I first met Executive Chef Sungchul Shim at NYCWFF's Grand Tasting event where he first introduced me to the elevated flavors of Japanese cuisine. After tasting a combination of fermented sauces and crispy and smooth textures, I knew I had just become a part of something truly unique and exciting.
The mystery of these new-to-me flavors led me to a meeting with the incredibly kind chef. One thing led to the next and I was invited to sample more of these intriguing dishes at dinner at Neta. Oh my god! Get excited to preview an experience that you must make sure to have!
On eighth street, a block filled with restaurants and bars that I always mentally note to visit is often overlooked. With its minimalistic signage, Neta is easy to miss—don't! Honestly, I'm talking gourmet cuisine with a huge wow factor.
In an open kitchen filled with about a dozen people, it's all hands on deck. Everyone has their role and like a well-oiled machine, every element is handled with speed, extreme care, and control.
Executive Chef Sung masterfully toes the line between the culinary and fine arts. Between the squeeze bottles, hands, chopsticks and narrowly tipped tweezers for those intricate extra fine details, his hands are a precise and detail oriented blur.
Watching as a shaved scallion was delicately placed on top of the freshest perfectly seared toro—Chef Sungchul explained that to achieve this perfect sear, he halted the cooking process by putting the fish in an ice bath. I love that—a brush stroke sauce base, a perfectly symmetrical white dollop, aesthetically, the dishes are almost too beautiful to eat.
As always, every dish had its own photo shoot. The difference at Neta being that because we were sitting at the counter, each dish-in-the-making was also extensively photographed. And when eating off of the "Omakase" menu meaning "chef's choice", there are a ton of dishes. Down to the plate, each course was served on, there wasn't a single repeated stylistic choice and somehow, each one was a show-stopper.
In introducing, explaining and answering all questions about each dish placed in front of us, Chef Sungchul Shim made certain that all of the flavors, ingredients and cultural traditions were noted as part of what transforms the dish into an experience.
I'll admit it. I was nervous about the "Tai & Truffle" dish. The idea of a strong delicious shaved truffle on any sort of fish just did not compute for me. One bite and I was immediately converted—nerves jumped the line and immediately transformed into love.
A quick tangent to note mixologist Cole Schaffer's cocktails. With food as wonderful as what we had been eating, it almost felt like the drinks should have been a failure just to balance out the paradigm. False. They were awesome! There are a few cocktails around the city that I have become obsessed with (note to self: make them into a guide) and this "Wakaba" green tea cocktail is on the list! Almost every time I see a matcha cocktail on a menu, I try it. Every time it's mediocre—until now! This one is a must!
Back to satiating my food obsession. What's even more exciting than the curiosity of what dish would be served next was being Chef Sung's test audience for dishes like the "Agedashi Tofu" that he's been putting his final touches on before adding it to the menu.
This dish, I know all too well having had a year of my life being completely obsessed with it. This is not that same dish. Well, it is and then again it isn't. It's elevated and extremely sophisticated.
The tofu is extra tender and rich after marinating in a miso broth and the outer tempura crunch is absolute greaseless perfection. Flat out, it's incredible! The best version I have had to date. It's one of those moments when you bite into food and wonder if you will ever in life have a better version and know in your heart that unless you are entirely blindsided the answer is, no.
As much as I try, I cannot express to you how incredible these sauces are. The concept of fermentation tends to put people on edge, though. Then you stop and think about your favorite beer and how the flavors are special and exciting and then, the mental connection is made. Suddenly there is intrigue and excitement.
It's this aha moment where I ask you to make your reservation and head over to Neta to try these masterfully created fermented sauces—so, yes, that's right now!
When you go, sit at the counter. It's the perfect interactive dining experience—and one heck of a date!
I know I'll be headed back soon! Stay tuned, Executive Chef Sungchul Shim invited me behind the scenes to cook a dish with him. Can't wait to share that experience and the recipe!
Enjoy Neta, it's absolutely impossible not to!