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Old and New in the East Village: Kyo Ya and N'Eat

sgordon | Nov 14, 201602:07 PM

Couple of excellent meals recently, though I'd recap.

There were a couple little mentions in the Times and Eater about N'Eat, a new Nordic Eatery (get it?) on Second Ave, so we popped in to check it out. On the website there are "snacks" (all $8) and 15 regular small-plate dishes (all $16, with a couple exceptions) - five each vegtable-focused, seafood, and meat - but on the night we popped in the snack menu wasn't active and there were only 12 regular plates (4 from each category) - they're still getting up and running and perhaps a little understaffed on the kitchen side, so temporarily scaled down menu. That said, still a lot to choose from.

Can't knock a thing we had. But of the eight or nine dishes we tried there were a few standouts: raw scallops with mussel granita and buttermilk really knocked my socks off. The mussel flavor was very present, almost took me surprise with the first bite. And raw scallops + buttermilk has been one of my favorite flavor combinations since the first menu at Momofuku Ko years ago. Squid noodles (just ultra-thin shaved squid) presented as a kind of "ramen" in a deep, earthy, funky mushroom broth was great. A Brussels Sprout salad with egg yolk and foamed cheese (a Danish Gammel Knas) I really enjoyed, as well as mackerel in chilled green tomato consomme, though that one felt like a tiny pinch of salt might have been missed on the way out of the kitchen. That said, I have a wee bit higher taste for salt than most. Lamb tartare with crispy buckwheat was easily as good as the beef heart tartare at Agern. There were few other dishes - a fried fish with whey, chicken confit, a ridiculously rich short rib, and probably at least one other I'm forgetting at the moment. All excellent.

Ambiance is lovely. Service was excellent. Really friendly. This was the night after the election and lots of people (ourselves included) were in a sour mood, but our waitress definitely perked things up. Short, well-curated wine and beer list. Something for everyone. Definitely one to put on the map, especially for those in the area - I can see this being a great place you could both kick back with a couple small plates and a glass of wine after work, or kind of make of your own "tasting menu" and splurge.

A few nights later I was meeting a friend from out of town, and we decided to attempt the walk-in bar menu at Momofuku Ko. No luck, but we got lucky and managed to snag a last-minute table at Kyo Ya (this was 8:30 on a Saturday night)

Not that I haven't gone off about Kyo Ya before, of course it was as spectacular as always. But given that the menu changes constantly I'll highlight a few specials that were really happening. The house-cured duck breast I thought was phenomenal - and surprisingly peppery. You don't expect spicy from Chef Sono, but this was pleasantly tingly. Shaved thin, like prosciutto, with a little fruit salad dressed with sake lees. Some shaved raw onion I ignored, since I'm just not a raw onion guy. We had a pretty big assortment of sashimi, two kinds of octopus (good, if you like that "crunchy" raw octopus texture) and the usual tuna suspects, some great mackerel, a big pile of uni with nori to wrap. But the standouts among the seasonal catches were the swordfish - big and meaty (you could almost mistake for tuna) and dressed with teensy little clusters of tart sea grapes. The other was the parrotfish - ludicrously buttery and rich, just a perfect specimen. A couple of gigantic oysters (I wish they wouldn't rinse them, but that's just the Japanese style...) rounded things out.

Most of the rest of the meal was old classics - my friend had never been before, so I ordered some favorites like uni & yuba, the botan shrimp & uni (there was a lot of uni at the meal...) and the salmon-trout pressed sushi. The only dish we were less than thrilled with was a special - a soft-shell turtle nabe. It was very good for what it was, but it was a bit of a where's-the-turtle. The waiter let us know that the meat was at the bottom of the pot, under all the bobbing veggies and mochi cakes - but after digging about, there was maybe enough turtle (ground bits) to fit on a single spoon. A delicious soup, certainly - but basically a delicious vegetable soup. And even though it was served as two courses (you eat the veg, then they take the soup and add rice and egg to the broth and bring it back) it was still kind of a bummer for $38. I mean, gimme some turtle, man. The waiter talked about taking shots of turtle blood when they dispatched the critters and I was like, for $38 I kinda wish that had been included and not left for the crew.

A nice Yamahai sake with subtle, yogurty notes kept us happy throughout.

Anyway, somewhat disappointing nabe aside (I'll stick with Henry's End for my turtle soup needs, I guess) as great as usual.

Momofuku Ko,
Kyo Ya,
Henry's End
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