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Richard Kuo Goes His Own Way at Pearl & Ash

A young chef plays with flavors from around the world

Richard Kuo Goes His Own Way at Pearl & Ash
Vicky Wasik

Food doesn't haunt people, sadistic ghosts do. But you may find yourself thinking of Richard Kuo's cooking long after you've tasted it at the newly opened Pearl & Ash on Bowery. From a wee kitchen outfitted with old induction burners, Kuo builds elegant, colorful small plates that often whisper of faraway places.

Slices of scallop ($6) are dusted with berbere, the African spice mixture, and served with fennel and the edible bulb of the lily flower. Tiny raw shrimp ($6) in a slightly smoky lime yogurt are sweetened with a sprinkling of bee pollen, tiny yellow granules packed together by the hive's workers. One of the most dramatic dishes on the menu is the hanger steak tartare ($7)—a harissa-spiked crimson mash served with a bright orange pool of yolk that covers half the plate. It is rich and silky, and the shards of toast are so delicate they might break as you lift them from the plate.

Those are Kuo's "raw" dishes, but even as you progress to the heart of the menu, you won't find the aggressive, gut-busting, über-fatty food that New York has been putting out lately, but something a bit more delicate. Kuo's version of meatballs ($9) are the simple and endlessly comforting Japanese kind, the pork and veal seasoned with miso and served in a sweet broth with dancing bonito flakes. Veal cheeks ($12) aren't particularly exciting, but they come with nuggets of dehydrated black rice, both crisp and satisfyingly chewy—a technique Kuo picked up working under Wylie Dufresne at wd-50. And a standout dish of skate ($12) with smooth cauliflower purée and ringlets of leek is infused with Moroccan chermoula, and tastes of classic French fare enriched by its immigrant cuisines.

Kuo was last seen cooking beside Aska's Fredrik Berselius at the Williamsburg pop-up restaurant Frej. The chef was born in Taiwan but raised in Australia, and came to the U.S. to work as a cook when he was 25. At Pearl & Ash, where he's running his own place for the first time, Kuo proves himself to be a thoughtful chef with a fluency in flavors. Though not every dish on his menu is a knockout, a lot of what's coming from Kuo's kitchen is fun to eat and bright and beautiful to look at—so it's a pity the room is so dark.

The ceiling is black, most of the walls are black, and throughout the evening the lights are dimmed as the music is turned up. To be fair, there's one wall of blond-wood cubby holes filled with wildflower sprigs in glass bottles, lumps of moss, and vintage cameras—like an Etsy-addict's bookshelf. Pearl & Ash is on the ground floor of a budget hotel, one that was converted from the stack of grim dormitories and shared bathrooms of an old Bowery flophouse. It has always been too dark and cramped in here.

Despite this location in The Bowery House, Kuo hasn't had to give in to the usual hotel-restaurant demands. There is no burger with fries to appease the hostel crowd, for example, and so far this seems to be working out fine. A lone Japanese tourist seated next to me at the restaurant's communal table chewed happily on pieces of quail rolled up in crisp skin, while writing notes in her travel diary.

The welcome at the front door is consistently cheerful, and service tends toward comfortable and warm, even as the restaurant gets busy. Servers resist the urge to stupidly explain the restaurant's "concept" or push any dishes in particular your way, though if you have questions, they have answers. That sommelier in the Motörhead T-shirt, crouching awkwardly by his tables, wears a suit when he runs the wine program at the Palace Hotel. It's Patrick Cappiello, and his wine list here is serious business—with an unexpectedly huge selection from Burgundy and Bordeaux.

Pearl & Ash doesn't have a pastry chef, but the team manages to get around this by serving only two desserts, which each cost what a snack might from a vendor at Smorgasburg. One is a plain but rather cute Fernet-Branca ice cream sandwich ($6), flavored with just enough of the Italian bitters to please enthusiasts and set in a bendy chocolate biscuit that tastes, rather authentically, of almost nothing. It's quite a departure from Kuo's more complex savory dishes, but wrapped in paper and marked with a little smiley face, it's a sweet one.

trao@villagevoice.com

 
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4 comments
Cheryl Lynn
Cheryl Lynn

At the end of Feb. 2013, some 4,713 Palestinian security detainees and prisoners were held in Israeli prisons. A few dozen other Palestinians (we do not have precise figures) are held in IDF facilities for short periods of time. In 2000–2009, 6,700 Palestinians between the ages of 12 and 18 were arrested by the Israeli authorities. A total of 800.00 Palestinians have been imprisoned by Israel. Thousand of minor. There are now in the Israeli prisons 193 child including 21 under the age of 16 . There is no family that has not been affected. The world can not accept such a cruel barbarism derived from an occupation that does not save any corner of the Palestinian territories and which culminates in the open air prison of one million and 500 thousand Palestinians in Gaza. The UN resolutions, the resolutions of the organizations for human rights have certified the state of lawlessness prevailing in Palestine under the military occupation of Israel. How long our civilized world, its men of culture, will permit such a scandalous situation? Palestine and Israel need an international mobilization to bring peace and justice in the area. “Listen to my voice, the voice of our time and yours! Liberate yourselves of the excess of greedy power! Do not remain prisoners of military camps and the iron doors that have shut your minds!” (Samer Issawi, the Palestinian Gramsci, dying in an Israeli bed of hospital)

Luisa Costalbano
Luisa Costalbano

At the end of Feb. 2013, some 4,713 Palestinian security detainees and prisoners were held in Israeli prisons. A few dozen other Palestinians (we do not have precise figures) are held in IDF facilities for short periods of time. In 2000–2009, 6,700 Palestinians between the ages of 12 and 18 were arrested by the Israeli authorities. A total of 800.00 Palestinians have been imprisoned by Israel. Thousand of minor. There are now in the Israeli prisons 193 child including 21 under the age of 16 . There is no family that has not been affected. The world can not accept such a cruel barbarism derived from an occupation that does not save any corner of the Palestinian territories and which culminates in the open air prison of one million and 500 thousand Palestinians in Gaza. The UN resolutions, the resolutions of the organizations for human rights have certified the state of lawlessness prevailing in Palestine under the military occupation of Israel. How long our civilized world, its men of culture, will permit such a scandalous situation? Palestine and Israel need an international mobilization to bring peace and justice in the area. “Listen to my voice, the voice of our time and yours! Liberate yourselves of the excess of greedy power! Do not remain prisoners of military camps and the iron doors that have shut your minds!” (Samer Issawi, the Palestinian Gramsci, dying in an Israeli bed of hospital)

Amelie Falastin
Amelie Falastin

At the end of Feb. 2013, some 4,713 Palestinian security detainees and prisoners were held in Israeli prisons. A few dozen other Palestinians (we do not have precise figures) are held in IDF facilities for short periods of time. In 2000–2009, 6,700 Palestinians between the ages of 12 and 18 were arrested by the Israeli authorities. A total of 800.00 Palestinians have been imprisoned by Israel. Thousand of minor. There are now in the Israeli prisons 193 child including 21 under the age of 16 . There is no family that has not been affected. The world can not accept such a cruel barbarism derived from an occupation that does not save any corner of the Palestinian territories and which culminates in the open air prison of one million and 500 thousand Palestinians in Gaza. The UN resolutions, the resolutions of the organizations for human rights have certified the state of lawlessness prevailing in Palestine under the military occupation of Israel. How long our civilized world, its men of culture, will permit such a scandalous situation? Palestine and Israel need an international mobilization to bring peace and justice in the area. “Listen to my voice, the voice of our time and yours! Liberate yourselves of the excess of greedy power! Do not remain prisoners of military camps and the iron doors that have shut your minds!” (Samer Issawi, the Palestinian Gramsci, dying in an Israeli bed of hospital)

Lisette Aria
Lisette Aria

At the end of Feb. 2013, some 4,713 Palestinian security detainees and prisoners were held in Israeli prisons. A few dozen other Palestinians (we do not have precise figures) are held in IDF facilities for short periods of time. In 2000–2009, 6,700 Palestinians between the ages of 12 and 18 were arrested by the Israeli authorities. A total of 800.00 Palestinians have been imprisoned by Israel. Thousand of minor. There are now in the Israeli prisons 193 child including 21 under the age of 16 . There is no family that has not been affected. The world can not accept such a cruel barbarism derived from an occupation that does not save any corner of the Palestinian territories and which culminates in the open air prison of one million and 500 thousand Palestinians in Gaza. The UN resolutions, the resolutions of the organizations for human rights have certified the state of lawlessness prevailing in Palestine under the military occupation of Israel. How long our civilized world, its men of culture, will permit such a scandalous situation? Palestine and Israel need an international mobilization to bring peace and justice in the area. “Listen to my voice, the voice of our time and yours! Liberate yourselves of the excess of greedy power! Do not remain prisoners of military camps and the iron doors that have shut your minds!” (Samer Issawi, the Palestinian Gramsci, dying in an Israeli bed of hospital)

 
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