The compact East Village restaurant Nudibranch is called for the soft-bodied gastropods, a class of sea slugs, that Jeff Kim, a chef and co-founder, spied when diving off the coast of Indonesia. To Kim, a former Momofuku busser who met his co-founders at kitchens round New York, nudibranchs—of which there are greater than three thousand species—slink alongside the ocean flooring with the identical pluck that meals institutions should harness when navigating the town’s brackish depths. “Sea slugs are colorful and diverse and beautiful,” Kim stated. “That seemed symbolic when we started brainstorming about the kind of food we wanted to create.”
Nudibranchs will also be unusual and are generally required to adapt in odd conditions. When it involves devising dishes for a post-pandemic(ish) prix-fixe menu in a time when meals costs are excessive and client confidence is low, the trail may be perilous. That could also be why Kim and his companions supply as many as 5 decisions in every of the menu’s three sections. When requested for suggestions, the phrase my waiter favored was “choose your own adventure.” And fortune favors the daring. You could be tempted to go along with the hamachi or the scallop—each are plated with sufficient sculptural verve to evoke the restaurant’s namesake mollusk—however the frog leg is the place your voyage ought to begin. I used to be briefly frightened that the legs, battered and fried to a golden crisp, would have the mundanity of a hen cutlet. Fortunately, the outside crunch, aided by lemongrass-ginger paste and lime, heightened a journey to tenderness; the morsels of meat have been each gentle and sublimely springy.
One of the delights of Nudibranch is its intrepid playfulness. Although the dishes are usually Asian-inflected (Kim and his companions are Asian American), Kim describes the menu’s influences as “crisscrossed New York.” Take the shrimp, which at first tastes just like the Cantonese mainstay he tao xia (walnut shrimp). At Nudibranch, walnuts are swapped for jazzy gems of granola that begin off faintly candy earlier than crackling into warmth and funk, a counterbalance to the richness of the aioli-coated shrimp. Another winner is Nudibranch’s try and create the “most cauliflowery of cauliflower dishes,” making ready the vegetable 3 ways—roasted, puréed, and pickled. The roasted cauliflower resembles dry-fried cauliflower, a Sichuan traditional, sometimes served in an iron wok over a chafing flame. The genius right here is the substitution, for oversalted pork stomach within the conventional recipe, of fat-gushing Chinese sausage; augmented by Vietnamese fish sauce, the florets ripple with each tangy sweetness and earthy umami.
One of the delights of Nudibranch is its intrepid playfulness. Although the dishes are usually Asian-inflected, Jeff Kim, a chef and co-founder, likes to explain the menu’s influences as “crisscrossed New York.”
One dish that falls flat is the turkey neck, which initially excited me due to my predilection for Chinese chili-oil-slicked duck neck. Alas, the turkey neck, piled excessive with mole, crema, and candy potato, was dry, stringy, and gamy. The night time I visited with mates, one joked, “Do you think this is what nudibranch tastes like?” Another, who checked Google, discovered that a few of the mollusks could also be edible when roasted or boiled, and browse aloud nudibranch factoids, together with that their memorable colours and strange kinds generally assist them mix into their environment and different occasions do the precise reverse.
Before this could possibly be mentioned additional, dessert arrived. Of two decisions, neither of which is included with the prix fixe, go for the semifreddo: frozen coconut custard topped with a crumble of cranberry-and-black-pepper cookie. Kim instructed me that he likes pairing pepper with fruit as a result of it’s a novel method of engineering a savory dessert, which might conventionally use salt. One diner voiced skepticism for the best way that pinpricks of pepper riled up his style buds quite than soothing them, as he anticipated a dessert to do. His buddy agreed; her mouth was starting to really feel prefer it was dancing on tippy-toes. The verdict might need happy a nudibranch: “I’m not sure if I like it, but I know I won’t forget it.” (Prix-fixe dinner $75.) ♦