Piora’s Korean-Italian Fusion Gets Three Stars: Review

Interchangeable bistros and trattorias are sprouting on every New York corner these days. So it’s refreshing to encounter Piora, a West Village restaurant specializing in the unexpected: French-Italian-Korean fusion.

Piora is quiet about this. There’s no sign touting gochujang octopus. Its website lacks an “about” or “philosophy” section. That’s OK by me. Good food shouldn’t be explained.

Try the $31 squid-ink bucatini, garnished with the Italian tricolor: White crab meat, red chilies and green scallions.

The noodles are soft, closer to Cantonese lo mein than al dente macaroni. Evoking takeout except with razor sharp notes of ocean, heat, onion, oil and garlic, it’s close to perfect.

This is the fine craftsmanship of Chris Cipollone, who sold cheap pork belly tater tots alongside $125 set menus at Tenpenny in Midtown. The food worked. The space, with all the charm of a Penn Station bar, didn’t.

So Cipollone hooked up with Korean-born restaurateur Simon Kim, a graduate of the fine fusion machine that is the Jean-Georges restaurant group.

Peaty Tonic

The result is Piora, whose sexy brown woods suggest a ski chalet, circa 1972. A sleek counter up front gives off a smoky musk because the barman is making his “P&T,” a liquid barbecue blend of Islay Scotch, softer Speyside whisky and Tomr’s Tonic. It’s a peaty riff on old reliable G&T.

Order the salad ($16). Piora’s greenery is less of a throwaway starter and more of a homage to France’s great vegetable chefs Alain Passard and Michel Bras. Expect roasted Brussels sprouts (bitter), dehydrated tomatoes (vegetal), chickweed, dried zucchini blossom (sweet), sunchoke soil (earthy) and powdered Thousand Island dressing (which tastes more like Cool Ranch).

That salad is the type of creative, palate-whetting dish that wouldn’t be out of place in the much longer composed meal planned for later in the fall, when Piora starts offering prix-fixe and tasting menus.

Let’s hope the restaurant adds proper sound-proofing by then, as the shouty back room will become a bit less tolerable after two or three hours of expensive dining.

Peppery Lobster

Cipollone simmers octopus in lobster stock ($16) and coats the tentacles in a Korean fermented pepper paste. Candied pine nuts amplify the rich, spicy notes that are then cut by basil. Brilliant.

Even better are the chicken wings, which Cipollone debones, confits and fries. Then they’re tossed with a poached egg, peperoncini flakes and artichokes, and finished with aerated potato puree, making the spuds ethereal.

Prefer duck confit to the chicken variety? Well, Cipollone fries that too, serving the luxuriously fatty meat with bitter celery leaves and prune puree.

Apple salad would be too simple, so Cipollone marinates the fall fruit in kimchi juice, throws in pickled radishes, pipes out some apple sauce, adds wheatberries and anoints the dish with crispy reindeer lichen.

How’s it taste? Like a savory spiced cider, fortified with shellfish and moss.

Slightly Unctuous

Service is impeccable, with every plate hitting the table at once, as at fancier uptown hangs. There’s a solid list of sparkling wines by the glass you’ll want to sample because many of Piora’s preparations contain some element of heat.

Prices start at $12 for a prosecco and shoot up to $45 for a glass of Krug Grand Cuvee, which isn’t necessary at all. The $22 Lallier Rose Champagne is delicate enough to match with halibut in brown butter fumet ($34), yet packs enough oomph to stand up to the ocean trout.

That later dish is a bold study in maritime and porcine oils, as Cipollone tops the fatty fish with crispy bits of nduja, a Calabrian sausage.

Rohan duck ($28) is another perfect dish, how duck should taste but rarely does: clean gaminess made slightly unctuous by perfectly rendered fat.

Even better is the suckling pig candy bar ($30), an estimable ode to the old Eleven Madison Park preparation of soft-cooked meat, crispy skin and porky jus.

Finish with Earl Grey cake, dehydrated into a crumble and finished with a knockout punch of bergamot ice cream. Piora’s Twitter account calls the place just a “Modern American restaurant.” They’re being modest.

Rating: ***

The Bloomberg Questions:

Price: Nothing over $34, barring steaks and truffles.

Sound Level: Sometimes loud, but quieter in the bar area.

Date Place: Yes.

Inside Tip: Have house-infused banana rum ($16) for your after-dinner drink.

Special Feature: Off-the-menu ribeye special at $150 for two.

Back On My Own Dime? You bet.

Piora is at 430 Hudson Street. Information: +1-212-960-3801 or http://www.pioranyc.com.

What the Stars Mean:
****         Incomparable food, service, ambience
***          First-class of its kind.
**           Good, reliable.
*            Fair.
(No stars)   Poor.

(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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