“I feel cooler for having eaten here,” my friend said as we sat back in our seats, stomachs full, staring at the carcass of our bronzino and remains of mac and cheese. I couldn’t have agreed more. And not only that, I think my palate is grateful for the wonderful dining experience and angry at the same time that no meal for a while will live up to this.
Everything about our meal at the exclusive, hidden Bohemian restaurant was memorable. The service, the food and the other patrons, one in particular spilled invaluable culinary knowledge about dining in New York, D.C., Philly, and Tokyo. He had to be someone in the culinary world, and I will continue to try and figure out who until I see him on the cover of some big magazine. I learned, or attempted to learn, how to cut fish cheeks out of my bronzino and have a new documentary to watch. A meal at Bohemian is not just about the food, it’s being around other foodies, real foodies, and sharing the magical, ritualistic experience that is dining.
Walking down Great Jones Street at 9:45, we searched for street numbers on the dark, but crowded sidewalk. Finally, we saw the little number “57” on a graffitied doorway. A little paper taped sign, that one would not notice unless searching, directed us down the ramp way and through an open doorway. This scenario reminded me of the stories of horrors down hidden door ways, however we were confident and our fears disappeared once we went further down the rabbit hole.
I pressed the buzzer, and a trendy, young Asian women opened the door. Bohemian is an intimate restaurant, with simple decor of signed guitars and little Japanese flare with a simple plants and to in a cutout window at the far end of the restaurant. A sushi bar on the other side seats about four, with masterful chefs creating wonderful, intricate dishes. At the five tables in the restaurant, the seats were low and plush, with pillows attached to each one for added comfort. I immediately regretted wearing heels out, longing for slippers to curl up in a ball in the chair.
Every part of the restaurant, with the simple attention to detail, felt comfortable and special. The napkins were old sheets or rags of some sort. Each one unique from the last. Chopsticks sat on black stone, which reminded me of lava rocks. With this much detail and care put into the decor, I knew the food would blow me away. The waitress placed cold, lemon cloth towels in front of us to wash our hands, ridding us from any dirt from the outside world.
A couple sat at the table across from us, epitomizing the word, “cool.” Both his arms were adorned with sleeves of tattoos and his equally beautiful date had saran wrap on her newly decorated upper arm. One dish was placed in front of the couple, which was a part of the tasting menu, as well as a la carte. We had debated which culinary course to take and politely asked for advice. They said they had been a la carte and helped guide us in our culinary decisions of the night. He was a regular here and had been to the restaurant’s Tokyo counterpart; clearly well-versed in the culinary world.
From his recommendations, we ordered cocktails, a must. I decided on the Mint Gold. Amber decided on the Jimmi.
When it arrived the drink looked more like a tropical beverage then a Japanese cocktail. I took a sip and was shocked by the coldness in my mouth. I took the straw out of my mouth to realize it was metal. What a clever idea.
Then we turned back to the great food debate. The simplicity of the menu, with small if any descriptions and adjacent Japanese writing, left so much to the imagination. The restaurant ‘stars’ the dishes that they are most known for, and as first timers, we shouldn’t miss. The waitress was wonderful and patient, smiling with the knowledge that it was our first time. Her expression read excitement for us to experience what was to come. I trusted her guidance on our culinary journey.
We ordered the uni croquette, wagu beef sashimi, vegetable fondue, Bronzino and Mac and cheese. The waitress told us to order all at once since the kitchen would be closing relatively soon. Unlike other restaurants, I trusted the decision to at once order wouldn’t result in the arrival of all the dishes at once.
Our new friend, looked over at us, chopstick full, and told us to add the fried sweet potatoes. We did with pleasure.
The uni croquette was the first dish to arrive.
While simple in presentation, with the bright orange sea urchin on top, the flavor and complexity came to light with one bite. With each wooden spoonful, the richness continued to build. Sea urchin has a sweet, salty richness to it. The flavor is similar to that of lobster roe, with a lighter, creamier texture. I absolutely love it. The croquette itself had a very lightly fried, crisp exterior, keeping the inside moist and decadent. I couldn’t fully decipher the ingredients giving this sweet, umami flavor. The sea urchin (uni) had a light, subtly that built with each bite. It was unlike anything I had tasted.
The market vegetable fondue arrived next. The waitress lit the flame under the glass bowl filled with a white liquid next to the giant, wooden bowl filled with ice and market, seasonal vegetables.
I started with a cucumber, the lightest veggie to really taste the fondue. The flavor reminded me of Ranch dressing, on crack. Warmed all the way through, the fondue had a light cheeses flavor and creaminess to it. Of all the vegetables the raddichio and radish were my favorites. The dish was good, but nothing insanely memorable other then the presentation. An idea for the next time I serve crudités.
The fried sweet potatoes were placed on the table shortly after the vegetables, stealing all of my attention.
Our friend at the other table was right. These were chronic. They lacked the coloring of normal sweet potatoes. The insides was more of a light white, yellow. But the crisp and sweet crunchy exterior was delicious and then the inside melted in your mouth. I could eat these for days, years and still not have enough.
The wagu beef sashimi came next, transitioning our meal towards the main dishes of the meal.
Simply prepared, the dish burst with rustic flavors letting the high end wagu beef shine. Sashimi refers to the method of slicing and preparing meat or fish, so this cut would be new to me. The beef had been lightly salted and simply seared on the top, with the bottom untouched by the kitchen. I added a little wasabi to the soy sauce, squeezed lemon juice on top, picked up the delicate pick of meat and plopped it into my mouth.
The meat tasted unlike any cut of beef I have ever tried. It was so light and luscious all at once. It was wagu beef in its purest form. It melted into my mouth, causing me to sink back and smile with glee. The slight salty flavor from the sea salt and soy sauce, slight kick of heat from the wasabi and balance of acidity from the lemon juice played off each other in harmony. Everything about this dish was culinary magic. The pickled cauliflower added to the dish with fresh acidity to contrast the rich flavors.
This dish was why you dine and seek out new places. The discovery and transformation of something simple into something extraordinary and mind-blowing.
The crusted top, steaming hot ramican, and soft pieces of cheesy toast on top didn’t even give justice to the creamy, oozing noodles inside.
“Who would’ve thought the best mac and cheese of my life would be at a Japanese place,” Amber said barely looking up in between bites. The two of us hardly noticed the whole Bronzino placed on the table. We were drawn and swimming in a pool of divine mac and cheese.
The inside was gooey and decadent, but without any added fluff like so many other places using truffle, lobster and other rare ingredients to up the price and lure. The mac and cheese was the cheapest item we ordered ($10) and worth every single penny. The creaminess of the cheese and surrounding broth coated the elbow noodles. The top had the coveted layer of crisp cheese, giving a bit of crunchy char. The wooden spoons allowed for us to soak up all of the juicy flavor, not missing a bite. I spooned the delicious content onto the top of the cheesy toast creating the most absurd, decadent bite. Pure cheese flavor.
The final dish of the evening, as recommended by our waitress and the gentleman at the other table was the whole grilled Bronzino.
I dug in tasting the fish alone at first. There little bowl next to me began to fill with bones as I worked around all of the different parts. Pretty quickly, I we t straight for the head, picking out the eye balls (I’m adventurous and they taste delicious, salty with a burst of flavor and some crunch) and making my way through the head. The fish melted in my mouth, reminding me of the flavor and sweet, richness of lobster guts, my favorite.
The vegetables on the sides were continued to surprise me as I made my way deeper into the sizzling skillet. First brussels sprouts, then zucchini. I popped a mushroom in my mouth then discovered the most unique piece of all; an olive! Who would have thought that an olive would find its way into Japanese cuisine. But I loved the salty contrast it brought to the vegetable medley. Unfortunately, Amber and I were far from capable of finishing the entire fish, but it was rich and delicious with every bite introducing new flavors.
I sat back in my seat, completely satisfied and blown away by all of the culinary genius that I had enjoyed. We kept recapping each dish after the fact, finding each to be even better in retrospect.
Besides the other table that we had spoken to throughout the meal, the place had cleared out. We never felt rushed. It was a true, refined, yet comfortable dining experience. I then received the number to the restaurant, which serves as the key to the golden culinary kingdom.
I cannot wait to come back and share this secretive, culinary delight with my Dad or some other lucky individual. Because this hidden gem is a must for the culinary savvy to discover. But good luck finding it.
Bohemian – New York, NY
Location: East Village, NY
Perfect For: Impressing Foodies, Celebrity Sightings, Special Occasions
Reservations: Necessary (Difficult to Get, Need Access to Secret, Changing Phone Number)
Favorite Dishes: Mac and Cheese, Sweet Potatoes, Uni Coquette, Wagu Beef Sashimi