Cuisine: Asian , Seafood
Menu: View the Menu
A Return to GeishaReview By: Andrea Strong
My first visit to Geisha, shortly after it opened in December 2003, did not go well. Quite frankly, I was horrified by the service and the nightmarish logistics of the narrow, yet beautifully decorated, second floor dining room. Coat check, bathrooms, bus and waiter stations were all located in one tiny hallway meaning that no one (including food runners) could get through, and the main dining room, a slim space with little room for passing diners and waiters, was just an invitation for collisions of plates, glasses and people.
Aside from the cramped quarters, our server got our order wrong about three times and we never get our cocktails (a BIG problem). While the food we were eventually served was fine, I could not begin to evaluate it because I felt like I was dining in a blender. I was desperate to get out of there and get myself a sedative. However, I had a hunch that the chef, Michael Vernon, who had cooked with Eric Ripert at Le Bernardin for seven years—three as a line cook, and four as his sous chef—was a talent, and I vowed to go back. Last week I did, and found a changed restaurant. I was treated to some seriously inspired cooking and to service that was completely at odds with that of my first night—it was quite knowledgeable, very gracious, and every dish we ordered got to our table efficiently and correctly. It’s amazing what a little time can do.
The menu at Geisha—a sexy, Zen-styled two-story town house just across the way from Aureole—is a love letter to the sea from an adoring (and adorable) chef who is clearly smitten with all the ocean’s critters. Fish tartars have become so ubiquitous at this point that they are like the iPod of menus, but at Geisha these iPods have fiercely cool playlists. A Spanish Mackerel Tartar ($14) was an exquisite combination of texture and flavor—a medium dice of beautiful silky fish tossed with finely diced scallions and ginger, dressed in a wasabi and citrus vinaigrette, and topped with a shimmering layer of wasabi tobiko—firm tiny pale green eggs that burst in your mouth giving your tongue a fun pop-rocks ride.
The Yellowfin Tuna Tartar ($15) was also a surprising smash. What’s to get excited about a tuna tartare, you might ask? Well, a lot when it is a fat pink dice of yellowfin resting on a chunky platform of Japanese potato salad—diced potatoes folded in with a creamy Kewpie mayo (this is the stuff with the Red Rooster on it you get at Japanese markets), black tobiko, minced chives, and lemon juice, then crowned with a fluff of amaranth and baby shingiku—a soft green Japanese herb with an herbaceous sorel quality to it. This was one tuna tartar that made me smile—it harnessed a flurry of little flavors that blossomed in your mouth. Vernon’s Hamachi Ceviche ($16)—pearly slices of smooth fish in a pool of lemon ponzu floating with tiny cubes of avocado and grapefruit—was also startlingly good: delicate, but with impressive strength of flavor.
But honestly, Vernon’s wild version of Eggs Benedict (M/P) is reason enough to go back to Geisha. This dish is frivolously fun, and delicious. Vernon tops tiny toasted English muffins with gorgeous slices of smoked toro (get this fish to a bagel NOW!), a creamy briny mouthful of sea urchin, a rich, sweet/salty sea urchin hollandaise (don’t make a face—it’s fabulous), and a spoonful of Iranian Osetra caviar. Wow. I want these at brunch every week.
Don’t worry, entrees also held their own. A rack of lamb ($22) was juicy and pink on the inside and nicely charred on the outside (bare bones were returned to the kitchen), while kobe short ribs ($34) in red wine jus melted on the tongue. But the star of the main course section was a moist and glossy fillet of Red Snapper ($27) tucked into a whole grain mustard and breadcrumb crust, set in a potent spicy Korean broth and topped with Chinese broccoli. Susie, Jamie, and I, exhausted from a fabulous meal washed down with several bottles of wine, still managed to muster the strength to fight over the last bite.
I am glad I returned to Geisha. Sure, it made a bad first impression, but the second time, our meal was flawless. On our way out, as we walked down to the crowded lounge, there was a crash from upstairs. A tray of glasses had met their fate. Well, almost flawless.
Neighborhood: East 60s
Chef: Michael Vernon
Entree Price: $25-30
Payment: Amex Visa Mastercard JCB
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