Tucked away on Hudson Street, Piora acts like a secret garden of sorts. I’m not just referring to the beautiful landscaping tucked away behind a glass window in the back area of intimate restaurant. Whimsical dishes and a well-known chef, plus a recent two-star review by Pete Wells should pack the house, yet this West Village newbie seems relatively unknown to most.
While a reservation at a normal hour was hard to score, when we arrived at 5:45 for my Mom’s Saturday night birthday dinner the restaurant was relatively empty. A few attractive couples sipped cocktails at the bar, expertly prepared by gentleman in clean white jackets. Small vials of bitters and spirits line the bar top, while the bartenders use unusual equipment to elevate the liquors and flavors. Already the excitement built as I waited for my family to arrive, already certain which cocktail would cross my lips.
The hostess led us to past the narrow bar area into the open, small back room. The walls are lined with whimsical artwork, which give the illusion of a bigger room. We sat down at a square table, as the waiter handed each of our menus to us. Immediately, I understood why they had asked the spelling of my Mom’s name when I told the hostess it was her birthday. On the top left corner of each menu “HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LORI!” was written in bold print. It’s a classy, elegant touch that instantly put a smile on my Mom’s face.
We each ordered cocktails, instead of the usual glasses of wine and beer for my Dad. The waiter explained that in addition to the normal cocktail list, they offer fresh pomegranate juice, used for to create to special cocktails, a salty dog and gin-lime cocktail. Wearing a white shirt, I decided to steer away from pomegranate and instead opted for the Leaves Falling, a specialty gin based cocktail.
I loved my drink. Love, love, loved. It’s extremely light and refreshing from the smooth and smoky earl grey tea base and lemon, with the maple syrup and apple adding an element of sweetness. Imagine the most delightful glass of iced tea on a hot summer day and add gin. My family’s drinks were good, but nothing extraordinary; fresh pomegranate juice and liquor, not too much more too it.
Before doing anything, order the monkey bread. While I’d argue that bread should always be included, this dish is so extraordinary that you forget that fact that they’re charging.
Warm pull-apart bread served in a cast iron tray arrived at the table with whipped rosemary lardo and seaweed butter. Breaking off a piece releases an intoxicating, buttery steam. Then it’s up to you which direction to go, I clearly opted for both, switching between the salty, seaweed butter and slightly spicy and sweet whipped lardo. Calories don’t count when it’s this delicious, right?
We decided to share a variety of appetizers, beginning with ordering the scallops with sweet corn and tuna crudo with beets. The waiter quickly suggested we order the market vegetables, as well. I quickly remembered Adam Platt raving about the ingenious thousand island powder coating the veggies and told my family we should take our extremely knowledgeable waiter’s advice.
Each delicately designed dish is lovely. The attention to detail is startling, specially with the beet and tuna dish, where the two deep red pieces were identical inside and coloring. You wee unsure which dish was what until your fork was either met with a slight resistance from the roasted beet, or easily sliced through the beautiful tuna crudo. The addition of Asian flavors kept this dish extremely light, allowing for the high quality produce to shine.
Sweet corn and scallops are an incredible combination. The sweet corn completely highlights the innate sweetness of the seared, golden scallops. It makes the fishy quality of the scallop more prominent, but in a really good way. Adding chanterelle mushrooms gives an earthiness, while the crispy chicken skin adds a bit of crunch and playfulness.
By far, the most surprising dish was the last minute addition of market vegetables. The ingredients rotate based on what’s fresh and available. Sweet corn was the star but in a completely different way then in the scallop dish. The corn had been charred to give a smokey flavor, without crossing the line into burnt. The powdered thousand island is in fact pure genius. It makes the dish have a feeling of creaminess and tang, without masking the flavor of the vegetable, like a traditional crudete preparation. Order this.
Each of our main dishes fit our personalities. Amanda ordered a delicate halibut, Mom selected the chicken, Dad went for the whimsical fresh pasta with king crab, and I ordered the duck. Like a choreographed dance, the waiters placed each dish in front of us in rhythm, then allowing for the waiter to pour unique sauces over the chicken, fish and duck. He explained each dish as the source generously covered or surrounded our proteins, joking with my dad about his lack of sauce on the dark, almost black colored pasta.
Beautifully cooked, light pink duck with a crisp skin from being cooked low and slow to render out all of the fat. The dry-aged duck breast has a smoky intensity, while the meat remains juicy and rich. The sweet and savory black garlic sauce, poured around the duck table side, mixes with the pureed sweet jujubes, Korean dates. The farrow on the side adds texture, while soaking up the flavor from the jujube and black garlic purees. It’s a simple, yet complex dish where each element is remarkably prepared with care and precision.
Amanda’s gorgeous, slightly crispy halibut is finished off with a brown-butter fumet, poured table side allowed for the seductive, aromatic sauce to fill your lungs. Sweet-sour ribbons of pickled butternut squash and chanterelle mushrooms sit underneath the fish, adding a light acidity. It’s a wonderful, light alternative.
Expertly prepared chicken always wins at restaurants of this caliber. It’s so easy to overcook chicken to the point where’s is dry and seemingly inedible. These types of dishes, where the chicken is sweet and insanely flavorful renew my faith in this type of protein. The crispy skin keeps the chicken moist, while the sauce inserts a sweet and smokey flavor. Fried sunchoke might be my new favorite vegetable with a flavor comparable to that of garlic, rather then the part of its artichoke family. Sweet corn rounds out the dish full of varied temperatures, texture and flavor.
Chef Cipollone’s Italian heritage comes through in the beautifully crafted pasta dishes. The black garlic bucatini is a favorite, simmered in crab stock rather then the traditional salted water. Bucatini is tossed with dungeness crab meat and mushrooms. Chilies are added to the sauce for a bit of heat to cut through the rich pasta.
Our plates empty places proved our enjoyment of all of the dishes, which were so radically different from one another. Each dish was wildly unique, giving us a taste of something completely new. Black garlic sauce, please let me bottle you.
Finally, we finished the meal with song, candles and dessert.
Unfortunately, the dessert was far from edible. The earl grey crumble was remarkably dry even with the ice cream and pomegranate seeds. Negative reviews about their dessert options caused Piora to hire a pastry chef to try and bring the last course of the meal up to the same standard as the savory options.
Wonderful, over the top service projects Piora into a different world. It’s an intimate experience with delicious, playful takes on traditional dishes. It’s not a fusion restaurant, despite the Korean and Italian influences. Instead every dish is expertly prepared with unusual flavors and completely new ingredients. It’s pricy, but you definitely get what you pay for in terms of food and service. Piora is definitely here to stay, and making a serious splash on the culinary scene in a great way.
Location: West Village, NY
Type: New American
Perfect For: Special Occasions, Date Night, Dinner with Parents
Reservations: Recommended via OpenTable
Favorite Dishes: Monkey Bread, Market Vegetables, Scallops and Corn, Rohan Duck, Chicken