Manhattan now has an antidote to the enervating, if beautiful, austerity of kaiseki service that’s been proliferating at high-end Japanese restaurants around town.
At Brushstroke, the Kyoto-inspired cuisine may be plated with no more elan than a bowl of spaghetti. Thank David Bouley, the owner and resident chef Isao Yamada.
Take the summer vegetables. There’s a layer of dashi gelee, some cauliflower cream, a mound of sea urchin and a few spears of asparagus. It’s a cool pescetarian parfait as pretty as a snail. So close your eyes and eat. Hints of sugar, salt, earth and sea will slither down your throat.
Grilled freshwater eel sits atop a mound of Kabocha squash, winter melon, okra and burdock. Sweet barbecue sauce coats the mouth. Tastes like a Tokyo picnic.
NyQuil-colored sauce covers a square of fermented tofu. The dish stings with the acidity of blue cheese. The texture is a ringer for foie gras. A vegan triumph.
This is the success that Bouley needed at 30 Hudson, the address that begat his (failed) Secession and (triumphant) Danube restaurants. The Klimt-inspired murals have been replaced by blonde wood. The best seats are at the long sushi bar, where you’ll pay $85 for 8 courses or $135 for 10. (Brushstroke is the most expensive city restaurant to have opened this year.)
And the cost can go up for the most unexpected reasons. Wagyu beef, bluefin tuna and truffles are all available without supplements. But a big pot of rice with corn and shrimp will set you back an extra $15. Remember, rice prices are sky high.
Skip the upcharge. The bland hot pot, with its overcooked shrimp, serves no purpose but to fill the stomach after a few hours of protein-packed small plates.
An alternative is the lobster roll, less New England than California sushi takeout. The flavors of sweet crustacean were subdued into a starchy choke hold. There was a decent order of sushi itself, yielding folds of toro as marbled as Kobe. But the vinegared rice was room temperature, when the point of nigiri is the contrast of cool fish and warm grains.
Then again, this is Kyoto, New York-style. That’s why diners will feast on meltingly tender pork cheeks with green apple puree -- a dish straight out of Oktoberfest.
Bouley is a master of all things French and German. The only things Asian about a fantastic duck salad were the Japanese eggplant and miso-mustard dressing. The funky fowl wouldn’t be out of place at a Lyonnais farmhouse.
Brushstroke’s mushi custard mirrors the one Bouley hawks at his fancy flagship next door. A tiny cup of steamed egg with black truffle sauce, sporting the color palette of a muddy drain, heightens the delicate flavor of crab with the power of fungi.
Just as stunning is clam dashi with scallop and lobster dumplings.
The Bouley service machine is in full force here. Warm towels begin the meal in cooler months; during last week’s heat wave, they were chilled.
Sommelier Seju Yang speaks fluent sake -- and so does the wait staff. Heed their advice, though a $14 Alsatian Riesling blend has a gentle acid and aroma to match much of the delicate fare.
Regulars might get extra courses -- perhaps a bowl of corn soup with mountain yam. Guests in the lounge, who choose from an a la carte menu, receive the same level of coddling as the prix-fixe patrons. That lounge menu, by the way, hides a gem of a dish: braised wagyu with a raw egg yolk. As if fat striated beef needed any more richness. No matter; it works.
Cap off the evening with soy-milk panna cotta and pine nut-studded rice paper. Bouley is back, again.
The Bloomberg Questions
Price: $85 for shorter menu, $135 for a longer tasting.
Sound Level: Reasonable, about 65-75.
Date Place: Yes.
Inside Tip: Tomato confit cocktail, a highbrow riff on the Bloody Mary, showing off the fruit in its sweet-savory glory.
Special feature: Cool restrooms (trust me).
Will I be back? More often to the bar.
Brushstroke is at 30 Hudson Street. Information: +1-212-791-3771; http://www.davidbouley.com
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience. *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair.
Sound-Level Chart (in decibels):
51 to 55: Quiet enough to converse sotto voce. 56 to 60: Speak up, please. 61 to 65: Lean in if you want to hear your date. 66 to 70: You’re reading one another’s lips. 71 to 75: Heads turn because you’re yelling. 76 to 85: Ear-splitting din.
(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)