Think Alice Waters and Dan Barber were the original artists of the locavore movement? Try again. It arguably started centuries ago with the Japanese.
With ornate ceramic tableware as canvases, their craft took shape in the kaiseki meal. This procession of dishes aimed to capture Japanese cuisine’s five tastes (salty, bitter, sour, sweet, and umami, or savory) and showcase foods from the mountains, sea, rivers, and fields. All while deploying only the most seasonal of ingredients.
Brushstroke, a noteworthy new collaboration between David Bouley and the Tsuji Culinary Institute of Osaka, marks one of the few spots in New York City where you can enjoy such feasts. Located in Tribeca—as if D.B. would shack up anywhere else—the restaurant occupies the former digs of his Austrian hot spot Danube (and briefly Secession). Stripped of their former gilt and opulence, the environs are now decked out in reclaimed timber, stone, salvaged steel, and a muted color palette designed to keep your eyes transfixed on the plates. But make sure to steal glimpses at the chefs perfecting their craft while you sit at the long L-shaped bar—a real treat, given the nearly unnatural serenity pervading the open kitchen.
You should keep watch on your wallet, too—an eight-course meal for one runs $85; 10 courses go for $135. But a bar alcove that offers sushi, sashimi, and a handful of à la carte items from both menus ($8 to $24 apiece) won’t drain your wallet—just don’t go overboard on those pricey pieces of orange clam nigiri. Architecturally unique, the alcove features a wall made out of 25,000 tinted books turned spine-in, though is dark and cramped.
The food changes regularly, following the Japanese seasonal calendar. But expect to see courses like a tiny square of mountain yam floating in a pristine tomato gelée, topped with briny sea urchin. A bowl of cubed hearts of palm tossed with an herbaceous miso and basil purée stands guard alongside. To follow: a beautifully complex and smoky dashi-based soup with a crab and scallop dumpling bobbing in the center, a baby radish paddling alongside. Slivers of fluke sashimi. A sumptuous Pacific jumbo oyster, bigger than any bivalve on the block. Pork cheeks stretching over a velvety green apple purée for a hearty finish.
One gripe—my meal’s repeated elements (vegetable tempura—and an oily one at that—appeared twice in one dinner, as did raw tuna in another). Should you pass on the prix-fixe, skip the pricey Wagyu ($24 for a tiny portion) and the uninspiring grilled cod cuddling with a sea urchin ($15).
Don’t, though, overlook the chawan-mushi ($9), a sumptuous egg custard topped with a rich truffled broth and chunks of Dungeness crab. It’s so good it merits a haiku: Bouley, marry me/So you can cook this nightly/Bowl of ecstasy.
Soy-milk panna cotta sweetens the meal’s end. The satiny pale custard anointed with a flash of electric green matcha sauce and a fleck of gold leaf cloaks a pool of red beans: subdued yet elegant. Then scoot to the bathroom, which features one of those kooky Japanese toilets that do everything but your business for you. How could you leave a restaurant without a grin on your face after your privates have been warmed, washed, dried, and massaged? Talk about a happy ending.
Follow us on Twitter @ForkintheRoadVV.