REVIEW #19

Brushstroke

No chef is more intimately associated with a single neighborhood than David Bouley with TriBeCa. He first descended on the neighborhood as the chef of Montrachet when it opened in 1985, and soon left to start his flagship Bouley in 1987. A cluster of other restaurants followed in due course, including Danube, a Klimt-inspired homage to fin-de-siècle Vienna, which was succeeded by Secession, a somewhat unfocused French Brasserie with a sprawling menu. The same space has now been transformed into Brushstroke, a collaboration with the Tsuji Culinary Institute in Osaka, Japan that has been almost 10 years in the making.

The restaurant is an unqualified triumph that offers the finest Kaieski cuisine available in New York City. The core of Kaiseki, an ancient art form that is the Japanese counterpart to Western haute cuisine, is balance – of flavors, textures, colors, aromas, temperatures. It originated in the Zen monasteries of ancient Kyoto, evolved to an accompaniment to the Japanese tea ceremonies served at ryokan and eventually to the elaborately choreographed multicourse tasting menus that were served to Kyoto’s emperors. Kaiseki meals typically involve 7-9 seasonal courses and follow a highly ritualized progression involving an appetizer, a lidded dish (typically, a clear soup), sashimi, a simmered dish, a grilled dish and a steamed course. They are always served on elaborate, beautiful servingware meant to complement the visual beauty of the intricately composed dishes.

Brushstroke deftly composes dishes of fresh, seasonal ingredients that harmonize magically and are arranged in some of the most arresting presentations we have ever seen. There is an intense focus on beauty here that extends beyond merely the presentation of the food itself in gorgeously handcrafted servingware. The refulgently lit restaurant ensconces diners in warm blond wood, stone and steel, with a sushi counter alcove (formerly a cocktail bar) that is ethereally draped with the page ends of over 20,000 recycled paperbacks. The interior design is clearly meant to mirror the Kaiseki philosophy in its balance of wood, stone, paper and steel and its focus on core elements and simplicity. The very name brushstroke is meant to refer to the “individual nature of craftsmanship”.  We can think of no other informal restaurant in New York City that so ably cultivates an atmosphere of serenity.

The restaurant offers two prix fixe menus: an 8-course vegetable tasting and a 10-course tasting, with some choices available for certain dishes. Among the most impressive are a bowl of steamed egg custard with black truffles, chives, and Dungeness crab; a grilled lobster tail with edamame purée; a rockfish with cactus sauce; and a Wagyu beef with black truffle and crispy leeks.  The sushi and sashimi are of especially fine quality. 

The bar and lounge area of Brushstroke have now been obscured by noren and transformed into a sushi counter presided over by the great and unfailingly genial Eiji Ichimura.  Ichimura at Brushstroke offers omakase meals of a quality seldom surpassed in NYC, with a range of superb sashimi and sushi, seasonal marinated fish and other courses. Meals proceed at a languorous pace, and the intimacy with the chef is unequaled anywhere in the city save Masa. Note that Ichimura at Brushstroke actually has two Michelin stars.

The kitchen in the main room is open, so you can often see chefs at work, lightly searing rich, buttery toro with a blowtorch or steaming fish.  One of the most impressive items is also one of the most surprising: a box of four rice papers brought at the end, the Kaiseki equivalent of petit fours. Two were covered with green tea powder and two with red shiso and filled with pine nuts. Flaky and light, they nevertheless exploded in the mouth with an exquisite combination of flavors. The top-notch service at Brushstroke is the epitome of graciousness: when we confessed how much we loved the rice papers, another box soon appeared.

Kaiseki cuisine is probably the most seasonally-driven in the world.  Unlike Western divisions of spring, summer, fall and winter, Brushstroke chefs adhere to a 20 phase seasonal calendar in keeping with Japanese tradition.  Each phase requires a new menu meant to reflect and complement the evolution of nature.  Bouley has always been a chef driven by the need to be constantly in motion, innovating and evolving, and so this is a particularly appropriate medium for him.  Over a 12 year span, the Tsuji-Bouley team crafted over 5,000 recipes. 

This fecundity creates a number of challenges, one of the most salient of which is the matter of wine pairings:  the menu is both a moving target and composed of ingredients often quite difficult to pair well with wine (e.g., dashi-soaked herring roe).  Sake/wine director Seju Yang tackles and surmounts this task with admirable élan.  He has a venerable pedigree, formerly working as the sommelier at Kyo Ya, 15 East and Sakagura, and brings a deeply intuitive and unique perspective to the table.  Brushstroke also offers outstanding cocktails prepared by Gen Yamamoto.

Although Bouley’s eponymous restaurant directly across the street is, on balance, the superior restaurant, Brushstroke does not make a single misstep and is second only to Masa in NYC’s pantheon of great Japanese restaurants. 

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INFORMATION

TriBeCa
30 Hudson St.
New York (at Duane St.)
212-791-3771
Mon-Sat, 5:30pm-10pm
    Hiroki Murashima, Chef
    Isao Yamada, Chef
    Mitsuhiro Narita, Chef
    Eiji Ichimura, Sushi Chef
    David Bouley, Founder
    Super Potato, Designer

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