At first glance, Chiko in Greenpoint may look like a traditional kaiseki restaurant. The dishes are highly structured. Ingredients are visually arresting. Fish is sourced directly from Japan, and the pricey, multi-course meal changes with the seasons.
But chef and owner Xiaowei Zheng, who is originally from Fuzhou, China and whose culinary background includes stints at NYC sushi and Italian restaurants like Sushi Dojo and Il Buco Alimentari, has made the menu distinctly his own.
The upscale counter restaurant, which opened in Brooklyn last month, pulls from his upbringing in China and his decade living and working in New York — featuring options like an uni dish meant to be a play on Nathan’s Famous hot dog. The breaded scallops serve as the bun, the uni is the sausage, and truffles are meant to be sauerkraut.
Dubbed the “Coney Island,” the dish is part of the 13-course menu offered at Chiko, where the preparation and presentation of each dish falls in line with kaiseki’s fine-dining tradition — but the eclectic combinations are used to represent Zheng’s personal memories.
“One of my fondest memories of New York City was eating a hot dog for the first time,” he tells Eater. “We offer creative plates that play with memory and imagination.”
The idea behind the Fresh & Funky, meanwhile, comes from a mishap at a potluck. Zheng once brought a Japanese sushi dish to the party and accidentally mixed the fish with the cheese brought by his friend, an Italian chef. Here, that incident is transformed into a marinated gizzard shad served with parmesan cheese.
The chef’s seafood background comes into play elsewhere as well. The 13-course menu, which costs $138, features small seafood dishes that vary greatly in approach, from kumamoto oysters served with quail egg to the horse mackerel paired with leche de tigre and leeks.
His menu also features an octopus dish called the Kraken, made with romesco and tomato, and the Carnival, a dessert offering of vanilla ice cream, truffle, and corn. Eventually, a 15-course meal featuring “more high quality ingredients” will be offered for $178.
The 15-seat restaurant is located in Greenpoint at 954 Manhattan Ave., between Java and India Streets, a neighborhood that has few other tasting menu restaurants. But Zheng chose the neighborhood specifically for that reason, hoping his “imaginative” approach to Japanese cuisine will bring in diners who enjoy embracing the unfamiliar, he says.
Formerly executive chef at Sushi Dojo and a sous chef at Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria, Zheng says he didn’t think he could fully express himself within the confines of conventional sushi-making or an Italian kitchen.
“That’s why I decided to jump out and do this 13- and 15-course tasting menu,” he says. “It’s a way to express myself and how I really want to cook food.”
Chiko is now serving up to eight guests at a time for reservations only from Thursday to Saturday between 6 and 8 p.m. Once it receives its liquor license, the restaurant will be open from Tuesday to Saturday until 11 p.m. and will seat up to 15 diners. A Sunday brunch is also in the works.