Last year, Pete Wells wrote about how New York chefs were blurring the lines between restaurant and bar. In short, the Times critic argued that it could sometimes be hard to tell whether you were in a restaurant with unusually good drinks, or a bar with unusually good food. In his latest review, Wells files on Karasu and Zadie’s Oyster Room, two bars backed by chefs serving destination worthy dishes. Wells admits that the cocktail program from Major Food Group alum Thomas Waugh is what brought him through the door at Karasu the first few times. However after sampling some of dishes, the critic is pleased with both the Japanese-inspired dishes and cocktails. "The first surprising thing about the food is that there is any," he explains. "The second is that it’s so polished and considered." Here is Wells on some of his favorites:
If more serious hunger calls, there is a generous tonkatsu, left fairly thick and fried on the bone. Still more impressive is the koji-rubbed rib-eye, forcefully blackened on both sides and served sliced in a skillet, basted in its own fat. In the heat of the moment, I declared that it was better than the steak at Peter Luger. I am pretty sure I meant it.
Over in the East Village, Wells thinks Marco Canora has found his footing at Zadie’s Oyster Room after opening and closing his wine bar Fifty Paces. Here, oysters come in many forms from chef Devin Dearden; Wells explains the highs and lows:
Oysters are of course served raw on ice, with a good mignonette and an irrelevant cocktail sauce. But they are also broiled under minced seaweed and Parmigiano-Reggiano in a nervy, compelling take on oysters Rockefeller; poached in sherry and cream along with late-summer succotash for a soup that is halfway between oyster stew and chowder; and steamed with garlic, vermouth and butter, a suave oyster-dunking sauce that becomes a soup once you add oyster crackers.
Still, what will keep Wells coming back is the smoked bluefish spread. Wells gives both restaurants one star each.