Secret restaurants are a thing. You hear about them in Europe, in Buenos Aires, in New York. Some are pop ups, some are tucked away in dark alleys or at the back of other establishments. It is the aesthetic of the speakeasy, the private club, the clandestine party, the convocation of spies and secret agents. I went to one of them last week, here in New York, with a friend who knows another friend who has the phone number (something like that – we are all friends in any case). It is called Bohemian and is quite the experience. In the spirit of things, I will be coy about where it is, but the game is up: you will have no problem Googling or Binging the location, which I have walked by many times without knowing what was there. Getting in may be another matter.
The entrance is at the end of a narrow and somewhat darkened passageway along the side of an exclusive Japanese butcher shop. Apparently you do not really need a password, but you do need to know the unlisted phone number (I don’t) or someone who does (I do). The door opened at 6pm sharp for the first seating and early arrivals were politely refused permission to take a seat at the bar while waiting.
If you make it inside, and are successfully seated, you encounter an interesting choice of Japanese, Mediterranean and American dishes. Individually, they are not necessarily fusion cuisine, but as a whole they add up to as fused a dining experience as I can imagine. If, as we did, you opt for the tasting menu, it seems obligatory to either go for the sake or do a sort of cocktail pairing. I went for cocktails, starting with a Thincumber, the super thin slices floating in the icy liquid. Refreshing. Later I would switch to a gin-based drink with whipped egg whites (which they like to use here) making for a rich foam on top.
The first food was a fondue of warm cheese and chilled vegetables, an interplay of contrasts, in temperature, texture, and flavor. The raddichio leaves at the end for soaked up whatever cheese was left, itself a contrast to the overall lightness of the course. Next up was sea urchin, never my favorite delicacy; it crosses some sort of textural line for me. But scoop it over a Spanish style mushroom croqueta, with its own classically creamy center, and something about the gooiness balances out – and how. A short rib sashimi followed, presumably with meat from the specialty shop on the street, densely marbled, deeply tender, with just the firmness to make it pleasantly chewable. A dab of horseradish, or a dip in the garlic soy sauce, or a squeeze of lemon added an extra dimension, as did the bits of pickled cauliflower, the consumption of which was not to be passed up.
The main course was fourth in line, a completely traditional Mediterranean whole branzini. I may never have had a better one, and the vegetables were just as good as the fish. We then had a choice of either rice topped with roe (which I chose) or a mini-Washu beef burger (which my friend went for). It was an interesting structure to the meal, following the main course with a small, savory dish rather than jumping right to dessert, a honey-lemon panna cotta, with a perfect jellied topping, that seemed to settle on the tongue. A two bean cocktail – meaning of liquors of coffee and cocoa – was just the thing to pair with it. I have had a fair number of tasting menus in the past few years, and this one had the virtue of being exceptionally well composed and complementary in its diversity.