Note: First Looks give previews of new dishes, drinks, and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots and interviews with restaurants, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
So there's a new vaguely Japanese-inspired West Village restaurant, but there are dishes like a foie gras grilled cheese on the menu, and the uni sushi has steak tartare, and the hamachi has chicharrón... oh, and there's a serious craft cocktail list. And the centerpiece of the menu is a whole salmon head. And the chef's not Japanese, he's from Montreal.
In the hands of anyone else, this sounds somewhat ludicrous. In the hands of restaurateur Gabriel Stulman and chef Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly, it makes perfect sense.
Stulman's West Village empire now includes restaurants as diverse as the farm-to-table Joseph Leonard; the meat-heavy, unorthodoxly Italian Perla; and the playful, offal-loving Fedora. It's from that last restaurant that he brings over Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly, Monteal-born and formerly of Au Pied de Cochon.
Just like Fedora, the menu is bold, unapologetic, a bit wacky. While the restaurant has been called an izakaya—though it was always, in their terms, a "very inauthentic" izakaya—they're not confining themselves to that label. "We never really meant it to be an izakaya, but the motivation behind the place is Japanese."
The cocktails are, as at all Stulman's restauarants, the work of Brian Bartels. "Simplicity is the ideal goal here," said Bartels of his varied-but-stripped-down cocktail menu. There's no overt theme to them, but like most of Bartels's creations, in the vein of the classics with some distinctive touches (hello, housemade cherry-hazelnut bitters). And there's a bit of attention to pairing, as well, such as a cocktail with prominent ginger flavors that Bartels "love[s] with the fish on Mehdi's menu."
Check out our slideshow for a look at the space, the drinks, and that salmon head.