From Sashimi to Steak Frites:
Brasserie Redefines ‘Asian Fusion’
My first dinner at Brasserie 360 was surreal. The ground-floor dining room is a picture-perfect reproduction of a French brasserie, right down to the red leather banquettes, the Pernod posters and the waiters with long, white aprons and Inspector Clouseau accents. But instead of steak frites, two of us were sharing platters of exotic sushi that included such delicacies as amber jack, Botan shrimp and spotted sardines, flown in overnight from Japan.
The giant televisions placed over the long zinc bar weren’t showing soccer matches, but Donald Rumsfeld giving a press conference. In Paris, the customers would have been jeering at the screen. Not here. For Brasserie 360 is on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, directly across the street from Bloomingdale’s. Some of the clientele, with their Hermès scarves and cashmere cardigans, looked as though they had been lost in a time warp after an afternoon’s shopping 20 years ago, when this restaurant was Yellowfingers.
Since Yellowfingers, the tenants of the small corner building have included Arizona 206, Contrapunto and Little Dove, all of them owned by the Santos family, whose empire also included Sign of the Dove until its building was pulled down to make way for a high-rise.
Now the Santoses have retired and Brasserie 360 has moved in, with a sushi bar upstairs and a brasserie on the ground floor. It’s without a doubt the only place in New York where you can begin dinner with toro or fried oyster roll, go on to coq au vin or crépinette of braised pigs’ feet, and wind up with beignets.
Partner and executive chef Luc Dendievel, who is from Belgium, oversees the brasserie side of the menu. After stints with Alain Senderens at Lucas Carton in Paris, and Michel Richard at Citronelle in Washington, he came to New York and opened Waterloo in the Village before going on to Bayard’s in the financial district. The sushi side of the menu is under the direction of Kazuo Yoshida, who can be seen creating his pristine seafood dishes behind the second-floor sushi bar.
Mr. Yoshida was previously at Jewel Bako in the East Village, where he drew a large following of devoted fans, some of whom have pursued him uptown. One evening I ate upstairs, where the white dining room has alabaster chandeliers and a wraparound view of the street. The chef came out from behind the sushi bar and made the rounds, shaking hands with people who were clearly his loyal customers. They were in for a treat, as Mr. Yoshida had put together a special “omakase” menu, based on his creative whims of the day. The sushi is every bit as stellar as it was at Jewel Bako, and includes yellowtail roll with pickled jalapeno, an eel salad with Japanese yam, as well as a broad selection of items à la carte.
Both menus are available on either floor of the restaurant, so you can mix and match. One evening, my son ordered toro tartare as a first course. It looked like doll’s food in comparison with the dishes from the brasserie side of the menu: A disk of diced raw tuna the size of a silver dollar was topped with a thin layer of creamy avocado sauce and decorated with jewels of red and black flying-fish roe, a shrimp cracker and a miniature pink crab that looked like an enameled pin. It made the crab salad Napoleon, layered with thin tuiles afloat on a mango and tomato vinaigrette and served with tossed micro greens, look positively gargantuan.
I last tasted Mr. Dendievel’s food at Bayard’s, where he turned out elaborate dishes served under silver domes that were removed by a bevy of waiters at the count of three. His cooking here is simpler and more accessible. A Belgian classic, chicken mushroom croquette, is one of the best things on the menu. It’s made with a delicate, creamy filling inside a crisp, light breading, but instead of the traditional Flemish mustard sauce, it’s updated with a fragrant, fresh tomato sauce and comes with a heap of fried parsley. And Mr. Dendievel’s braised short ribs are a revelation, served off the bone on a bed of mashed potatoes with winter vegetables and a dark red wine and brandy sauce. That old standby, steak frites, arrived cold the first time; they were taken back to the kitchen by our friendly French waiter and returned hot and perfectly done, medium-rare (though the fries could have been crisper) and with a fine green peppercorn sauce.
The two teenage members of our group were bemused by the idea of sweetbreads and veal cheeks, two dishes on the brasserie menu. They were completely put off the fried sweetbreads when I explained that they were actually the thymus gland from the animal’s neck. “It tastes like chicken,” I told them.
“We’ll pass,” they said.
Alas, they were right. The sweetbreads were served in a brown garlic jus that had been so reduced it was overwhelmingly salty and wrecked the dish. The teenagers were less daunted by the idea of braised veal cheeks. “Are they the face cheeks or butt cheeks?” they wanted to know.
“Why don’t we just have a blind tasting of body parts?” suggested my husband.
The teenager who bravely opted for the veal cheeks was rewarded. They were wonderful, silken chunks simmered in a copper casserole with tomato, white wine and root vegetables.
The monkfish medallions arrived on a bed of spinach with an interesting honey and lime sauce that had a bracing sweet-tart flavor that perked up the rather dull fish. The red snapper was a disaster, overcooked to a mush. And the cook who made the artichokes barigoule that came with the fish seemed to have forgotten to put in any salt and pepper at all.
These glitches were redeemed by pastry chef Felencia Darius’ marvelous desserts. They included a chiboust (a chocolate macaroon filled with raspberry pastry cream and crushed pistachio), and a luscious milk and dark chocolate mousse under a chocolate-almond shell. The beignets were lovely, airy puffs served with three dipping sauces: vanilla, raspberry and apricot. There’s a choice of eight sakes to go with the sushi in addition to the wine list, which is mostly French and fairly high-priced. The Volnay, a light red, goes well with brasserie dishes. A bottle of this with lunch and you’ll be off to a fine start for an afternoon’s impulse purchases at Bloomingdale’s. They still sell Hermès scarves-a timeless classic, like the food at Brasserie 360.