Thursday, February 5, 2015


You're probably pronouncing it wrong.  Tuome is the attempt to phonetically spell how Chef Thomas Chen's childhood nickname sounded to him: Tommy, in his parents heavily accented Chinese.  Tuome plays this out in real time, exhibiting the whimsical playfulness of a wide-eyed child brought up with equal influences Chinese and American by an extremely talented and capable chef.

The restaurant is pretty tiny; it will benefit from having GG's and Death & Co. right down the street, in terms of procuring foot traffic, since it's pushed pretty remotely over into Alphabet City.  But the raves it's been garnering on its own- and the fact that it backs them up with backflips and somersaults- should be enough to float it on its own.  They make use of every square inch of space: deep window sills are cushioned for seating and tables are... well, let's just say eavesdropping on your neighbor is a no-brainer.  But Tuome is attracting a respectable crowd, so hopefully their conversation is interesting.  If it's not, no matter.  Everything else has been paid so much attention, even the simple, matte-finish silverware is beautiful.  Rustic and uncluttered, the decor is simple as the food is complex
and profound.  The menu is contemporary American with dynamic Asian flourishes.  It's a perfect purgatory between low-brow and hi' falutin'; we began with a complimentary amuse of a warm squash soup, just several sips deep, but a luscious and soothing welcome.  It could have been a touch warmer, which was my only qualm with many of the dishes here.  My tablemate deduced that in working with such a small kitchen, most of the dishes were probably pre-fired, and then finished to order.  But they might kick up the re-fire a few notches, becaue some added heat could definitely improve many of the plates we tried.  Beets with quinoa and yogurt, cool on purpose, didn't require additional BTUs: it read like a spartan vegan cafe option, but tasted anything but.  Five-spice kicks up the yogurt, and the quinoa is toasted to such a nutty, roasty
 crunch you could mistake it for crushed almonds.  A sumptuous plate of savory, saucy mushrooms revel in sumptuous, umami-rich sauce enriched with by a wobbly poached egg.  Pierced, its golden yolk lubricates the wide, floppy ribbons of thin yubu that add dimension and chew, and amalgamate into the thick gravy over an abundance of diverse fungi- this is one of those dishes you'd go back for alone.

Actually, there's nothing I wouldn't go back for.  There're ballsier dishes on the menu like chicken liver mousse with maple and milk bread, and lots of potentially mysterious ingredients (karee, ong choi, something simply dubbed "porridge"), but that which we tried were prepared with such a deft hand, balancing oddity with convention to an a absolutely delicious end.  A delicately fried skate wing is by far the best plate I've had yet this year.  The crisp, golden exterior that Chen achieves is diaphanously light- it feels like a halo just encompassing the tender, ropey fish, making it even lighter with its addition.  That ong choi (apparently a  bok relative) gets sauteed and strewn across the top, but little nubs of roasted cauliflower fleck the periphery stole my attention, and my fork wanted to spend more time there.  I didn't need the marconas that jumped in there with rest, but it's also hard ever to argue with that lovely little nut.

Braised short ribs are precisely the way I would eat my meat always if I had my druthers.  Fork-tender, black as sin and rich as is bovinely possible, the shishito peppers which accompanied not quite making a ton of sense with the overly sweet mash of sweet potato, but the meat was distractingly good.   And I love shishitos, so I just  nibbled them as "appetizers", pairing bites of the meat, instead, with a few of the token mushrooms that were tucked in beside.

In addition to the menu's cold and hot small plates and big mains, a smattering of sides are on hand.  Brussels sprouts were charred almost beyond recognition: tasty, but they'd be better off keeping a few sprouts more intact in addition to the incinerated leaves to impart some vegetal heft.  Especially with the zesty XO sauce, grapes and porky bits that intensified them even further.   Similarly, Rice had no lack of heft.  This might be the densest, stickiest rendition of sticky rice ever, rich with duck fat and chinese sausage, slippery, big leaves of kale making a valiant but somewhat futile attempt to keep things from going over the edge.  But the springy cushion of chewy rice will pillow that fall, safely and deliciously.

The only option for dessert, not printed on any menu, was described by our server as some sort of beignet, served with some d.i.y. sauces that you can apply to taste.  These seemed a bit heavy to follow the substantial meal we had just consumed, so instead we ducked out for cocktails at Death & Co.  Because even though Tuome is worth a visit in its own right, when you're in Alphabet City (coming from most of wherever) you might as well hit two excellent birds with one stone.


536 east 5th street (between avenue a & b) new york, ny 10009

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