From top to bottom (and fish head to fish tail), the new Chez Sardine is one of the most exceptionally fun and surprising dining experiences we've encountered in recent months. Here's how chef Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly and restaurateur Gabe Stulman do it:
Head: The miso-maple-schmeared salmon head ($12) screams, "Order me!," plonked as it is in the dead center of the menu. Do so and be rewarded with a rich treat, requiring considerable fork excavation. Brunet-Benkritly's Japanese izakaya-esque menu has a giddy, gone-off-the-rails feeling about it: An iceberg wedge is bathed with sesame dressing and crisp tempura bits ($8), while a unagi hand roll shares its downy rice bed with pork belly ($7). This surf and turf for a new generation continues with chopped beef sushi, topped with a quivering mountain of uni ($7).
Body: Comely streamlined design--portholes for wine bottles, space-saving sliding doors--lends the restaurant the feeling that one has taken a berth on the rollicking 30-seat S.S. Good Ship Chez Sardine.
Tail: Space isn't the only thing conserved here--silver-dollar pancakes wear a spiral crown of tartar made from tail meat, salmon roe and lime yogurt ($15). The menu's sweetest tail ending is still to come: Brunet-Benkritly will soon have the kitchen's soft-serve machine whirring.
Chez Sardine, 183 W. 10th St. (at W. Fourth St.); 646-360-3705 or chezsardine.com
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