Like a parent who loves each of his children equally, chef Gray Kunz won’t tell what he likes best on the menu at Grayz, his new venue on West 54th Street in New York City.
But he is vocal about his enthusiasm for the concept, which offers fine finger foods, small plates and specialty cocktails in a lounge setting for à la carte guests as well as a wide array of cocktail party and formal dinner options for private events.
“I am not a big fan of favorites,” says Kunz, one of New York’s most highly respected chefs, “because I like everything on the menu. But I love the concept very much of smaller plates, very quaint food items on there, market-specific items, the specials that are great every evening…and just the fact that you can order four or five plates and really not feel that you’ve just eaten a six-course meal.”
Grayz takes the small-plates concept to elegant heights, in keeping with the posh ambience of the renovated town-house, which for decades belonged to the Rockefeller family, and was the previous location of Aquavit  restaurant. Choices include truffle-foie gras mille-feuille, with parsnip, chanterelles and port jus, for example, and chestnut truffle consommé with chestnut-ricotta agnolotti.
Even an appetizer standard, fried calamari, gets the special treatment at Grayz: The squid are dredged in egg wash and coated with a mixture of graham cracker crumbs and Cream of Wheat before being deep-fried in grapeseed oil. Instead of being served with the common marinara sauce, Kunz’s calamari dish is paired with a chutney made from preserved lemons, spices and honey.
One of the best-sellers, Kunz says, is the salt stone grilled prawns. For the dish, the chef skewers Hawaiian blue prawns and sears them on one side, then tops them with a marinade of kimchee, pear and ginger. They finish cooking on a heated salt stone and are served with kaffir rémoulade flavored with lemon grass, ginger, lobster glaze and kaffir lime leaves.AT A GLANCE
Location: 13-15 West 54th St., New YorkWebsite:
Kunz has purposely limited the number of “full-size” choices, but not eliminated them altogether. The opening menu offers nine items billed as “finger food and small plates,” supplemented by several specials daily. There are just three full-size dishes, compared with the nine items billed as finger foods and small plates. The full-size choices are grilled red snapper with ginger bouillon; chestnut cavatelli with pomegranate, pears and pickled ramps; and braised short rib of beef with creamed spinach and tarragon-horseradish emulsion.
Kunz says about 70 percent of customers are sticking with the small plates and finger food, while 30 percent opt for the more traditional full-size meals.
“It’s a new concept, because I have never done this, so they expect of course when they come in they have a full menu from us,” he says. “But once they sit down and they understand and they see what we’re trying to accomplish here, it’s actually very well-received.”
Kunz also is pinning high hopes on promoting Grayz as a private-party venue. While declining to divulge the targeted number of private events per month, he indicates that bookings have already been very strong. He says there is a demand for high-quality private events and adds that there is no comparable place within a radius of two to three blocks that can accommodate as many guests for either a cocktail party or sit-down reception.
“We’ve done numerous events already now,” he says, “and I think when I look at the potential of what we can still produce, then I think we really have a good shot at making really high-end, catered events with great food, great service, and very, very nice decor.”Selections fromGRAYZ’ OPENING MENU FINGER FOOD AND SMALL PLATES Weisswurst and Haendlmaier Mustard with pretzel 13Salt Stone Grilled Prawns kaffir rémoulade18Pasta Fiori and Tomato Concassé with lemon broth15FULL SIZE Grilled Red Snapper ginger bouillon 33Chestnut Cavatelli pomegranate, pears and pickled ramps16Braised Short Rib of Beef creamed spinach and tarragon-horseradish emulsion39SWEETS Chocolate Truffles rum raisin and hazelnut ice cream 16Passion Fruit Soufflé served in their shells13COCKTAILS Barrier Reef orange vodka, bitters, fresh watermelon juice, raspberry syrup, lemon juice 14Irish Day Irish whiskey, pomegranate molasses, apple and lemon juice, cracked pepper14Loretto bourbon, port, bliss maple syrup, bourbon-roasted pineapple14Passion fior Ginger ginger-infused vodka, lime juice, cointreau, ginger syrup, passion fruit purée14Oysters Rockefeller is one of Grayz’ bestselling dishes.CATERING Lunch Three-course set menu: $90 per person Dinner Three-course set menu: $150 per person Four-course set menu: $185 per person with choice of two on all four courses: $225.00 per person Hors d’oeuvres before lunch or dinner: $25 per personOpen bar package: $70 per person Salt stone grilled prawns with kaffir rémoulade are topped with a marinade of kimchee, pear and ginger.