Thursday, October 16, 2014


Piora, I had waited for you too long.  But thankfully, its quality hasn't ebbed one bit since it's opening about one year ago, where it was received with accolades from pretty much every reputable New York publication.   It has remained, however, a bit under the radar in the larger restaurant scene: it's team is comprised of an inarguably talented pool, but there are no Batalis, Meyers or Colicchios involved.  This, I feel, gives it a somewhat "hidden treasure" appeal, and the overall experience reinforces that nicely.

The restaurant has an elongated format, following extended bowed lines on the wall past the mottled marble bar into a subdued dining room.  The leather-covered tables and low, glowy lighting offer an air of calm; the paned glass wall in the back looks out up on a leafy thicket, giving the impression that we've been transported far from the bustling city which has given that restaurant such applause.  This dreamy mystique was somewhat interrupted by our waiter, who, though competent as he was, greeted us as if he was reading off a teleprompter, awkward and formal.  He was stiff, scripted, creating a a palpable tension certainly discordant with the room, although his genuine smile went leaps and bounds to ameliorate this.

We bypassed the very tempting Monkey Bread simply for budgetary reasons.  The recommended path of menu navigation dictates an appetizer plus entree per person, and a pasta course for the table.  But at these prices, the bill was escalating significantly without the addition of some eight dollar yummy rolls. While I'm sure they were, and almost order them for the name alone (family joke).  Soon after ordering, a small shot glass of soothing squash soup arrived compliments of the kitchen, sprinkled with toasted pumpkin seeds... a teaser that of fall that has yet to fully arrive in New York kitchens.  It had a cool creaminess as well as nourishing heft, making quite a perfect little intro.  Our appetizers arrived not long thereafter, still clinging to end of summer's glory: Green Peas
conjured up nostalgia of the pea trifecta I marveled at from years past at Telepan.  Piora's version featured toothsome whole peas, just barely steamed, paired with a smooth pea sorbet studded with a chiffonade of pungent nepitella- a minty herbal leaf I order whenever I get the rare opportunity.  Sturdy stems of pea shoots formed a tendriled shroud- not as tender as their younger sprouts, but lovely to behold.  Amberjack Crudo was similarly gorgeous: furled ribbons of zucchini and its blossoms nestled between planks of the unctuous fish, smoothed out with a puree of avocado, and crushed peas with just a hint of char.   And while the Scallop appetizer was just as visually stunning, it could've looked like the homeliest haggis and still have won my heart.  It was also big enough to have served as a modest entree, and in retrospect I wish we would've gone that route, for while all the entrees were notably
 wonderful, this appetizer and that crab pasta (I know, I know.... I'll get to it)  were worth returning for... like, nightly.  It wasn't even my order: I was somewhat wary of the chicken skin component, but in the most brilliant treatment ever effected with chicken skin, it was fried and pulverized into a salty crisp crumble, dusted over the fat scallops wallowing in a thick puree of sweet summer corn.  Add in perfectly braised chanterelle mushrooms and I was suffering some severe (read: fatal) order envy.  Not that my peas weren't delightful, but this was phenomenal.

And then, finally, we get to our midcourse. and unnecessary and pricey as though it was, it was thirty-five dollars of wonderful.  Black garlic bucatini slithered sexy around earthy maitake mushrooms flecked with racy little rounds of scarlet chili- all of that just a glorious set for the true star: abundant clumps of pristine Dungeness crab... more than you need, perhaps, but rarely is there a "too much" involving Dungeness.   There would've been enough to share even had we a fourth tablemate.  

Entrees might have been a little less exciting, but no less solid.  There are but four to choose from, so we were able to sample 75% of what was on offer.  Halibut was simple and lovely, bronzed on top and served in a golden tomato consomme to match.  Squash blossoms and melted eggplant celebrated the grand finale of late summer harvest, creating a laudable, if not exactly revolutionary dish.
 Medallions of succulent, rare lamb riffed on its classic pairing with mint jelly bringing it into modernity with sprightly leaves of novel mint marigold.   Braised miniature artichokes alternated with the mild lamb, and a thick puree of green garlic cut through any residual, subtle gaminess.  The most substantial entree, a thick cut heritage pork chop, was also the harbinger of fall.  Heavy grill marks deepened its rich flavor, the sweetness of fig and apple combining to enhance meaty drippings that pooled
 beneath the chop.  A delicate furl of soppressata crowned the dish, gilding the piggy, so to speak: an artful pork-on-pork coupling.

One of the dishes that had plied me to Piora to begin with was a rhubarb pavlova dessert; this was unfortunately long gone, due to Piora's adamant seasonality.  The option that we regretfully bypassed this evening was a delectable sounding lemon verbena panna cotta with raspberry and sweet corn-  a last hurrah to summer.  The other dessert options, equally tempting, nodded to the shortening days: a fig custard with hazelnut and a truly Thanksgivingy sweet potato semi-freddo with pecans and marshmallows.  Alas, dessert was not in the cards, but I can't really complain one whit with the hand
 that we had been dealt.  The brainchild of Chef Christopher Cipolline and proprietor Simon Kim, Piora showcases an immaculate balance between the soulful intensity of ingredient-driven Italian with the elegant precision of Asian technique.  Even the name, which means "to blossom" in Korean, could be a an Italian word, in its pronunciation and melodic quality.  In its menu you won't find particularly Italian nor Korean dishes- not necessarily even ingredients.  Instead, the team celebrates the finest ingredients of whatever provenance, and so creates the inspired brilliance that blossoms from Piora.

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