Guerilla molecular gastronomy at Desnuda
122 E. Seventh St.,
Hours: Dinner, Mon.-Thurs., 5 p.m.-midnight;
Fri.-Sat., 5 p.m. – 2 a.m.; Sundays: closed
VIBE: Sexy Ceviche Bar
OCCASION: Bar bites, Casual date
DON’T MISS DISH: Tea-smoked oysters, mackerel ceviche, apple & fig mixto with pomegranate molasses.
AVERAGE PRICE: Appetizers, $4; entrees, $16.
RESERVATIONS: No reservations
There’s no kitchen at Desnuda, a new cevicheria on Seventh St. in the East Village. There’s a popcorn popper, a microwave, a dinky sushi fridge, and a toaster oven.
how does Christian Zammas, the chef, manages to smoke raw oysters every
night? In a gravity bong, of course. Zammas made his bong from scratch,
using a Sprite bottle and a glass bowl he bought on St. Marks Place.
He packs the glass bowl with Lapsang souchong tea leaves and Sichuan peppercorns, lights it on fire, then catches the smoke in a shot glass and places it over a raw oyster.
does it right on the bar. Now for the audience participation part. You
lift the shot glass, inhale the intoxicating, pine-like perfume, then
raise the oyster to your mouth and let it slip down your throat.
Dinner at Desnuda isn’t just dinner.
edible, interactive performance art. It’s just a sliver of a space, but
it’s completely stylish, far more stylish than its chef. Zammas’ thick,
black-rimmed glasses are held together by Scotch tape. So is the rest
of his appearance. But you won’t mind.
He’s a student of
guerrilla molecular gastronomy, or as he puts it, ghetto molecular
gastronomy. In other words, he’s a low-budget, culinary mad scientist.
a dish called ceviche mixto, he mixes salmon, scallops and tuna with
cinnamon, lemon, lime, shallots, Sprite, and rocoto paste, made from a
South American pepper.
Sprite? “I was drinking a Sprite when I
came up with the dish,” he says. Think of it as East Village Champagne.
It tastes far more sophisticated than it sounds. All of this is
happening on the fly. After all, letting fish oversit in ceviche is the
equivalent of overcooking. This is cooking one customer at a time, one
dish at a time…
Zammas is not alone behind the bar. It’s a two-man show. In some
sense, Zammas came out of nowhere, from restaurants you’ve never heard
of. Co-owner Peter Gevrekis comes from Wall Street, where he used to be a broker.
Now, he shucks oysters and tends bar at Desnuda. Here’s how it
works. You walk in, take one of the 18 seats in this restaurant; there
isn’t a menu. The two men behind the bar explain their offerings for
There’s two kinds of oysters with four different sauces, nine kinds
of ceviche, free truffle popcorn, and a few other things. Then they go
to work right in front of you.
I ordered the apple and fig mixto. It requires pomegranate molasses,
which they’re out of. So Zammas darts across the street to the
Bourgeois Pig to get some. A few minutes pass. And he sets in front of
me a ceviche with salmon, scallops, cilantro chiffonade, green apple,
green pepper, brown turkey figs, cherry tomatoes, and a hit of mustard
It’s an amazing riot of textures and flavors, and yet perfectly
balanced. This is how food should be, prepared right in front of you
with fresh ingredients and tons of imagination.
Dinner at Desnuda is completely unpredictable, in the best way. Oh,
I left something out of the kitchen inventory, a blowtorch. Order the
tuna dessert — yes, tuna — and Zammas will whip out his blowtorch. He
brulees ruby red slabs of tuna sashimi, then dusts them with salt and a
sour orange zest. The finishing touch is a soy mirin glaze. If there’s
mackerel in the house, order it.