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

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