"I've just always wanted to be a part of it," Chef Tyler Anderson tells me as we talk about New Haven and he hands me an everything bagel spiced cracker topped with a mound of bluefish tartare. "The culinary scene is so impressive here, and you have the city culture, the music. I had to do it some day." The "it" is where we're standing, six or so stories above a corner in the southwest of downtown, on the roof of the new Blake Hotel. High George (named for the intersecting streets) is Anderson's kitchen pied-à-terre in the Elm City - open air views open now.
Chef Anderson is a familiar face at his restaurants: Millwright's, The Cook & The Bear, and Porron&Piña, and to a national audience thanks to appearances on Top Chef and Beat Bobby Flay. He is also well known to the James Beard Foundation, who have nominated him as Best Chef Northeast every year since 2013. His idea for the menu at High George is to present small plate versions of New England summer food - clams, fish, coal-fired skewers - inexpensively, adding culinary interest through twists on flavors and presentation. Fried whole belly clams? Absolutely, and served wrapped in soft bao, the easier to knock back in a few bites while holding a cocktail in the other hand. Anderson and A.J. Aurrichio have brought on Tim Cabral as the third partner, using his experience at Ordinary to create cocktails in keeping with the light menu because this is, after all, a rooftop bar.
Try not to be overly distracted by the gravitational pull of the Blake's own attractive hotel bar on your way through the lobby, and press the elevator button for the top floor. From there, High George stretches to either side beyond glass doors, with a view opening to the western sunset. A long, marble bar runs for most of the length of the space, separated from the tables by a wall on which pots of herbs are growing for the cocktails and kitchen. An expansive view of Yale New Haven Hospital isn't too exciting, but the green treetops of George and High streets below lead your eye to the tops and spires of Yale, and a partial view all the way to Sleeping Giant in the north. The kitchen itself even has a floor to ceiling view, with a tall window making up one of its walls.
High George looks like it will fill a role as a go-to after work drink spot for three seasons, with a glass roof letting in sun but not rain, and a shade to keep things cool in the summer. The bar is there for anyone who wants to mingle, and tables allow for smaller group conversations and a place to stash what the chef hopes will be multiple plates as visitors pick and choose their way through the menu. The bluefish - not usually a door-buster item in the seafood industry - was impressively light and fresh in the preparation, and I continued to be surprised by my hand reaching out on its own several times for a grilled skewer of white and green asparagus. Bao will continue to be a staple of the menu, and will have rotating fillings based on the interests of Anderson and chef Ashley Flagg. Yakitori chicken thigh skewers, lobster roll and crab salad bao... most of the menu will run you between $6-12 per plate, including the house made Whoopie pie desserts.
High George can hold about 80 people at a time, and elbow room will be on a first come, first served basis with no reservations. The Blake Hotel lobby and Hamilton Park restaurant downstairs seem like they can comfortably handle an overflow on busy nights until space opens up. Summer has a new high point in New Haven.
High George at The Blake Hotel, 9 High Street, New Haven; HighGeorge.com; 203 390 5352; @highgeorgenh