Everyone’s been talking about it. Me included. Just hadn’t put pen to paper (finger to key?) for months and finally another lovely dinner a few nights ago propelled me to a mention at last. Holy holy holy, this is the real deal. If the real deal is a group of under 30yr olds opening an intimate, classic but edgy, comfy but sexy, bold with a soupçon of bygone fare cloaked in a French boîte headed up by a 25yr old chef. Because that’s what this place is.
Grab a table outdoors for some street life with your rosé or white negroni, then score one of 27 seats inside for the kind of meal you’re ever grateful to be in NYC for.
Chef Liz Johnson and her kitchen co-horts including fiancé Will, are confidently cooking with dynamite. She weds the urbane with the odd and eccentric, often taking long forgotten dishes and warping them into innovative, considered creations. It’s ingredient driven, imaginative and definitely outside the lines. A little Japanese, a touch Scandinavian and you’ve got the most non-French yet still French bistro around.
The menu is handwritten and changes at least weekly if not more often. Just because your best friend had a dish they loved doesn’t mean you’ll get to try it tomorrow. But you could get a differently realized version. Sourcing matters deeply to Chef Johnson so it all depends on what’s available. Add to that a hefty amount of creative spark and I swear no one will ever be bored dining here. The owners, all similarly aged compatriots are completely involved but have wisely let their chef…cook. Louis Levy, brothers Evan and Daniel Bennett, and Camilla Deterre oversee, design, serve, and make pretty great cocktails. Like my very pleasurable French 75.
I was fortunate to have first dined here last winter, sans phone so sans photos. Kind of refreshing. And as it was soon after they’d opened, sans crowds too. The menu I had was epic. As the menus continue to be. Ms Johnson seems to enjoy the constants of clams, shishitos and renditions of citrus or smokiness in her oeuvre. There’s pork fat galore, veal stock, cod sperm and broths of blood & body parts. She’s gone way beyond the currently popular bone. The dishes smack of layers of something deeper, unidentifiable, intriguing. Her cooking is to food what Edward Scissorhands…um…scissors were to shape. Wildly artful. We do not bear witness to her agenda, it’s more like absorbing her calculated free fall.
The menu is divided into four sections, three of which are appetizers. Hmm, okay. There are appetizers, cold appetizers, and hot appetizers. Interesting. The choices are inviting, making selection a full time occupation. Tonight for us it was seafood focused but carnivores will be consumed with revelry here. We started with the Madai, part of the Japanese sea bream family and considered a luxury fish there. An absurdly good crudo, anointed with brown butter and a kind of lemon coulis & cream. That taste could linger in my mouth forever and that would be fine.
But I did the proverbial ‘died and went to heaven’ homage for the Gnocchi Parisian with a brandade cream and yes, shishito peppers. If air could be eaten and satisfying, this is what it would taste like. A plate of silk velvet. I wish I had my own table at Mimi’s and the staff would bring me bowl after bowl in a never ending parade. I don’t think I’d ever tire of it.
I missed the early spring version with Hokkaido sea urchin, white asparagus and sesame seeds several months ago – and may never forgive myself.
Not a drop of that luscious sauce was going back to the kitchen so the sudden arrival of bread was timely. Don’t know if it’s made in house but it’s as good as everything else here. A crust with bite, the bread’s heady liquor dissolving into soft yeasty pockets. The butter is sensational. I alternated slices with remains of the brandade cream and the butter. A sin worth living for.
On an earlier winter menu, there was Surf clam with leek vinaigrette, almonds and brown butter, a favorite of mine. Others at the table flipped over the Blanquette de veau, Skate amandine with razor clams, and a classic, wildly gorgeous Pate en Croute. Hard to recall details now but I do know it was all superb.
Mediterranean Turbot with Manilla clams, grilled squash and saffron had an unexpected sweetness. The fish that is. Flaky and firm, perhaps with a bit too much of the citrus vinaigrette. Overall though, slamming.
Beautifully cooked Golden Snapper with sweet Manilla clams, brandade stuffed in a cuttlefish sauce plus charred shishitos. Nutty, earthy, mild brine, lovely.
Now when it comes to Bibb lettuce, one might think oh salad, not worth missing a more exciting dish but one would be wrong. So wrong. I don’t know what’s in this champagne vinaigrette – it’s fragrant, light but not trivial and the incredibly fresh greens with the acidic pops of picholine olives makes this a plate to go out of your way for.
The almost mythical Chocolate Tart demands it’s well deserved reputation. Black cocoa infuses the creaminess, keeps it from being cloying and balanced with the chilled scoop of milk sorbet, it’s glorious. It’s not too much, it’s everything right.
The design is visually subtle, but ultra sophisticated and arty. It’s a stainless steel cocktail bar, spun aluminum lights, there’s marble, velvet, hand drawn murals, and formica tables. It’s clever and unassuming. Good jazz on the sound system and we have Paris meets the Greenwich Village of The Beats and of now.
The staff is winning and very passionate about the food they are offering. Gracious service combined with an interest in the diner’s take. It may be the first time I believe a server when they say, oh that’s really fantastic if asked a menu question. The wine list seems to be oddly half Bordeaux and they are focused on suggesting pairings for the food. I only had a glass of Pinot Noir after cocktails but will amend this on my next visit.
It’s a neighborhood spot for those lucky enough to live nearby but the rest of us are lucky too. There are subways and ubers so any neighborhood scene is fair game for claiming. Plus an enchanting destination restaurant such as this is always welcome in the dining sphere. Now you just have to snag a table.
185 Sullivan Street between Houston & Bleecker
Open Monday-Saturday serving past midnight and Sunday for brunch