Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bits & Morsels

CO-OP's dining room (photo: Oleg March).

by Erin Frankel

Set inside the swanky Hotel on Rivington, CO-OP Food & Drink has set the bar a little higher for what an American Brasserie and sushi bar can be.

Designed by DeVinn Bruce, who is known for his glamorous projects for Versace, Baccarat, Francis Ford Coppola, Jennifer Lopez, and Estee Lauder, CO-OP is inspired by 1970's California combined with the gritty edge of the Lower East Side. The dining room is dark and large and airy and candlelit, so it feels both intimate and spacious.

Pink Bazooka at CO-OP.
The high walls are paneled with portraits of an eclectic assortment of celebrities, some of whom may be sitting right next to you while dining directly below their portraits. Chloe Sevigny, Betsey Johnson, Ryan Phillipe, Bruno Mars, Debbie Hardy, Darren Aronofsky, Wilmer Valderamma, and Tom Hooper are among the pictures I remember offhand.

The menu is also amusing. Alan Philips and Jason Apfelbaum, founders of Guerrilla Culinary Brigade, have hired Executive chef John Keller from Le Bernardin and Nobu, sushi chef Stephen Wong from Sushi of Gari, and mixologist Julio Torres, to create a globally inspired menu with a whimsical twist.

The signature Pink Bazooka, which Torres makes with Grey Goose Vodka, fresh Watermelon, Basil, Orange Blossom, & Coco Hibiscus tastes just like sugar bubble gum. Aha, but Torres only uses fruits, vegetables, and herbs from local markets for his seasonal cocktails.

If you prefer wine, you can also expect an interesting and farm-to-table friendly take on his list, which solely features sustainable and locally sourced American wines.
CO-OP's bar.
The food. Expect a menu that includes both refined yet experimental dishes and sophisticated slants on traditional comfort eats. Try the innovative mini ceviche tacos, yellowtail ceviche topped with a fruity mango-avocado salsa and an aji panca sauce delicately stuffed inside of a hard corn tortilla. Or the spicy tuna on crispy rice; fried crispy rice topped with spicy tuna with jalapeno pepper.

As for the salads, my favorite was the kale Caesar, a most creative take on the popular salad. Keller combines two different flavors and textures of kale by using both Tucson Kale with Red Kale and adds a spin to the simple Caesar dressing by replacing cured anchovies with fresh ones. He then adds slices of pear to the salad to balance out the tanginess and bitterness in the salad.
Clockwise from top: Mini ceviche tacos; Kale Caesar salad; Spicy tuna on crispy rice.
The sushi. Wong’s sashimi and sushi choices are all safe bets. Favorites include the salmon sushi prepared with a shallot sauce and chopped tomatoes; the truffled kampachi topped with a truffle sauce, a dollop of sea salt, and fresh lemon; and the Tokyo Lobster Roll, a tempura lobster roll with sliced lobster topped with dynamite and eel sauce.

The hot, comfort-food-inspired entrees. Two must-haves include the peking duck steamed buns and the truffle mac & cheese. The peking duck is topped with duck skin cracklings, hoisin sauce, and scallions. The mac is composed of mini shells topped with truffles and a mixture of white cheddar, manchego, and Parmigiano.

CO-OP Food & Drink
107 Rivington Street
New York, NY 10002

Clockwise from top left: Tokyo lobster roll; Truffles kanpachi; Salmon sushi; Truffle mac & cheese; Peking duck steamed buns.
Where else I ate this week:

Mole Restaurant. Anyone who has dined with me over the past two years will tell you that I have become an insufferable Mexican food snob. Living in New York is a challenge as really good Mexican food is few and far between. Alas, this week I found a new favorite. Mole.

Margarita at Mole.
With four different locations in New York City, Mole is colorful, eccentric, and inspiring in look and taste. The glowing candelabras, painted walls, and Mexican tiles strike a festive cord, but the focus at Mole is really on its bright and inventive dishes.

I started by sipping on a margarita, made with freshly squeezed lime-juice and rimmed with a chili lime salt, while my server was preparing chunky (and spicy) guacamole tableside.

Mole is particularly special, in my mind, for preparing refined Mexican dishes that can be exceptionally delicious and light (a word you don’t hear often when describing Mexican cuisine).

The portions here are incredibly large so order modestly. I recommend choosing something from the Taqueria section on the menu, my favorite being the shrimp tacos. A set of three shrimp tacos is served with lettuce, pico de gallo, and fresh sliced avocado inside of a hot soft blue corn tortilla with two delicious dipping sauces on the side. It's a brilliant combo of flavor and punch.

205 Allen St.
Guacamole and chips.
Shrimp tacos.
My dad’s Branzino. This weekend the most creative chef I know (my dad) prepared the best Branzino I have had in years. Hence, I couldn’t resist sharing his recipe:

Clean the whole branzino, but leave bones intact. Rub the exterior and interior cavity with olive oil laced with garlic. Place parsley, scallions, and chives in the cleaned cavity. Rub sea salt and black pepper on both sides. Place on grill on high heat for one minute on each side to sear. Continue to grill over medium flame for five minutes per side or until the fish is moist but firm. This, my friends, will be the lightest, most flavorful Branzino you will ever have.
My dad's Branzino.
Photographs by Erin Frankel.
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