Comfy Chairs, Sexy Patrons, and the Sake Ninja: An (Early) Evening at Cherry

I wanted to meet right when it opened, but my friend at Cherry, a French-Japanese restaurant adjacent to Vikram Chatwal‘s Dream Downtown hotel, was worried. "You might miss out on the scene," she said. Her concerns were overblown. Even though we were dining at the AARP-approved hour of 6pm, there was scene aplenty. To my left, a wealthy-looking group of men and women–probably guests at the hotel–were already indulging in cocktails, their laughter rising with each clink of glasses. To my right, a sharp-dressed man and woman, possibly brought together for business reasons based on overheard snippets of conversation ("So, where’d you grow up?"). The guy, maybe 33, was fit, had artfully-trimmed stubble on his face, and wore a well-pressed blue dress shirt. The woman, a gorgeous 28 or so, had impossibly blonde hair and a shirt so white that she seemed to radiate light, cutting through the darkness of the bordello-esque dining room. It was impossible not to steal glances and concoct a fictional back story for them that ends in a suite upstairs. If this was the scene at 6:15, I can extrapolate from here.

Enter the Ninja

And here was quite nice. Starting with my chair, one of those C-shaped numbers that hold you snugly upright no matter how much sake you drink. Speaking of, here comes the Sake Ninja, known to his family as Chris Johnson. I told the Ninja that I generally prefer dry sake. He returned with a flight of four small pours, from the dry to the still-dry-but-not-so-much. I loved them all. (It went from Yoshinogawa to Akitabare to Marada to Mai, and I liked the Marada best.)

Then he talked about the purity of sake, and the reasons people believe it doesn’t give you a hangover if you drink water along with it (something about "congeners"). He also whipped out a little plastic box of rice, similar to what some Idaho angler might keep trout flies in, to show me the differences in polish level. The deal with sake is that the smaller the grain is polished, the better the sake made from it is. Okay, there are other "deals" with sake, but that’s a big one. Since I also like weird beers, I had an Ozenzo Yukidoke IPA. It was okeydoke.

Sweet Tart

We ordered a bunch of food, mostly small plates. My favorite was the one I kept referring to as "that pizza thing," but was officially known as the BONDST Tuna Tart. It had creamy ponzu, micro shiso, and white truffle oil (probably the source of the omg). It paired beautifully with the sake, with the richness of the tuna dissolving under the dry fruit notes of the Akitabare. Another winner: Foie Gras Mousse, with tuna tataki (yes, more tuna), umeshu cherries (more zing than bing), and spiced cashews. And of course there was a sushi course, with barbecued eel dancing in a jacket of avocado, crispy tofu, and candied bacon.

Dessert? Oh I shouldn’t, but if you risk losing face if I decline, then bring on that Fuji Apple Gyoza, with hazelnuts, macerated cherries, and vanilla crème anglais. And surely it’s Suntory Bread Pudding time – yamazaki whiskey, toffee sauce. Goodness, I’m stuffed.

Food Dude

And here’s the man responsible for all this nice stuff: Jonathan Morr, who, along with Eugene Morimoto, opened the restaurant in January. He’s a friendly sort with fine-dining bona fides from here to Switzerland, where he went to hotel school (I had wrongly guessed Cornell). He’s also the force behind BONDST, a legitimate New York classic and Nobu rival, as well as the former APT in the Meatpacking District, which helped propel the neighborhood to its current status as one of the city’s most popular nightlife districts.

The obvious question, then, is how he came upon the French-Japanese concept. "Honestly, I can hardly remember at this point," he said with a laugh. "We wanted Japanese food, and needed it to be different than BONDST, and the bordello decor led us to a French influence." Whatever the genesis of the idea, the execution is precise. Every dish that came out of chef Andy Choi’s kitchen was dynamite, though I wish they served actual dynamite, by which I mean scallop with mushroom and smelt roe.

Coffee Talk

Morr insists on the highest standards of service and presentation. "What are you doing?" he asked the waiter as he set down my friend’s decaf at the end of our meal. "The cup goes here, with the handle turned like this. The sugar goes here, creme here."  And he was right. The way he adjusted the coffee service, you’d hardly have to look down and interrupt your conversation to fix your cuppa the way you like. Sure, it’s the ultimate first world problem to have to reach across the table for the Splenda, but it all counts when you take fine dining seriously, and the cumulative effect of doing everything just right is a meal to remember, and perhaps even a Michelin star somewhere down the line.

Party Down

Cherry is a restaurant first, and a lounge second, by which I mean it’s comfortable and cool enough to linger after dessert, maybe ordering another round of drinks like the Cherry Bomb (tequila, cherry jam, black pepper agave, lemon) or consulting with the Ninja for another sake flight. Morr insists the focus is fiercely on the food and service for now, and they’ll worry about the nightlife component when the time comes. But for early birds like myself, who slouched into that perfect chair for the better part of two hours, it felt like a proper night out. I went home and kipped down at 10pm, sleeping more deeply than I had in months.

The next morning, my head was as clear as a spring day, and I felt like a million bucks. Always listen to your ninja. 

[Related: BlackBook New York Guide; Listings for Cherry, Dream DowntownBONDST; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter]

A Cherry Bomb of Sushi Hits Chelsea

There’s something sexy about Cherry, the latest venture into Asian cuisine from BONDST’s Jonathan Morr, which opens up in the Dream Downtown hotel this Wednesday. First, the décor by Studio Gaia exudes a pop-culture romance with a cherry-red, cherry-shaped entryway. Once inside, the plush velvet seats, polished wood floors, and merlot-colored wall hangings cry out for ruby-lipped ladies to dine clandestinely with men in snappy suits. Second, with former Le Cirque and Momofuku Ma Peche chef Andy Choi leading the kitchen, they are pumping out modern Japanese cuisine with a French twist. This means you can find sharable treats including foie gras with short rib gyoza, uni-poached eggs, black cod shumai, and tuna spring rolls.

However, Cherry’s specialty is their sushi and sashimi menu. With this, you can order à la carte or go for the omakase tasting menu, where Choi dishes out his selection of items including salmon belly sushi, spicy caviar, giant clam, and golden amberjack sashimi. They also have a selection of sakes curated by sake specialist Chris Johnson, which features some rare and special varieties like Harada Nama Muroka and Daishichi Myouk Rangyoku. In true classy fashion, you can also reserve a bottle of liquor for your visits, or, just settle into one of their craft cocktails.

Each dessert comes with a cherry on the top, and, since the kitchen stays open until 2am, you can eat early, in the light of day, or secretly at night, depending on your company.

Kittichai’s New Chef Ty Bellingham Speaks to Blackbook

Is it me or is there a Thai restaurant on every corner in Manhattan? The latter seems right: they’re as ubiquitous as ATM machines. And they’re not all that special, either (you have to go to Queens for that). Thankfully, New York City recently received one of the best Thai imports in the city’s culinary history. Ty Bellingham—who worked at the famed Sailors Thai in Sydney, Australia—has taken over Kittichai at 60 Thompson, giving it that Thai magic makeover. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s regarded as one of the world’s top Thai chefs. It took Ty a couple months to get acclimated, so we gave him some time to get down and dirty before getting the dish on his new adventure.

What are some of the changes we can expect at Kittichai? I have dedicated the last 15 years of my life specializing as a chef in authentic Thai cuisine. I have immersed myself in every aspect of it including learning about the culture, which is integral to eating the food. My passion for it has led me around the world, including running the most awarded Thai restaurant in Sydney, and traveling through Thailand many times. I guess my philosophy is, if it’s hard it’s usually worth doing. This means making our curry pastes, and lime juice coming out of fruit. No shortcuts are taken.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced with your new position?
 I imagine getting fresh food is harder to get here than
There are lots of ingredients I can’t get here that I
 can get in Sydney, but I’ve been surprised at the many 
things that I can source. There is a lot more here than I expected. 
I’m enjoying trying all the different types of chilies, fresh and 
dried. There are a lot more varieties here.
The initial challenge is learning all the seafood and meat.
 What’s good, what’s not, and 
what’s a good price. But my sous chef Bryan has helped me a great deal
 with that. Plus I am struggling with the different measures: Fahrenheit, ounces, pints and quarts.

What are some dishes you’ve introduced to the menu?
 I have almost overhauled the entire menu, leaving some of the 
Kittichai favorites.
 A personal favorite is my smoked trout on shiso leaf, with a
 caramelized palm sugar dressing. I did this for the Food Network’s
 Food and Wine fair and the Taste of New York events. It seemed the 
customers at those events loved this dish. 
I also have five different curries on the menu right now:
 Seafood with a citrus red curry, the classic green curry with chicken
 and Thai eggplant, and for the more adventurous, we have the pork tenderloin in a jungle
 curry paste, which is the hottest item on the menu. Curries are my 
favorite dishes to make and eat.

How do the Kittichai diners differ from who those you served back in
 Well, for one thing, diners in News York eat out a whole lot later. In
 Sydney, service would end around 10 to 11 pm. Thai food has been fairly prevalent in Australia for a while – probably due to our proximity to Southeast Asia – and so they are more used to
 ordering food family-style, which is how Thai food is supposed to
 be eaten. A meal would typically have a spicy, salty curry, crispy
 caramelized pork belly, a hot and sour soup, and a salad of some kind. But
 all this means nothing unless it is served with rice. 
I have noticed that people eat less rice here in New York City. Maybe 
it’s the whole carbs thing after 6pm.

What is your opinion of the Thai restaurants in NYC? I really have no opinion on Thai restaurants in NYC. I haven’t had
 time to eat out a great deal yet. 
But what I have recently read is that Thai food is the new Italian. So I
 think it is great that I am here in the city at a time when Thai food is getting
 the recognition it deserves. When it is done well, Thai can compete with the great food countries 
of the world. 
In Australia, Thai has replaced the local Chinese as people’s take-out
 of choice, it is literally that popular. It would be great to see
 Thai food as prominent as this in NYC.

What are some of your favorite restaurants (Thai or not Thai) in NYC? The restaurants in our group are fantastic and show a great range of diversity of cuisines. BONDST has great sushi, Republic at Union Square is great for noodles, and Indochine is still fantastically cool.

Fashion’s Night Out To-Do List: Bowery Bonding

While you’re bopping about town on Fashion’s Night Out, stimulating the economy and whatnot with your cab fares and fancy purchases, designers and friends including ROGAN, OAK, The Smile, and Archetype Showroom will be trying to lure you to their neck of the woods. Together with other local favorites, the group’s pooling their talents to present the first annual Black Carnival on Fashion’s Night Out from 6PM-11PM. Bond Street between Bowery & Lafayette will be roped off in street-fair fashion—funnel cakes replaced by luxe sushi, street meat by high fashion—to celebrate the dark (and humorous) side of fashion with black tents, live music, local cocktails, and unchecked revelry. No man is an island, and neither are retail brands, which is why these Noho favorites have joined forces. Our favorite destinations in the nabe after the jump.

ROGAN: The Bowery mainstay will be hosting a Blackout photo session in which revelers can have their photo taken in the style of the FW10 ROGAN blackout video. They will be showcasing their ROGAN vs LOVE special collaboration with precious lockets available only on Fashion’s Night Out.

OAK: Carnival attendees will receive a special discounted price on the coveted OAK French Military Jacket. It will be available for purchase for $90 (regularly $154). How come? They’ll be hosting fun decorative booths in which you can customize the jacket with biker and punk-inspired patches to create a unique, one‐of‐a‐kind piece. They’ll also be doling out temporary tattoos.

The Smile: A favorite of the downtown set (and the site of every party below 14th Street lately, it seems), the resto will be offering delicious bites prepared by Executive Chef Melia Marden.

Factory by Erik Hart: With any Factory By Erik Hart purchase, receive a limited edition signed copy of Erik Hart’s Zine. They’ll also be filming. You. In your very own art film.

LNA: Another downtown fave, you’ll be able to create your own shredded tee, tank, or legging with LNA designers and founders Lauren Alexander and April Leight.

Kai Aakmann: Participate in Kai Aakmann’s “Style Intersection” and personally style male and female models. A winning prize of a $500 gift certificate is up for grabs.

Surface to Air: Create your own charm necklace, choosing from various chains, charms, and pendants. Here’s a tip: get your hands on the customizable (and ever‐popular) Surface to Air 2 and 3‐finger rings, marking them with your initials.

• Hester Street Fair: The Big Social, the team behind the Hester Street Fair, will be curating the food at the Black Carnival. Vendors include: Luke’s Lobster Nijiya Melt Bakery Sigmund Pretzels Macaroon Parlor

BONDST: The famed restaurant will have sushi chefs making hand‐rolls on demand and frying up spicy crispy shrimp.

CHRISTINEATS: Confectioner Christine will be on hand with special caramels and Prohibition Truffles for the adults.

Vita Coco: Delicious, refreshing, and hydrating – a healthy option to keep you going all night.

The Dish: BONDST’s Big Eye Tuna Tarts

What: Big Eye Tuna Tarts with creamy ponzu, white truffle oil, and micro shiso. Where: BONDST, known around town for fresh fish, quality sushi and a unique take on traditional Japanese. Ideal meal: Date night with your arm candy or a quiet weeknight dinner in the subdued ambiance upstairs or in the subterranean lounge. Because: Truffle oil can be such a ‘cheap’ maneuver. In excess, it aims to conceal whatever’s missing from the recipe, but here, it supplements the citrus-based ponzu and adds a lasting bite to the micro shiso greens sprinkled on top. Tastes like: Fresh, thinly sliced tuna (a perfectly crisp carpaccio) atop a crunchy tart make a Japanese-inspired bite sized pizza. Enjoy with childish delight. Bottom line: $18 for two tarts as a starter. BONDST has never been accused of being affordable, but patrons know that the ‘bite’ to your wallet is worth every single one inside.