognises you, he’ll bounce with you, give you a tight hug, or maybe twirl you around. Entering Tatiana sets the tone for an exciting and original dining experience, one that is unapologetically Black American, where the food is the brightest star in this cultural constellation.

The New York newcomer is among the most important openings in a post-pandemic reimagination of dining that has taken hold throughout the US, where French and Italian conventions are set aside for a new generation of chefs who define American cuisine through the dishes of their states, regions and ethnic backgrounds.
Braised oxtail with rice and peas evokes the Caribbean’s popular pepper pots (image: by Evan Sung)

Tatiana is loosely described as Afro-Caribbean, which is probably too prosaic a catchall. Onwuachi, who was raised in the Bronx, centres his menu around the African diaspora, with flavours influenced by his time living in different parts of the world, including Nigeria, Jamaica, Louisiana and Washington DC. The chef draws upon the specific lifestyles of Black New Yorkers who are exposed to Caribbean, African, Haitian, Indian, Chinese and other cultures in a single neighbourhood, and unifies those cuisines in ways not seen in other New York restaurants, or indeed, in many restaurants internationally.

Dishes such as egusi dumplings, curried goat patties and shawarmas with lamb and turmeric represent a tapestry of global cuisines, and the cultures of millions of people who have ties to the African diaspora, from Morocco to the Dominican Republic.

“It feels like a warm embrace from our distant relatives across the US, Caribbean and Africa,” says Nina Oduro, the Ghanian founder of culinary consultancy Dine Diaspora. “Tatiana is so much more than a restaurant. It represents and recognises our interconnections, our richness and diversity.”
Egusi dumplings and honeynut squash piri piri salad (image: Evan Sung)

It’s also a celebration of the ingredients – suya, jerk, Berbere, piri piri – that have long been staples in cities like New York, Washington and Detroit, but may still require a visit to a specialty market after an unsatisfying search in the ‘international foods’ section of the grocery store.

Food as cultural intersection

The menu acknowledges the foundation of American food, which was grown and developed by the descendants of enslaved Africans who eventually migrated to other parts of the US, adding their influence to regional ingredients. Dishes at Tatiana illustrate these intersections and put them into a New York City context.

Mom Dukes Shrimp with Creole butter and toasted brioche is an heirloom recipe that pays homage to Onwuachi’s mother, Jewel – who is also a chef – and her Louisiana roots. Okra, the diaspora staple, here is crispy, snackable and spiked with South African peppa sauce, a blend of Scotch bonnet, vinegar and cumin. Braised oxtail with rice and peas earns its rightful place with an upscale presentation reminiscent of other Caribbean culture’s pepper pot. 
Tatiana's menu is a celebration of Afro-Caribbean cuisine in a New York City context (image: Evan Sung)

And Tatiana’s curried crab is undoubtedly one of the sexiest dishes being served in the city right now. The luscious stew brightened with finger lime is served with roti, a nod to Trinidadian cuisine and Maryland crab season.

Onwuachi also brings in New York, inspired by the packaged baked goods he bought at Bronx corner stores reimagined as ‘bodegas desserts’: chocolate snack cakes served with sprinkles and powdered doughnut ice cream. 

These dishes are “game-changing” and “define so much of our New York City upbringings,” says Gregory Gourdet, the James Beard Award-winning chef of Kann, a Haitian-American restaurant in Portland, Oregon.  “Eating at Tatiana is like a subway ride through the boroughs. It’s delicious, technically executed, soulful and gorgeous. Chopped cheese [during truffle season] and sazón chicken tell a story of time and place just as much as curried goat patties and black bean hummus do.”

A restaurant built on history

Tatiana is also bringing more people from across New York’s boroughs to Lincoln Center, the vast upscale Manhattan arts complex within which the restaurant is housed. Opened in November 2022, it is located near David Geffen Hall and forms part of a $500 million renovation that has included new theatres, murals and public spaces. Though audiences have long flocked to the Lincoln Center for philharmonic and ballet performances, or the Met Opera, the area can be challenging as a dining destination. There are plenty of casual and touristy options nearby, but audiences looking for more upscale or innovative restaurants would have needed to walk to Columbus Circle – at least prior to Tatiana’s opening.
The Black Bean Hummus dish includes berbere spiced lamb, sweet pickled sultana and m’semen (image: Evan Sung)

It’s also a welcoming return for Black and Latino New Yorkers who lived in San Juan Hill in the 1950s, a thriving neighbourhood that was razed to make way for the arts centre. Lincoln Center was part of a national building program that destroyed Black communities across the country for highways and performance spaces, efforts colloquially referred to as ‘urban removal’. Thousands of people were displaced or moved into housing projects.

“I wanted to pay tribute to those people who were pushed out,” says Onwuachi. “I want people to know that we’ve always been here, and that Tatiana is continuing that legacy.”

But it’s a tough reservation to bag – one of the most sought after on the East Coast, especially after New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells called Tatiana the best new restaurant in New York City. No doubt its latest Resy One To Watch accolade from The World’s 50 Best Restaurants will only lengthen the month-long waitlist as it brings greater international attention. The queue for the six walk-in seats at the bar starts at 4pm and often stretches across the Lincoln Center courtyard, all the way to the Opera.
Onwuachi named the restaurant after his beloved sister

Tasting, hearing and feeling

If you do manage to get inside, you’ll see tables of Gen Z-ers with their chic aunts, couples on hot first dates, and 20-something friends posing for selfies under a cast of blue spotlights or taking pictures of each other while shooting TikToks of their forks digging into the shared plates. Then the playlist hits. A few hands start to wave in the air, then some people start to shimmy in their chairs. Heads are nodding between bites.

“There’s a point during service that we look at each other and say, ‘It’s time,’” says Onwuachi. The team cranks the music and the entire dining room joins in, perhaps singing the “Oh, oh, oh, oooohhh” hook from Pharell’s Beautiful or the drum track to Poison by Bell Biv Devoe. Suddenly, the shared plates become a shared cultural moment.
The electric atmosphere at Tatiana is led by the charisma of the cheerful staff

That electric atmosphere, plus the sheer deliciousness of Tatiana, forces a reorientation of what should happen in fine dining restaurants. A quiet dining room with low murmurs of chatter is, for many, an old idea. Here, the music is nearly dance-club loud, a joyous volume matched by the energy of the staff and the spiciness of the dishes.

“We’re just being ourselves. It’s Black in all the best ways, and a celebration of how we are when we are together,” says the ever-charismatic Onwuachi. “It’s hard to leave without your cheeks hurting from smiling and laughing.”

The food, music, laughter and dancing make your stomach and your heart feel full. We leave the restaurant as family.

Jamila Robinson is the USA & Canada East Academy Chair for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

Now go inside Tatiana with the video:

The 21st edition of 
The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, will be announced on 20th June 2023 in Valencia. Tune in to the livestream of the awards ceremony on YouTube or Facebook from 20:40 local time. To stay up to date with the latest news and announcements ahead of the ceremony, browse the website, join the community on Instagram, find us on Facebook, visit us on Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube channel.