Restaurant review

Restaurant review: Shukette in Chelsea

Shukette is the faster, looser and stronger spin-off from chef Ayesha J. Nurdjaja Shuka. Both restaurants get their name from shuk, the Hebrew word for an open-air market, and Shukette has more than that: the hustle and bustle, the smell of cumin and charcoal, the mind-boggling array of snacks. , pickles, dips and skewers. and disks of hot bread all conjure up a Middle Eastern bazaar at full speed.

Ms. Nurdjaja (pronounced nur-JYE-uh) opened Shukette in Chelsea in early July with the company owning Shuka, Cookshop and other restaurants. Working behind the counter in an open kitchen that spans most of the length of the dining room, she loads her plates with fresh herbs and other produce. (It’s my way of cooking when I come home from the farmers market with one of everything.) Some of her plates look too full, but she gets away with it because it fits in with the extrovert spirit and generous that the whole restaurant shines.

The menu is almost too long. Even though it fits on one page, I never managed to digest everything before ordering. It’s also like going shopping in a market, where before you have completed your investigation of each crate and bin, you just start indicating the things you want to eat.

Mixed abundantly with tahini, hummus is as smooth and mellow as Chantilly cream. What makes it a Shukette dish, however, are the extras that Ms. Nurdjaja scatters on top: whole chickpeas marinated with red onions and a few spoonfuls of shatta, a hot sauce of fresh chili peppers and garlic, in between. others.

Chives and thin wheels of serrano peppers give house whipped salted cod the kind of fresh, bright attitude you’re more likely to associate with a peekytoe crab salad. The eggplant in Moroccan zaalouk is not mashed here, but left in shiny pieces with black skin, mixed with spicy, mashed tomatoes and garnished with crispy green onions and mint.

At this point, you may feel a slight loss of control as the table disappears under the ceramic bowls and metal plates. Beets marinated with turmeric-spotted cauliflower are as tangy and crispy as you could ask for. Romano beans in lime juice and cilantro seeds can be too crisp – in fact, they’re far from done.

Never mind, here are the kibbe. They can be the best thing in the restaurant. In the center of each, under the crackling crust, is a surprise, a spoonful of compote of lamb and beef with spicy tomatoes. The kibbe are so juicy that you will be tempted to eat them without dipping them in the dish of tahini that comes with them. But the tahini is sensational – spicy, almost pink with ground chili peppers.

At Shukette, the line between dips and non-dips can be fine. You can be lukewarm about the ginger-flavored fresh albacore meatballs, but constrained by the stiff yogurt bed below, salted with candied lemons.

You may decide that the finest hour of the grilled zucchini plate comes when the zucchini are gone and all you have to do is dip crusts of bread into the swirl of dressings left on the plate. – tahini, shatta, olive oil and charred Sungold tomato juice, flavored with sesame seeds and chopped pistachios.

For these crusts, Shukette offers four kinds of bread, all baked or grilled or grilled to order. The whole wheat pita arrives at the table puffed up with steam; the laffa is abundantly spread with za’atar and olive oil; Moroccan frena, something like a small focaccia sprinkled with roasted garlic cloves, can be so hot it burns your fingers.

Shukette’s approach to Middle Eastern cuisine – built around extremely fresh produce, mixed with smoke, and brimming with herbs and spices – has long been overdue in New York City. Zahav, now in its second decade, is as firmly established a Philadelphia institution as John’s Roast Pork. Before the pandemic, Bavel and Kismet ushered in a new era of flatbreads and kebabs in Los Angeles. And when dinners were still being organized, it was rare to find a host in Manhattan who hadn’t memorized at least one recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi. City chefs, however, have been slow to take a modern approach to cuisine from the eastern and southern shores of the Mediterranean.

Research in Israel shortly before the pandemic helped Ms Nurdjaja focus on style. Large soft drinks decorated with sliced ​​fruit, spiral veggies, and flowering herb corsages are new to Chelsea, but they are all the rage in Tel Aviv, where they are called gazoz.

Another souvenir from Tel Aviv is the cherry salad, the signature of a wine bar called Basta, right next to the Carmel market. On paper, it’s a simple number in which fresh serrano peppers, cilantro, and a little garlic are mixed with sweet black cherries. When you taste it, however, your eyes cry and your head spins. The herbs and heat level are completely unexpected in a bowl of cherries; it’s like seeing Dakota Fanning appear as a Manson girl in “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”.

Shukette tries to keep the action boiling as the bigger dishes start to arrive. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Fish in a Cage, a charcoal-grilled porgy under a layer of brick-colored spices and peppers, comes with enough corn and zucchini to make a little picnic, even if the decision to bring it all in. this at the table inside the grill cage almost causes more trouble than it is worth. And while the lamb skewer is slightly overshadowed by the eggplant and peppers on the same skewer, the meat is tender enough that it doesn’t matter.

But the squid is almost impossible to remove from the skewers on which it is fried, thanks to a paste that sticks to the metal sticks. The same paste also makes the fried squash blossoms impenetrable. It must be made with Kevlar.

There is only one dessert, a soft sundae with tahini and oat milk ice cream, toasted hazelnuts and a garnish of halva thread that runs down like Chef Anne Burrell’s hair. Halva dental floss melts like cotton candy on the tongue. The ice cream itself is the sweetest thing you have ever tasted. It is a wonder.

What the stars mean Due to the pandemic, restaurants are not receiving stars.

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