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Piora – Reviewed

veggies

Market Vegetables Plate

It ain’t often a chef comes out of nowhere and knocks your socks off.  But when it happens, it reminds you exactly why you love eating out in the first place.  I didn’t expect to find chicken skin crumbled over an appetizer of Scallops and Corn (the last of the season) at Piora, a new restaurant in the West Village.   The scallops are pan-seared and plated over corn kernels, chanterelles, and an aerated corn puree, a sweet, ethereal last glimpse of summer.  But I digress from the chicken skin.  It’s laced with fennel pollen and crumbled over the dish, lending an umami-like depth to an otherwise, delicate scallop and corn combination. Lest I forget the black and white sesame seeds sprinkled over the top for nuttiness.  One bite and you realize something exciting is going on in the kitchen.

If you think it’s a fluke, order the Duck entree, too.  It’s been dry-aged eight days, resulting in super crispy skin, the kind you’d find on a proper Peking Duck, only the meat beneath is unusually juicy and sweet as well.  The chef employs Rohan duck, a unique cross between a mallard and Long Island duck, prized for its crispy skin, and I can tell you, after one bite,  I’m a convert.  The pan-seared duck is served on a bed of farro mingled with thumbelina carrots, a sweet puree of Korean jujubes (red dates), then finished with a black garlic & duck jus – a sweet and savory dish with everything going for it.

duck

Duck with Farro

While the restaurant is dubbed “American,” the menu is more eclectic than anything else, taking cues from both Italy and Korea.  How did this curious marriage of cuisines come to be?   It seems Italian chef and partner, Chris Cipollone, and Korean-American owner, Simon Kim, each got their way.   Before the restaurant opened, the two ate their way through Korea for inspiration.   The result is an Italian Rigatoni with Duck Sausage, Charred Fig, and Red Wine right alongside a spicy, Asian-bent Bucatini tangled around strands of fresh crab, fresno chili ringlets, maitake mushrooms and garlic.  The bucatini itself is made in-house, stained with black garlic and squid ink — an altogether intense and flavorful bowl of noodles amped up by chiles.   If you want to sample something a little more Korean, try the Barbequed Octopus with basil, pine nuts and fermented pepper or the Tuna Sashimi with Sesame, Beets and Red Wine.

Honestly, I’d come just for the Monkey Bread, spackled with sea salt, and served fresh from the oven.  It’s a sweet, pillowy bread that you can smear with rosemary-scented lardo or an addictive roasted seaweed butter. Start with that and a few sharply balanced cocktails, like the “Pairs Well,” a tequila-based libation spiked with grapefruit, lime, Campari and creme de cassis, or even better, the “Wear & Tear,” an all too drinkable riff on a Manhattan with rye, angostura bitters, Aperol, Cinzano, and chartreuse.   If you want to pop into Piora for just a drink, there’s high top bar seating upfront or a long, narrow gray marble bar to sample the scope of the wine and cocktail list.   But I recommend heading back to the dining room, a small, but very chic space, furbished with wood tables, green banquettes, and a window into a beautifully landscaped back garden that makes you feel more like your dining in San Francisco than Manhattan.

bread

Monkey Bread with Lardo & Seaweed Butter

It’s a perfectly serene setting to focus your attention on Chris Cipollone’s immensely imaginative cooking.  In fact, you can sample the dish that first put him on the map two years ago when Sam Sifton reviewed him for the New York Times at the short-lived Tenpenny.  Cipollone’s reinvigorated his signature, Market Vegetables at Piora.  This artful arrangement of vegetables, features corn kernels, cherry tomatoes, freeze dried red onions, poached fava beans, pea leaves, English peas, thumbelina carrots and candied squash blossoms.   While I normally cringe at the thought of anything a chef dubs “soil,” “dirt,” or “powder” as red flags of pretentious or overwrought food, I couldn’t find any good reason to hate them.  Ironically, it’s the earthy, crunchy soil of sunchokes and the tangy powder of Thousand Island dressing, which curiously unite the flurry of vegetables and textures on the plate.  (The only one that seemed out of place were the candied squash blossoms.)

Cipollone creates harmony in the most unlikely unions.  Take the Ocean Trout, for example.   He pan-sears it until the skin is unusually crispy, then pairs it with roasted cauliflower, which doesn’t sound earth shattering until you discover the pear puree beneath the trout, and that the cauliflower is laced with a spicy pork sausage called nduja, imparting an unexpectedly smoky quality to the dish.

tart

Chocolate & Pistachio Tart

Cipollone is pulling double duty, overseeing both the savory and sweet side of the menu. Desserts are a bit more classic, like housemade ice creams and sorbets, including a zippy concord grape, mango and standout white peach that will make you miss summer even more.  But if you only get one sweet, make it a rich Chocolate and Pistachio Tart, sided by a raspberry sorbet and a cloud of lychee puree.

There are some restaurants you hit once and cross off your to-try list.  Piora is the kind of place you find yourself making another reservation at before you even leave the restaurant.

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