New Restaurant Reviews: Brooklyn Ramen and Parallel-Universe Mexican


Despite the calendar’s promises, New York doesn’t seem to know that it’s spring. Perhaps our food critics had a feeling that the winter chill would linger in the air, as they both sought out belly-warming comfort food this week. Robert Sietsema slurped up ramen at Suzume and Ganso, while Tejal Rao opted for a Mexican-influenced meal nearby at Xixa.

How did the professionals rate their choices? Read on to find out.

“Just fooling around with the broths and throwing in extra ingredients may not have ultimately been the way to go,” Robert Sietsema writes about Brooklyn’s recent explosion of experimental ramen joints. Our critic visits two restaurants — one nouveau and one traditional — that specialize in the Japanese noodles.

Suzume has only five ramen choices, and Sietsema favors two of them:

One called “spicy butter tofu ramen” ($10) offers triangles of tofu poking like icebergs out of a dairy-enhanced pork broth. It’s fortifying, but butter and tofu together is undeniably strange. Against all odds, Suzume drops roast salmon — whose strong taste would overpower most soups — into a broth and makes it work, the orange fish swimming happily among little shrubs of wakame seaweed ($12).

But the kitchen nails more than noodles:

More important, can they really make good sushi in this hipster-run place? The unexpected answer is yes! The fetish of the menu is locavoric fish, which is a good idea and something that’s long been done in San Francisco.

Sietsema goes on to write that Ganso is “simply one of the best ramen parlors in town,” offering “broths that are rich without being fussy.” But visit for the appetizers:

There are wonderful gyoza ($7), six dumplings connected with a lattice of batter like an edible doily, and bulging shrimp shumai, each surmounted by a green soybean. Dark-meat chicken taken from the drumstick, skin attached, is cooked under a brick and heaped luxuriantly, while baby-back ribs arrive gobbed with miso, hoisin, and five-spice powder in an Asian-flavor group grope. Ganso is really like two restaurants in one. You could skip the noodles entirely — heresy at a ramen joint — and still walk back to the subway with a smile.

A few blocks away, Tejal Rao enters a “parallel universe” at Xixa, where Mexican-inspired food is influenced by Asian flavors, too. The restaurant, helmed by Jason Marcus and Heather Heuser of Traif, serves small offbeat plates that mostly charm the critic.

Rao writes:

Marcus’s take on roasted marrow ($11) is far enough away from New York’s archetype that the tiresome shinbone is exciting again. . .One of the finest dishes on the menu is a pair of warm, tender gorditas ($7) fried to an even golden color, filled with aioli-dressed shrimp, and topped with a crispy black tangle of puffed rice, sesame, and seaweed.

As at Traif, Marcus draws from an Asian pantry, making use of soy sauce, seaweed, and Thai flavor profiles such as nam prik, the umami jam, and tom yum, the aromatic broth. He cooks with the enthusiasm of a young chef but the finesse of a more established one, which is to say that these flavor pairings often make a lot of sense. Though a dish may occasionally look like an Asian-Latin fusion experiment from the 1990s–like the stack of raw mackerel and mango brunoise ($8) with chips and a dense avocado puree–it will taste fresher.

By the end of many visits, Rao praises the eccentricities of Xixa, which are “driven by a distinct, personal point of view.”

What a relief that there’s still room for cooks to carve out some space and do their own thing–not in some alternate reality, but right here in ours.

Pete Wells, however, is blunt about his feelings for Chez Sardine. The restaurant’s approach to “Asian stoner food” combines “the cuisines of Japan, Korea and other places as seen through bloodshot eyes, the cravings of a hipster whose late-night munchies send him out in search of tacos stuffed with bulgogi, pigs’ tails cooked in root beer and the like.” The NY Times critic awards the restaurant one star.

At NY Mag, Adam Platt declares that Noho restaurant Le Philosophe is “unexpectedly accomplished,” serving “the kind of ancien delicacies your parents used to rave about back when they were footloose and fancy-free on the streets of Paris in, say, 1953.” However, the Upper East Side’s Arlington Club proves far more disappointing, serving steakhouse chops that taste “like they’d come off the standard, if grievously overpriced, steakhouse assembly line.”

Jay Cheshes visits Aska — the Williamsburg New Nordic restaurant housed in Kinfolk Studio — which “has the scrappy feel of very good improv.” The Time Out critic describes the majority of the food as “offbeat and delicious.”

“Murray’s Cheese Bar rocks,” says Michael Kaminer. The Daily News critic embraces the whey-full puns that adorn the West Village restaurant’s walls as much as he enjoys his meal.

The NY Post’s, Steve Cuozzo “wanted to love Red Gravy on the Brooklyn Heights-Cobble Hill border” before he even walked inside. And he did. The sauce-heavy spot is “Italian heaven on Atlantic Avenue.”

Over at Bloomberg, Ryan Sutton is shocked by the outrageous price tags at Gaonnuri — but not too impressed by the meal. He writes that the Korean restaurant “takes the path of of familiarity and charges a markup for panoramic city views (if you get a good table).”