Wookiee Hut Cuisine presents:|
East 1st Street, Lower East Side, NYC
Review by SuSu, MaceVindaloo, HitTheRoad, PastryQueen, HongkyBar
A bunch of us cooking school types were going to the newest Mario Batali place ... but it was so fashionable that we couldn't book a table, no matter how early or late! So another of us discovered this place. It'd gotten an excellent review in the New York Times and was touted as a woman-owned, women head-chef place. There were some boys, but they were ... nice, you know?
The place was empty at 6pm when they officially opened, but it filled up very quickly. Well, then again, it's quite small a narrow, deep space, with a charcoal grill station in the back. As far as we could tell, the rest of the kitchen was esconced below-stairs, which were very, very narrow two waiters wanting to pass one another would have to come to an agreement before proceeding. There's one bathroom in the back of the space with a gappy door with clear glass in it, protected by a lacey curtain. You can't turn on the lights unless you want everyone to see you in there ... plenty of light does fall in via the glass door and lone candle on the floor, so you likely won't need to turn the light on.
It was oppressively hot, like New York summers can be. We'd been told that the latitude and climate were very close to that of Naples, Italy ... well, that explains it. But it meant that though there were tempting meaty specials, nearly all of us opted for fish and many, many appetizers. The fish today was a whole branzino, a sort of Brazilian striped bass. It was grilled with peppercorns, fennel seeds, and thyme, for a spicy, granular, chewy crust which was really good. The fish was done to perfection; the only thing that might make it better is to serive it with chopsticks ... those of us with time in Asia discovered the pointed sticks are excellent for getting between the bones.
Track back a bit ... while we were perusing the menu, little flower pots of fried, spiced chickpeas came out. They tasted somewhat Moroccanish and were actually like bar peanuts salty, crunchy, but a bit soft since they were beans (well, so are peanuts, but you know what we mean). We started with very French appetizer of salt, butter, and radishes came out with icicle radists instead of regular, making for a very non-burpy, crisp, delicious bite. We also got some grilled lamb meatballs served with cornichons and mustard, along with a sort of camembert with buttered brioche, which was a bit of overkill. But it was tasty, for sure.
The side dishes were a different take on a the comfort dishes of olde ... like cauliflower polonais, which is made with whole baby cauliflowers in purple, green and white hues. There was also the classic petit pois-style braised peas and lettuces, as well as a leeks layered with ham and cheese, then broiled. Other nice side dishes were rosti, a flat sautéed potato cake, braise pork belly, and fried sweetbreads served with a cream and capers sauce. It was as heavy as it sounds, but despite the very hot day, we managed to finish just about everything, then demanded more rosti, then ordered a fist-sized mozarella-like cheese wrapped in leaves, served with grilled bread. The cheese did need the seasalt at the table and it was tasty and creamy, but it was the bread which was the star of that dish.
We were less impressed with desserts. The profiteroles were not pate au choux, as far as we could tell ... or if it was, it was seriously undercooked. The pot au crème was okay ... but it's caramel custard in a cup. The crêpes with diced apples had a disturbing texture. I don't remember if we had coffee ... The photos seem to indicate we had capuccino type hot drinks? They are apparently unmemorable! So skip dessert here and go elsewhere ... can't be far from a good dessert anywhere in this town.
With all the food and drink at the table, we got away at about $60 per person, including tips, taxes, etc. By the time we got the check, there were many people waiting for our table, and the place was seriously overfull. So we drifted outside and sat on the flowerboxes and pretended to smoke. It was a rather pleasant night with very pleasant friends, even though we had to shift gears and scramble for a reservation at a foodie haunt. We have no clue how we managed to garner a reservation here, but we're glad we did.
I think this place would be better in winter, what with all the cheesy, buttery, meaty things done on the grill. It wasn't a backyard grill type of thing here, though certainly it was summery enough. The vamped-up 1950s style "continental" side dishes are a bit of a surprise, but they are done in the manner we'd imagine to accompany an excellent roast dinner. It's actually much better than it sounds ... and I can't forget that fish! Yep, best try it all again in winter!