Lalito

Lalito

Unless you’re looking for a late nite bail bond storefront or the defunct cult karaoke bar Winnie’s, little would lead you to this rather desolate street in Chinatown, just a stone’s throw away from windows alive with dead ducks and souvenir kiosks galore. But lo and very much behold – an entrance with old signage indicating food and fun appears with the address you’re seeking. It seems closed. But then you open the door.

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It’s a kind of cool 70’s vibe with a pop soundtrack to match. An arty, quasi romantic space with a very welcoming staff. Mustard colored banquettes hug the walls in curves around the room, formica tabletops offer a modern diner appeal and neon lights frame a seated bar – I like to think Jetsons. It’s got spunk. Until recently the restaurant was called Lalo but because of a conflict with an existing Cafe Lalo, it morphed into Lalito. Helmed by Chef Gerardo Gonzalez who was THE man at El Rey Luncheonette, specializing in a SoCal, healthful, Mexican ethos that caused a mini uproar on the lower east side when it first came to attention. Now we’ve arrived at his new Mexicali with-a-dollop-of-global+mediterranean tinged casual chic eatery. A few favorite dishes accompanied him but have been twisted and turned along the way with his Alice in Wonderland kind of hand.

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There’s a full bar complete with Mexican inspired designer cocktails. I tasted several belonging to dining companions and found them a bit on the sweet side. That can always be altered and the play on healthy but funky ingredients is worth exploration. I went with a French 75 before we moved on to an interesting wine list featuring a mix from California to European including natural wines. They’ve got bubbles and beer, a lovely pitcher of tequila sangria and for the non-alcoholic choices, many a flavorful agua fresca.

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Oh doubtfully shake your head if you must. Everyone will understand. But you’d be missing out on this incredibly good dish of Vegan Chicharrones with hot sauce, vinegar and yuh huh-spirulina. Kind of a subtle homage to Bugles. The table loved it and there were serious doubters. A soupçon of chagrin and then all were reaching for seconds…Puffed wheat dusted with chili powder and pepper, served with ready to squeeze pieces of lime over a piquant dipping sauce of pickled fruit that brought the whole dish and a cadre of new fans together.

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The Black Bean Squid Ink Dip is a mischevious take on classic black bean dip, but under the Mad Hatter’s watchful eyes, the kitchen uses cannellini beans colored with squid ink, tosses on pickled red onions, banana peppers, black garlic and cotija cheese resulting in a lively balance of flavors. It’s vibrant, fresh and fun.

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Shishito peppers are a favorite of mine. Usually a little char, a sprinkle of salt and we’re golden. But Lalito has their own plan and it’s a good one. Stuffed poblanos are officially on hiatus. The Shishitos En Nogada intertwine shaved walnuts in a pomegranate reduction with a generous splash of the arils and the result is buttery, tart, light, and zesty.

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Creamy with coconut milk – Coconut Rice

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Papas Bravas  were a crowd favorite, a nice edge of spice, creamy on the inside, crispy on the outside and practically preening with it’s shards of green herbs, dots of red paprika and a drizzle of crema. These were fabulous.

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The Brown Goddess Cucumber Salad was the only dish that had the ingredients to soar but just didn’t quite cut it for us. English cucumbers, mint, and candied pepitas in a brown mole vinaigrette were earthy but erratic. Maybe the narrative is just too complicated for one small bowl.

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I loved the Seared Sea Bass. Beautifully cooked and combined with curried masa, tomato powder, nigella, sumac yogurt, and chick peas. Sublime. But I have to add a big sigh, a kind of general complaint which extends to a few other plates – portions can be skimpy. The bass is so tasty but vanishes in a few small bites.

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Roasted half chicken demands it’s own table time swaddled in a shimmering spicy hot green pineapple sauce, rich with garlic and cilantro. A Pollo Asada that is uh…finger lickin’ bueno.

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Eggplant a la Plancha just might please your commonplace eggplant hater. Smattered with tahini and adorned with gomasio, a Japanese seasoning of roasted sesame seeds ground with sea salt plus the sweet, mild flavor of cubanelle, a Cuban frying pepper and an impeccable balance of lemon. Hits all the tastebuds.

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House-made, warm, fresh, wish-I-had-more tortillas are the best part of the Pork Carnitas. But followed by a close second on the meat. Offered as a single serving or for “lovers”. The tortillas may become your new paramour after this so I’d go whole hog. So to speak. Smoked, salted, stewed in pineapple juice and beer – tender, savory pork is festooned with rings of pickled red onions, red rimmed radishes, green herbs and lime. A swathe of crema and it’s another venture into wonderland.

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No tuxedo clad waiter with a cart full of anchovies here, this is the – we’re giving you big time umami but with a spirulina, capers, cashews, dulse bread crumbs and nutritional yeast version of a Vegan Caesar Salad. Not what you would have expected from a fantastic Caesar but definitely one you do not want to skip.

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A dip into the luscious rosy broth surrounding the Lamb Barbacoa is necessary. It’s an ingeniously soulful combination of flavors with velvet drops of masa gnocchi and flakes of cumin flavored meat that induces swooning but just ever so slightly.

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Goat Milk Flan with Pomelo, Tarragon and Olive Oil – and a birthday candle. Tangy creaminess with a hint of bittersweet and citrus. The right compliment to all that had come before. On the table and in life!

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The kitchen is an impressive alchemy of craft melding with screwball. Quirky combinations of fanciful ingredients and flavors give depth to Chef Gonzalez’s sly, smart, inventive menu. He takes the familiar, and then veers sharply into unexpected, keeping a diner on their toes. It’s fun, sometimes a little wicked and always oddly comforting.

Lalito

104 Bayard Street between Baxter/Mulberry St

646.998.3408

Open daily 11am-4pm and 6pm-midnight

n’eat-ness counts

n’eat (neat + eatery)

Cuisine word of the day is…drumroll…you got it. Huzzah! It’s Nordic. The northern European culture of food and ephemera has firmly entrenched itself in New York City. It’s hi end at Agern and Aska, lower end at the Northern Food Hall in Grand Central Station and now Goldilocks, we have the bowl of porridge that’s just right, a choice that is smack in the middle. n’eat in the East Village. The intention is to have it be a neighborhood spot albeit with a dash of destination thrown in. The new Nordic, intriguing Danish food but the rustic chic version. Less fancy, less pricey, same substance. Inventive, inspiring and a very good time.

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A Swede and a Dane walked into a bar and we got lucky. Chef Gabriel Hedlund, yet another Noma survivor and veteran of several European restaurants joined forces with restauranteur Mathias Kaer, owner of a few spots in Copenhagen. Together they focused on creating a cool casual restaurant of the Scandinavian kind, making use of local ingredients while staying true to their roots. They pickle, they brine, they smoke, they ferment, importing just a few necessities like moss, seaweed and Danish cheeses. The food is fresh, zesty, flinty, you grasp the terroir.

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It’s fun here. The vibe is on point for the neighborhood and these times. Ambience: check, well crafted wine/beer list: check, excellent service: check, food: check check and major check. And the actual check? Not scary.

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The chef is creating just behind the counter so you can happily grab a stool and be privy to the magic.

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A picnic table just outside the entrance sets the relaxed tone. The front dining section seats about thirty people, there’s the counter seating with that view of the open kitchen, plus a few more tables further back placed before a lovely private room that seats about 20 people and is anchored by a glass walled wine room. The restaurant feels spacious but homey.

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Friendly servers are quick to answer questions and make you feel comfortable while sporting aprons that pay at least a little homage to vintage viking.

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Modern. Spare. Cultivated. Earth tones, light woods, whitewashed walls.

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Blackware instead of silverware. Lightweight, distinctive, stylish.

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The menu has 15 dishes that will adapt with the seasons as well as available ingredients. They’re all $16, just a couple augment a surcharge and we were advised to consider 3 – 5 plates per person. Dishes are definitely not tiny so depending on how many wooden slabs of the fabulous bread you order, you can do 2 – 3 plates and be fine. But…you’ll likely want to keep foraging, it’s that good.

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On offer are five seafood, five vegetarian and five meat dishes so you can design your own meal or avoid an argument about preferences if sharing.

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A little Pet Nat to help with the post election night blues. A highly enjoyable storytelling bottle from the Veneto, akin to prosecco but better. You can taste its whispers of must and tradition as you grab at a little bit of sanity. I’m sure it’s as great any night not following a decimating election.

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The most seductive sourdough bread. Salty crust, a hint of sweetness to the center celebrated by it’s cohort – fermented butter with a sweet velvety tang you might actually cry over. Happy tears.

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A stoneware bowl accentuates the lovely raw mackerel, nasturtium, and horseradish in a chilled green tomato broth. It’s vibrant, acidic with buttery flavorful fish.

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Fried fluke, cauliflower, tarragon with whey is a delight. The fish is more like a pan seared filet, nicely cooked and the cauliflower is rendered into yet another new dimension for cauliflower. I didn’t think there were any left. Lovely dish.

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The lamb tartare with chives and capers had a pleasantly surprising mouth feel, soft and smooth with bursts of buckwheat crunch. Perfectly seasoned so that it elevated the lamb rather than overpower its delicacy.

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This dish is barely there, heavenly and light, but full of flavor and adds up to one of the best on the menu and one of my favorite dishes in recent dining. Delicately cured thin slices of scallops with slivers of radish in a weightless but snappy buttermilk dressing and then the craziest part – frozen mussel snow. A granita really, flavored by the lushness of the mussels and their liqueur. It’s floaty, but the combined depth of flavors make it feel substantial.

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Rehydrated beets, thinly sliced beets, pickled beets with big, juicy luscious blackberries and pine. One bite encompassing each loamy, warmly sweet, slightly tart ingredient is a pleasure.

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Wild mushrooms, Blanquette and Roasted sourdough. We were instructed to take a bite of the gorgeous mushroom toast and then a sip of the sauce following. Mushroom stock, yolks, cream and I don’t know what else but holy all that’s earthy – this was the path. It’s lusty, warm and consoling, especially welcomed this night.

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A lovely $40 bottle makes this the neighborhood place you can afford to be. The wine list developed by sommelier Pernille Folkersen is well priced with an emphasis on natural & organic, but also includes a few bottles of distinction. Plus there’s sake, bubbly, and cider  too, all joyfully complementing the food.

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Dessert list is small but its offerings are exquisite.

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The gossamer walnut parfait companioned by pear granite and hay oil. Of course. Hay. Melts in your mouth.

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This kinds of beats all. Icelandic yogurt, white chocolate, sprays of dill and surprise surprise surprise…

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icy cucumber balls that reveal themselves as if they were the most unimaginable treat in the world. Enchanting. And it’s cukes! This is stellar.

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The art will be jars of pickled things. Edible art.

My only complaint is that the soundtrack does little for the atmosphere or the food. The night I was there the music included My Way and Hopelessly Devoted To You. I wouldn’t allow either on an AM car radio much less backing a beautiful dinner. When I asked about it, I was told it was to inspire memories. Maybe in Denmark these are the songs of good times but perhaps something more unique or interesting would be more motivational for those sublime memories that will surely come after you dine here.

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You can frame your dining experience any way you’d prefer. Go full tasting with all the dishes and make it a luxe evening with friends, dine alone at the bar for a plate or two and a glass of wine, or just pop in to share a few menu items, a few glasses and a pal. It’s the kind of place where anything goes so don’t wait for the right night, just go and let it become the night that it’s supposed to be.

n’eat

58 Second Avenue between 3rd/4th Streets

917.892.6350

Open Sun – Thurs 6pm-11pm  Fri – Sat 6pm-12am

The Other Japanese

Autre Kyo Ya

You can’t leave this restaurant and not feel like you’ve just arrived home from a delightful trip far far away. . This post is about a lovely late spring dinner but every season is supremely celebrated here.

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It’s an intricate balance of French and Japanese influenced cooking with timely ingredients found locally and in Japan that are then applied to more traditional French techniques. West meets east then congas through shifting seasonality to create something else entirely. Chefs Shuji and Takashi both worked at Kyo-Ya and also come from backgrounds that include French training for Shuji as well as Takashi’s experience from Kajitsu, the lovely Japanese focused vegetarian restaurant in midtown.

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They took over a restaurant called The Barrel but the decor is very fitting for them. Elegant but comfortable. Warm and glowing.

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They have sake, wine, beer plus an interesting cocktail list, lighter and Japanese focused with elements like yuzu citrus jam and edible flowers. Plus there’s a cocktail hour from 530pm – 7pm with $1 oysters. So no excuses for not going.

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The menu is less extravagant than the mothership of Kyo-Ya, their mainly kaiseki restaurant on East ninth street. And while that restaurant, near and dear to my heart and tastebuds is remarkably unique, the thinking here too is intriguing and creative.

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Hand made plates.

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Goma-Tofu Cocktail with house-made sesame tofu, bonito-kombu broth & hanaho flower.

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A chilled and layered broth in a martini glass with excellent house-made sesame tofu that has just enough texture to keep it lively. Beautifully leveled tastes that incorporate hojiso, the sprigs of the shiso plant studded with tiny cupped flowers with seeds and miyoga, the young tender buds of the Japanese ginger plant. Executed masterfully and very inventive.

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Hokkaido Sea Urchin Consomme Gelee with onset-style egg. Delicate uni topped with edible flowers, an utterly opulent slow poached egg ever so gently cooked, in a gelée crossed with the very present sweetness of parsnip puree. The chilled broth melts on your tongue, the citrus aromatics really brighten and balance the richness of the egg. It’s smooth, viscous, ethereal. A fabulous dish.

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Gindara Tsubu-Miso, Miso marinated black cod with roasted shallots & pickled kohlrabi, you might think ubiquitous but you’d be wrong.

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Next are several dishes involving mushrooms, oysters,  seafood tempura, daikon and custard. All distinctive and gratifying.

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From the spring seasonal menu, White Asparagus and Seared Scallop with scallop dashi sauce, candy beet & watermelon radish. A playful combination of creamy, crispy, sweet and mild.

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Sakura Ebi Kamadaki Rice, the claypot rice dish of the evening, assembled and served at the table.

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Kakiage, mitsuba greens, myoga, ponzu, yuzu-kosho. Toothsome kernels of rice flavored by fish and smoke. It’s a refined but deep layering of tastes.

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They serve sake with true panache.

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Between Kyo-Ya, the ultra serene cocktail bar Angel’s Share and Sunrise Mart, one of the better places for Japanese food shopping in the city and just next door, the owners have created a mini empire in the East Village. And at Autre they also pay attention to execution and beautiful presentation. And they succeed. Autre, opened less than a year ago is a bit more casual, more affordable than its counterpart and less exotic. But that doesn’t mean it’s not stellar and its own experience. Because it is and it is.

 

Autre Kyo Ya

10 Stuyvesant Street between Second/Third Avenue

212.598.0454

Open:

Tues-Wed 5:30pm–11pm (last call 10:30pm)

Thurs-Fri 5:30pm-12am (last call 11:30pm)

Sat 11am-12am (last call 11:30pm)

Sun 11am-10pm (last call 9:30pm)

DINNER & WEEKEND BRUNCH

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opalescent Dining

Mother of Pearl

There’s something glimmering in the distance, light casting itself off a small shiny trend it seems…what is this iridescence, this possible culinary treasure? Why it’s the vegan movement! Suddenly and without warning, vegan restaurants are a hot commodity. And even our favorite carnivores are having a good time. One of the grand promoters of this dining trend in NYC is Ravi DeRossi, a cult leader in speakeasy/cocktail bar world. Having opened one of the early and more revered hipster spots, Death & Co, as well as the tequila/mezcal themed Mayahuel and the intimate bitters bar Amar y Amargo, he’s definitely made a splash. With varying partners, he has over fifteen drinking and dining places in his anthology with onward and upward plans on the way. Cienfuegos, his rum focused passion project is right next door to Mother of Pearl, a half tiki bar and now half fantastical vegan restaurant. I say fantastical because it’s akin to being inside the pages of a winsome child’s fairy tale or maybe someone’s electric kool aid acid test. It’s a confection.

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Mr DeRossi’s semi recent spin to revamping virtually all of his restaurants as vegan seems to have born itself of a revelation he had when life events crossed with the realization that it was necessary to amend his personal habits. And then there’s the Earth to consider. A longtime vegetarian then ultimately vegan, Mr DeRossi spent weeks with his dying cat, Simon last Christmas and had the time and focus to consider the life-planet-future connection. His personal philosophy measures a myriad of reasons for all to consider a plant based diet though naturally there are the headliners – animal rights, the environment/global warming and health. As cited in Jeff Gordiner’s profile piece in the NYT, “he attributes his success to dumb luck and random impulses.”

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Mother of Pearl is just plain heavenly. After all, it’s really more about the food than the trend anyway. Dinner and brunch are equally delightful. Chef Daphne Cheng has created a Polynesian inspired menu that is disarming and intriguing. The cocktails and even the wines are made with only plant based ingredients. No fish scales, no cream. The beauty here is that vegan dishes are the star not the offhand we’ll throw you a (non)bone hastily fixed sub par version of some classic meat dish. In this particular tributary of his vegan empire, the savory dishes and drinks are fruit based. And they have decorative flowers. Food as beauty, healthy indulgence and fun. Plus so so good.

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There are whimsical, eclectic, tasty cocktails designed by Jane Danger. My extremely wonderful Tide Is High pictured above is a combination of mezcal, reposado tequila, cashew, pineapple and lime. Below is the almost infamous Shark Eye (and the glass is available for purchase) with passion fruit, lemon, tiki bitters, curaçao and bourbon.

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This is a get down-good time vegan menu. The food is bright and colorful and there are many fetching options to choose from, maybe because it feels kind of new. This menu is not your average bear. (No carnivore humor intended!)

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Fried guacamole. Yes, I said fried. And it works. It’s got crunch, it’s got fluffy, it has spicy avocado velvety happiness with house made caramelized crispy plantains.

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With black bean puree, sriracha and adobe aioli.

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Potstickers rule here. The Lychee version come with a black vinegar sauce and thai basil. Delicate crisp sour/sweet bite.

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Mushroom and Cabbage Potstickers with ancho chile bbq sauce have the right tooth to crispness pitch with a very flavorful loamy filling and then that saucy spicy zing.

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Kalua Jackfruit and Shitake Mushroom Buns with ginger aioli and five spice ketchup are layered with spice and earth, they’re golden and gratifying.

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Crispy Coconut Tofu with adobe aioli, chimichurri and pineapple relish, vegan island comfort food.

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Green Mango Poke with tomato, jicama, crispy rice and macadamia is not to be missed. The waiter said to get it, I hesitated, he was right. It’s mango, tomatoes, jicama, macadamia nuts and an array of sesame oil, lemon juice, rice wine and and and. It’s a wild composition of flavors but also civility.

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On another day, a great meal once again for brunch.

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The Indus Valley with pineapple, toasted sesame oil, lime, sugar cane syrup and gin. Plus green and red pepper flowers. I feared sweetness, nope, I feared too fruity, nope, I was surprised by toasted sesame oil – now I want it in every drink. This was divine.

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The non alcoholic Forbidden Fruit with orange, grapefruit, lemon, ginger, turmeric and oregano. Apparently as satisfying as a glass with liquor. So much flavor, the inebriation wasn’t missed.

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Panikeke Lapotopoto aka fried pancake balls are a find. The menu lists ambrosia fruit, coconut cream and a pineapple rum sauce. It doesn’t tell you that these are the giddy version of pancakes. Light, fanciful, fruity but with resonance.

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Avocado French Toast with ricotta, sriracha maple syrup and fruit. We thought okay avocado on French toast, yeah we can skip that for now. Yet another time when I succumbed to our waitress who said – the dish you’re missing is this one. The sum is way more than its parts. Sweet, savory, crispy, creamy. Fan-frigging-tastic.

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Jackfruit Hashbrowns sweet and spicy ketchup. Potatoes lightened up with much jackfruit so not only interesting and satisfying but guilt free fried potato eating.

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The panorama…

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Located in East Village central, it almost looks like we’re in some (albeit) urbanized Polynesian paradise.

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It’s important to note that DeRossi is a major player in the animal welfare universe and has a menagerie of rescue dogs and cats of his own. His non profit called BEAST, Benefits to End Animal Suffering Today focuses on altering perceptions of how being involved with animal rights is defined.

For all of the commitment and seriousness of his passion and animal politics, he’s created a whimsical, distinctive, exquisite Polynesian oasis to revel in. Dine, enjoy late night cocktails, you can find your own passion here.

Mother of Pearl

95 Avenue A at 6th street

212.614.6818

Daily hours 5pm-1am Sunday-Tuesday and until 2am Wednesday-Saturday.  Weekend brunch hours 11:30-3:30

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘A Tapestry Of Rich & Royal Hue…’

Tapestry  (with little notice…CLOSED)

Here’s the thing about Tapestry, it’s exactly that. A mosaic of flavors. It skews heavily towards Indian but don’t you call it Indian food. It’s a warp and weft of global cuisines – French, Mexican and even hints of Portuguese, threads twisting and pulling through old classics and fresh ideas. What do you have after all those strands are pulled together?  A smashing restaurant.

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Suvir Saran has had a long and revered career in food world. Devi, the restaurant that he shared with Hemant Mathur, was the first Michelin starred Indian restaurant in the United States and was divinely popular (as the name suggests) in its time, closing shortly after Saran left in 2012. He’s a chef, he’s written three cookbooks, he’s a teacher and of these last few years – a farmer. American Masala is his working farm in Hebron, NY named for his second cookbook and the fact that he has spent as much time living in the USA as he has in India. Masala Farm, his most recent work, chronicles how an urban chef kind of met his true calling, growing and raising his own food, which led to the natural progression of a restaurant that perfectly embodies the farm, the books, the philosophy. Here he reinvents the familiar with an unorthodox spin, mining every dish and idea for flavor, integrating Indian elements with American food, worldly American food.

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It’s so hard to characterize restaurants these days. They don’t sit patiently in a category waiting to be defined. Cuisines merge, marriages are made, definitions are deconstructed. Saran partnered with Roni Mazumdar of the lower east side’s Masala Wala to open Tapestry and brought on Joel Corona and Aarto Mehta as the chefs de cuisine. It’s win-win-win. Together they elevate tastes to create a new identity. The food is locally sourced, usually from Saran’s farm or his neighboring community and otherwise the prime offerings of locales elsewhere.

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Colorful, elegant Indian art adorns white brick walls setting off a white quartz bar, modern white seating and dark wood furnishings, flawlessly. The tiered rooms sparkle under  hanging amber globes of light, it’s stylish, pleasurable but not cherished.

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There’s an exemplary  cocktail program rather lovingly and very craftily designed by Jessy Peters. The Something Wicked with mezcal, habanero sangrita, pineapple and lime in a smoked salt-rimmed glass was a glass of beauty.

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I tasted my dining companion’s Smash the System with Peter’s own marinated espresso brandied cherries that are then combined with bourbon, brandy & orange. Definitely merits a return.

However on my next visit, I ordered the alluring and intriguing Sela, tequila with saffron, black pepper, lime, cayenne and of course – turmeric. So, it was healthy! Had two and was appreciative of the varied pansy selection.

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Divided into three family style sections, the menu offers shared grazing plates, vegetables and proteins and seems to evolve fairly often so not every dish will be there the next time you go. This is May’s version and had changed somewhat when I returned in July.

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Oh that goose that laid the golden egg…this deviled mixture of chicken and goose eggs, was offered back in May and tasted like…eggs. Egg 2.0. Real eggs. They were fantastic, stuffed with a curried mousse and decorated with a hint of gold leaf. Egg as art. These were special delivery from Saran’s farm, a spring egg fling and light years better than most of us are used to.

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Mango, Pineapple, Grapefruit Salad with honey-toasted sunflower seeds, lime and chile was refreshing and sassy on a warm spring evening.  It had bite, spice, a parmesan tuile and a funky elegance.

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Rick’s Cauliflower and Pappardelle covered in mouthfuls of luscious buttery crumbs, chile, garlic and sage. Spicy and oily. Rome meets Delhi.

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Hakka Spice Roasted Cauliflower in a very invigorating sweet and sour tomato jam was a favorite. I wouldn’t mind the pieces of cauliflower being just a little bigger so they play against the sauce instead of getting swallowed up in it. So to speak. But I still loved it and left nothing on my plate each time.

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Fritto Misto with calamari, shrimp, curry leaves accented with chile, black garlic and cilantro was spot on. Coated in rice flour and cornmeal, the batter was airy and light, greaseless, mega crispy on the outside, leaving you to savor the bits of crunch with the  delicate flavors of the seafood and fried lemon slices.

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Sticky, plush, tamarind glazed chicken wings with a basil mint yogurt sauce were meaty and rich. They rank right up there with the best of the Korean wings favored in this town.

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And last but very much not least, a hint of the old times from Devi, the house signature Masala Fried Chicken with peanut slaw, aloo bharta, (like a lemony Indian mashed potato) plus tomato chutney. It’s ultra crispy, a crust to sink your teeth into and comforting in that all American fashion but with a spicy Indian kick kind of way.

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Banana pudding trifle with layers of caramel and candied nuts was so inviting but just not my favorite. Maybe because I was expecting the thicker, creamier banana pudding I’m used to. This was interesting, more sophisticated but invariably too sweet.

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I didn’t want dessert the next time around, but it’s definitely worth sampling the efforts of pastry chef Crystal Hanks. The Sticky Toffee Pudding arrives in a caramel tulip with salted caramel ice cream and the straw that breaks the camel’s resolve, a smoked Maldon salt tuile. Blood was almost shed for the last bite.  It has the density of bread pudding, each component in harmony and with a bright, fresh flavor. As menu items change often, if there is a higher power with a shred of wisdom, this will always remain.

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A ceramic jewel box arrives with bite size desserts just before your check. A kind of 5 star dining homage and a lovely thank you for being at the table. These were each from my two visits.

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The best restroom door I’ve ever seen.

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Simple and stylish details are everywhere.

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Soon enough there will be a small private dining room downstairs, apparently with a tasting menu that will change daily. That seems to be the way of the future, with chefs exploring their talents and also catering to diners who want a little extra adventure, like Alex Stupak at Empellon Cocina with his 4 person chef’s table offered twice a night. I look forward to this one. And there’s a seated at the bar only menu. Many ways to experience the very sublime food here.

Again, it’s not an Indian restaurant. Clearly there are influences, hometown spices that mingle with counterparts from bordering countries and distant seas, flavors that are enhanced by an Indian ethos but also a farmer’s thinking, old world New York and new world Oaxaca. It’s a harmonic convergence of the food kind. ‘A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold.’ *

 

Tapestry

60 Greenwich Avenue at Perry Street

212.373.8900

Dinner Sunday – Wednesday 5:30-10pm and Thursday – Saturday 5:30-11:30pm

* Title and closing sentence from what else – Carole King’s Tapestry.

 

Mimimimimimiiiii

Mimi

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Beautifully cooked Golden Snapper with sweet Manilla clams, brandade stuffed in a cuttlefish sauce plus charred shishitos. Nutty, earthy, mild brine, lovely.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Mimi

185 Sullivan Street between Houston & Bleecker

212.418.1260

Open Monday-Saturday serving past midnight and Sunday for brunch

 

Le Coucou est Arrivee

Le Coucou

If you were lucky enough to dine at the infamous restaurant Spring, in Paris, particularly during the early days in the 9Arr when Chef Daniel Rose made time to cook plus visit with diners – count your blessings. It still holds court in a more expanded version in the 1Arr or maybe you checked out his newer bistro digs, La Bourse et La Vie in the 2Arr. But if you haven’t yet made it to any of these, you can still count your blessings, as now you may dine domestically at his shiny new spot here on the continent of North America in New York City.

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It’s elegantly swank. Old world meets mod in an interior designed by the illustrious Roman and Williams. Inside the boutique Howard Hotel with its own entrance just off the corner of Lafayette and Howard Street, it’s an oasis of glamour in the last vestige of edgier Soho. Triple hung glass windows face the street and wide glass doors herald your arrival. It makes for a rather heady approach as you’re greeted by a whisper of an inviting lounge to your right and the smaller of two magnificent dining rooms to your left. Sparkling chandeliers, an abundance of charm and several hostesses wearing varied styles of pale blue clouds float over to welcome you. Your heart may skip a beat. Blondie’s The Tide Is High is playing in the background. It’s all so beautiful. This looks to be an exceptional evening.

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A Chicago native, a student philosopher, a chef with a deep love for classic French cuisine, Daniel Rose found himself in cooking and doing that in France. He may have fully immersed himself in the culture but he brought along midwest hospitality and a curiosity about people. He thinks about food. He thinks about what taste means. He wants you to love it. And his fervent passion for ingredients, for quality, allow him to embrace his dishes with tradition but lace them with his personality.

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White clothed tables, vaulted ceilings, brick walls, pewtered-steel chandeliers with hand-blown glass shades, bluish banquettes and vintage chairs give the ambience a wry sophistication.

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First a perfect summer cocktail, the #2 with Rosé, Aquavit & Elderflower, accompanied by some of New York’s finest bread. Olive rolls from Sullivan Street Bakery and two different samples from Roberta’s. We asked for seconds later in the meal, seemingly for the remains of fabulous sauce but really – just because. The breads were offered with whipped mangalitsa lardo combined with pepper and garlic, radishes in an anchoiade and a lively Vermont salted butter.

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The menu divides in three parts with tapas-esque plates to share (mais bien sur, this is NYC after all), hors d’oeuvres, starters and main courses. You can switch it up any which way you’d prefer. And I definitely have my eye on several dishes to return for.

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I kept my slightly warmed oysters with seaweed butter for myself but later shared a starter. I’m usually generous but sharing here is kind of an effort. I want it all.

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Huitres tiedes, beurre aux algues were lovely. Oysters and seaweed effect a perfectly arranged marriage and the heat plus butter lend an earthy richness to the shell’s liquor.

You might think tomatoes, peas etc would certainly be an enjoyable dish but maybe not the one you’d be consumed with discussing the next day and yeah, yeah – you’d be so wrong. Really wrong. Salade de tomatoes et mangetout rafraichis aux fraises is possibly one of the most delightful composed salads I’ve ever eaten. Divine little strawberries scattered with pistachios was almost surreal. The tomatoes were sweet even next to the fruit and all of it is bathed in a deeply flavored tomato sauce. A gorgeous combination of tastes that redefine fresh.

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A companion loved his unshared Salade de Haricots et Oreilles de Cochon, a white bean salad with crispy pig ear and anchovy, wonderfully light and brimming with subtle flavor.

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I caved on the Asperges au vinaigre de bois, mimolette. I grudgingly offered a table invitation. A delightful asparagus with smoked wood vinegar and mimolette. The honeyed deep carmelized flavor of the cheese with that fudgy finish is magic with the smokey vinegar and the green stalks.

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From the Gourmandises section,  we did share what will likely become the signature-don’t miss it-all the rage plate, but it deserves the glory should it be heralded. Oeuf Norvegien…egg, salmon and a cold artichoke heart with a surprise of chive cream. Bagels and lox – you’re on notice.

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Caille frite, buckwheat fried quail in herb butter and lemon confiture. No bone beyond the leg, as meaty as quail can be, juicy, crisp, greaseless, excellent.

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Quenelle de brochet, sauce américaine should live on an exalted list of best ever quenelles. Pike quenelle with lobster sauce, ethereal, barely tethered to this earth in a deep, rich stock of shells and dressed with a piece of perfectly cooked claw meat. There’s not a lot of zest here, like most of the dishes, it’s not loud but clearly redolent of lobster flavor. Its delicacy also seems to be its strength.

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My best of list lengthens with each arrival from the menu, to be fair, a combination of two visits. Fleurs de courgette farcies were new to me, or I had just missed them on an earlier menu perhaps – you don’t want to miss these. Lobster stuffed squash blossoms with yogurt, mint, dill and cucumber. I could just look at them and be satisfied, very much eating with the eyes…but then you make that delicate cut and the heavens pour forth.

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Canard et Cerises, served with cherries and olives, the duck breast was lovely, a gorgeous preparation accompanied by an excellent seared foie gras.

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The Bourride with halibut, Santa Barbara spot prawn, mussels, and clams in an ethereal fish fumet was mine all mine. Served in a glistening copper pot, ladled at table, it’s delicate yet rich, completely satisfying. This fumet is meant for worship. Plus you get to dip the fabulous toast with aioli for that understated zing.

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Cotes d’agneau de colorado, aubergines, tomato farcies – lamb rack with eggplant and sensational lamb braised shoulder stuffed tomatoes. A classic dish that goes way beyond its origins. It reminds us that old world is now world.

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Dominique, a sommelier slyly recommended a Greek wine for our food choices and it was absolutely on point. From Santorini and a find priced below $60, it was cool and creamy, with a bright floral acidity balanced with a dark mineral complexity. Sensational with the food.

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Hedging dessert on the first visit, we went for the cheese course offered as one, three or five cheeses. Uh huh, we had the five. All made in the United States, another example of how the Chef takes advantage of more local ingredients. Defined by this country if not the farms of Chinatown. Missed the names on my first visit. There was a chèvre from Indiana and something fabulous from Oregon. Ha. But a great representation.

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Voila! On another visit, and going for the equally satisfying three cheeses, I scored names from the delightful Amandine, Chef Rose’s sommelier here from Paris. Some of the names apply to the big five plate from a previous visit. A Red Hawk from California, Savah Schaff from Pennsylvania and the Hooligan from Connecticut. Sublime.

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From day one, the kitchen was firing on all cylinders. Seasoning is spot on. Chef Rose doesn’t over do, he orchestrates the combined ingredients to sing in harmony and leaves a dish just at the precipice of transcendence.

A few of his cooks from Paris are here for the opening weeks, including his sous chef. Service is perfection. At the moment there seems to be three people on the floor for every diner but at no time is it precious, it’s professional but warm and charismatic.

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Dessert had been impossible on my first visit, after that cheese course but the post prandial sweets sent out by the kitchen were wonderful. On another visit I had less cheese and shared more desserts so I could enjoy more of pastry chef Daniel Skurnick’s wizardry.

This Chiboust à la vanille is like a dream. For me it had every component I love in a dessert…a toothsome and none too sweet pastry crust, a gossamer vanilla cream with a mix of sweet and sour cherries to further the flavors along.

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Riz au lait coucou, his take on classic rice pudding with pistachios and chartreuse was sumptuous, airy, delicate.

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Dishes are not unreasonably priced, appetizers are mostly less than $15 and mains fall between $20-45. With slim profit margins in today’s dining climate, this is rare given the artistry of the food, service and mise en scene. Le Coucou is a marriage of sorts between Chef Rose and Stephen Starr of Starr Restaurant Group. Usually a producer of high voltage money making restaurants, Mr Starr is finding a balance between those and something like this, a highly refined classic bistro, and a labor of love.

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Somehow the Chef knew what we needed now. Classic traditional comfort turned on its head. Butters and sauces we’d forgotten we missed. But he allows for a quirky and modern take to assuage any guilt. This bohemian magnetism draws you in from the moment you call for a reservation and find yourself listening to the Grateful Dead as hold music. This is not your Grandmother’s Lutece. It’s the 21st century version.

Le Coucou

138 Lafayette Street at Howard Street

212.271.4252

Open daily 5pm-10pm