The compact East Village restaurant Nudibranch is named for the delicate-bodied gastropods, a group of sea slugs, that Jeff Kim, a chef and co-founder, spied when diving off the coastline of Indonesia. To Kim, a former Momofuku busser who fulfilled his co-founders at kitchens about New York, nudibranchs—of which there are more than a few thousand species—slink alongside the ocean floor with the identical pluck that foodstuff establishments must harness when navigating the city’s brackish depths. “Sea slugs are colourful and assorted and stunning,” Kim mentioned. “That appeared symbolic when we begun brainstorming about the type of meals we desired to build.”
Nudibranchs can also be unusual and are in some cases essential to adapt in odd cases. When it comes to devising dishes for a publish-pandemic(ish) prix-fixe menu in a time when food stuff price ranges are substantial and purchaser self-assurance is low, the route can be perilous. That may perhaps be why Kim and his associates present as numerous as 5 possibilities in every of the menu’s 3 sections. When questioned for suggestions, the phrase my waiter favored was “choose your own experience.” And fortune favors the daring. You may be tempted to go with the hamachi or the scallop—both are plated with adequate sculptural verve to evoke the restaurant’s namesake mollusk—but the frog leg is the place your voyage must start. I was briefly apprehensive that the legs, battered and fried to a golden crisp, would have the mundanity of a rooster cutlet. Thankfully, the exterior crunch, aided by lemongrass-ginger paste and lime, heightened a journey to tenderness the morsels of meat ended up both equally soft and sublimely springy.
One particular of the delights of Nudibranch is its intrepid playfulness. Whilst the dishes have a tendency to be 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 preferences like the Cantonese mainstay he tao xia (walnut shrimp). At Nudibranch, walnuts are swapped for jazzy gems of granola that start off off faintly sweet in advance of crackling into heat and funk, a counterbalance to the richness of the aioli-coated shrimp. Another winner is Nudibranch’s try to generate the “most cauliflowery of cauliflower dishes,” making ready the vegetable a few ways—roasted, puréed, and pickled. The roasted cauliflower resembles dry-fried cauliflower, a Sichuan common, generally served in an iron wok over a chafing flame. The genius in this article is the substitution, for oversalted pork tummy in the common recipe, of fat-gushing Chinese sausage augmented by Vietnamese fish sauce, the florets ripple with both of those tangy sweetness and earthy umami.
One particular dish that falls flat is the turkey neck, which to begin with psyched me due to the fact of my predilection for Chinese chili-oil-slicked duck neck. Alas, the turkey neck, piled substantial with mole, crema, and sweet potato, was dry, stringy, and gamy. The night time I frequented with pals, a single joked, “Do you think this is what nudibranch tastes like?” Another, who checked Google, uncovered that some of the mollusks may well be edible when roasted or boiled, and read aloud nudibranch factoids, like that their unforgettable hues and strange kinds sometimes aid them mix into their surroundings and other situations do the exact opposite.
Right before this could be mentioned further more, dessert arrived. Of two alternatives, neither of which is integrated with the prix fixe, go for the semifreddo: frozen coconut custard topped with a crumble of cranberry-and-black-pepper cookie. Kim informed me that he likes pairing pepper with fruit because it’s a novel way of engineering a savory dessert, which would conventionally use salt. One particular diner voiced skepticism for the way that pinpricks of pepper riled up his style buds somewhat than calming them, as he envisioned a dessert to do. His close friend agreed her mouth was beginning to really feel like it was dancing on tippy-toes. The verdict could possibly have contented a nudibranch: “I’m not certain if I like it, but I know I won’t neglect it.” (Prix-fixe evening meal $75.) ♦