Wednesday, June 22, 2016


I rarely desire to eat outside.
  There are a handful of days in New York city where, weather-wise,  al fresco dining is even marginally attractive, and even fewer venues conducive to those days.  But then we find a place like Gilligan's, abutting the Soho Grand Hotel.  Frondy ferns and wooden fences protect from noisy traffic, gritty gusts of wind, slobbering foreign dogs and noxious fumes from exhaust pipes and sidewalk nicotine-fiends. Wide canvas umbrellas stretch above providing shade and that carefree, vacation resort feel, and string lights that make any venue feel festive.  It's actually quite transporting- might even feel a bit like that uncharted desert island.

The attractive staff is chipper and attentive, clad in nautical stripes and red canvas sneakers, all of which Gilligan himself would approve.  The menu is pretty brief: it's more snacks and drinking nibbles, but you could easily fashion a legitimate meal out of the offerings as well.  And a tasty meal it can be.

If you make it there while summer is still in full swing, don't miss the frozen watermelon margarita.  It'll definitely bring out the kid in you, for both it's juicy, fruity flavor and a tequila punch that could leave you acting like a third grader on summer break (nothing wrong with this).  They have almost as many cocktail options as menu items, and a short, but very sunshine-friendly wine list, plus organic juices.

For food, we just tried a couple of simple plates, but if I came back for a proper dinner I would head straight for the roasted prawns and the whole branzino.  They're not trying to do anything too fancy here: simple is best if you were stuck on a remote tropical island, and so reiterates Gilligan's philosophy.  We did enjoy some lovely little roasted beets, tumbled with nicely bitey arugula and a smear of very garlicky, salty horseradish creme fraiche.  In fact, saltiness seems to be a recurring theme, and garlic features prominently as well.  Tuna crudo is milder, swathed in a smooth avocado puree and a flurry of cilantro.  They spike it with just a couple of rings of chili which give the avocado even more purpose.  The pizza we tried, of
which there are three revolving seasonal flavors,  brought back the salt and garlic theme in full force, plus an additional punch of cheesiness from parmesan and ricotta.  Actually more of a flatbread than a pizza, the crust was still pliable with a nice chew, if little char, and long ribbons of translucent summer squash subbing in for sauce.  It definitely encourages a glass of wine, of which I might recommend the California Chardonnary ($16) or even a nice glass of Prosecco ($14).

There are no desserts on hand at Gilligan's (must be continuing the theme of desert-island hardship), so if you didn't take advantage of the slushy watermelon margarita pre-prandially, here's your chance.  I would love to see Odd Fellows swoop into fill that void, because this place has everything else going for it for this time of year.... still waiting on word of what happens once summer draws to a close and they find their way off that island.

310 West Broadway (keep walking south past the entrance of the SoHo Grand Hotel)
No Reservations

Monday, June 13, 2016


Don't let the fact that the female chef behind MIMI, Liz Johnson, who named her restaurant after her grandma, or that she's just twenty-five years old, or the quaint, diminutive location on Sullivan street deceive you into thinking that this is some dainty, effeminate eatery with salads and friandises.   Quite the contrary, MIMI is one powerful little juggernaut.  In terms of flavor and finesse per square foot, her impact would be hard to rival.  Ms. Johnson trained through some of the big names, from which Noma and Ma Peche might have imparted the greatest influence.  She brings a rustic, gutsy appeal to sophisticated, high-brow ingredients.  Sometimes, I had to ask our server what things were, which is pretty rare, but he fielded each inquiry with a noticeably relaxed, confident ease.  He was just as adept at offering suggestions, only with genuine pride and not at all pushy.

The menu divides into cold starters and warm ones, and then progresses onto larger plates.  A succinct but thoughtful list of French wine accompanies, if not guides, the whole affair.  A bonito appetizer, cut into thick, rough hunks, wallowed in an herby oil under a fragrant sludge of dried herbs.  The menu mentioned shishito pepper, but unless they were dried and pulverized into a rub, they went missing from the final product.  Similary absent are any tweezers involved in MIMI's plating: she is concentrating more on the flavors than frivolities, but the food is still very attractive.  Most, if not all, dishes are heavily sauced, though the overall effect
 is decadently balanced rather than overwhelming.  The focus is not necessarily always on the first ingredient listed on the menu, either, which can be a little confusing: a dish of porcini mushrooms camouflage among salty, oceanic medallions of ankimo, a smooth monkfish pate who's brackish
kick might overpower the fungus if not meted out discerningly.  This dish is more about the anikimo than the porcinis, even if the proportions of the ingredients are inverse.  Asparagus, that
harbinger of spring, are almost lost beneath a
 deliciously creamy scallop blanquette, studded with bright green peas.  Even the tips of the asparagus are trimmed off (unfortunate, as they are always the most flavorful bit), but this again illustrates that the point of the dish might be the sauce more than the stalks, emphasized by cured slips of briny scallop lolling over the creamy melange.

Main courses are  nicely sized, a rich yet delicate turbot filet more manageable than an impressive chunk of thick-cut cod, but the latter was so perfect of flake and its gentle honey lacquer that I almost wanted two.  It was topped in a generous pile of blistered shishitos, this time as I expected them; the Russian Roulette of vegetables, only the after-burn of which reveals the level of Scoville.  Two more of the peppers, selected for their size, come along for the ride, stuffed with a snowy brandade and delicately shrouded in a crisp golden-battered crust.  The best part may have been the taupe-colored sauce smeared across the white porcelain plate... I can't figure out its composition, but it tasted vaguely mushroomy, sweetened with the honey and rife with umami.  Two roasted clams smiled alongside, as they did with the turbot- a much more appetizing 
garnish than generic parsley.  Coated in a light, subtle cream, the Mediterranean turbot, an oily, fragile fish was somehow richer a lighter at the same time.  Thick discs of trumpet mushroom and a verdant saute of mature spinach round out the plate.

Desserts perpetuate the menu's precedent of substance:  there is a chocolate tart and a rum-soaked baba, both of which seemed a little heavy.  Pistachio souffle is on offer as well, but it not only requires the requisite twenty-minute prep period, but is also portioned for two, whereas a single portion of any of those substantial sweets would have been adequate after such an impactful meal.  If there is anything MIMI could add into the mix, it might be throwing a little freshness and light in with all that boldness.  It would only serve to reinforce her her talent....and grandma might approve.

185 Sullivan Street
tel.  (212)418-1260