The New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells does not like precious food — anyone who has read even a handful of his reviews knows this to be true. This week, he was in luck. The notoriously tough critic reviewed Shuko on West 12th Street and discovered it to be in line with his philosophy that good food can and should speak for itself. He found that chefs and business partners Nick Kim and Jimmy Lau are “both young and fluent in several cultures at once, [and] have taken all the preciousness out of omakase and kaiseki dining and replaced it with a relaxed, sophisticated cool.”
Shuko is not the first venture from Kim and Lau that Wells has reviewed: he gave Neta two stars in 2012. He explains that his reasoning behind bestowing a third star was simple: Shuko is a cool spot with great food, which makes the restaurant a better, more refined version of Neta. That hip-but-understated downtown vibe that the critic calls out was not completely absent from their previous venture, according to Wells: “They were already moving in this direction at Neta, but with Shuko they’ve arrived.”
Shuko features two tasting menus, omakase and kaiseki. Wells claims that each exemplifies the chefs’ unfussy yet expert approach to their craft, as “both menus offer an in-depth look at how good these two chefs are at bringing out flavors without appearing to be doing much to them.” A few of the dishes he felt were worth mentioning are chef Kim’s spicy tuna roll, fat-streaked tuna belly on a bed of rice, chilled tartare under Osetra caviar, and squab cartilage with sansho pepper.
Shuko’s bar and its offerings also impressed Pete Wells, who describes the establishment as “equal parts cocktail hide-out and Japanese restaurant.” He likens it to other neighboring “cocktail hide-outs” such as the (hopefully temporarily) defunct Milk & Honey, and instructs his readers to greet any drink from a bearded bartender by saying “this is an offer worth accepting.”
All in all, this week’s review makes it seem as though the venerable restaurant critic is actually quite easy to please. If you want your restaurant deemed worthy of multiple stars by Wells, simply enlist young and dynamic chefs to serve him high-quality, ingredient-focused food in a refined, understated, but unstuffy atmosphere. Also, make sure to have a bar and someone who knows how to concoct a satisfying drink. Oh, to be a Simple Man.