In a nod to the U.S. Open tennis tournament currently playing out in town, I dare to say that Chef Liz Johnson — the young chef of the tiny Mimi restaurant in the Village — hits aces down the line dish after dish after dish.
OK, so she might not be a Serena Williams, but Johnson is getting the attention of the national press, from GQ to the New York Times to Bon Appetit, a few of them naming her less-than-one-year-old Mimi French bistro as one of the best new restaurants in the country.
The quaint and tiny space has tables so tightly squeezed next to each other you almost feel like you’re at a dining cabin of a ship waiting for the dinner show to begin. The dimly lit spot, with bar seating for walk-ins, gives it almost a cabaret feel.
The lighting, primarily from the single votive candle at the table, really made it difficult to see the dishes, an anomoly in today’s Instagramable dining scene. Johnson’s presentation is simple and straight-forward, and I tweeted that I felt like I was at one of those “dining in the dark” dinners.
But the lack of light meant the focus is really on the flavors of the food and what happens in your mouth. My meal started with a tease from the clean-tasting Madai ($18), a Japanese sea bream fish served as a crudo with a brown butter and lemon condiment. There were a few other tiny elements sprinkled about (I think I saw kombu) to wake up your palate, but the star was the fish and the fancy dress was the refreshing lemon brown butter.
Then came the Gnocchi Parisian ($17), which looked odd with the brandade cream slathered over gnocchi that looked more like fingerling potatoes. But at the first bite, the warmth of the gnocchi (not hot but fresh from the kitchen) was like a comforting blanket, and the combination of the brandade cream and shishito peppers created a well balanced flavor profile where all ingredients successfully complemented each other.
My main course was no slouch either, as the Cote de Porc ($34) or pork chop came with the meat already cut into slices from the bone. The glaze was a recognizable reduction sauce often served with grilled meat, but it really played second fiddle to the actual pork. With every slice, almost half of the piece was pure fat and the rest the pork meat. This was like pork belly on steroids, with the pork cooked so well that the fat came off like butter, bringing more flavor to the pork. (Sure there were a few gristle pieces, which is expected with a cut of pork with so much fat, but they didn’t interfere with my enjoying the entire dish.)
The side of haricot vert in a remoulade was the perfect foil to the fatty pork, with the vinegar taste reminding me of German potato salad. Johnson gave as much attention to creating the side of haricot vert as she did cooking the pork. Every bite made sense and was greatly appreciated.
For dessert, the servers made sure to warn diners at nearby tables about the souffle because of the time it would take to prepare it. But the dish is designed for two, and since my dining partner canceled out and I was dining alone on a Saturday night, I ended up going with the chocolate tart because my server said it wouldn’t be a very large dessert (I was trying to watch how much I was eating after devouring the entire pork chop).
The chocolate tart was a cross between a molten chocolate cake and a brownie, rich and cakey but with bits of softness or pure bitter chocolate. The richness of this tart was cleansed by the simple scoop of milk ice cream.
The last bite
With all the attention, Mimi is a hard reservation to get (I booked my table exactly a month before, which is the time allowed for advanced reservations). But if you can get in, you’ll be treated to French food with soul, simple in its presentation but innovative in its interpretation. It’s the kind of place made for regulars but for now is attracting people from all over.
The rating: 3.5 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Mimi, 185 Sullivan St., New York. PH: 212.418.1260. Open daily for dinner from 6 p.m. Reservations recommended. Major credit cards accepted. miminyc.com
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