10 Can't Miss Dishes
(page 8 of 10)
Rock Shrimp Tempura
Doug Nguyen’s favorite food is spaghetti and meatballs, which may come as a surprise to the chic set oohing and aahing over the Japanese fare at his sleek restaurant. But many of the highly original items on his menu cleverly blend Italian and Japanese cuisines — something that makes sense if you know his history.
Nguyen (pronounced “wing”) lived with his mother in Vietnam until he was 12, when she put him on a boat to escape the Communists. After a year in a refugee camp in Thailand, Nguyen was brought to the U.S. by a Rockland County family. His new mom was a good Italian cook, and his new dad a butcher. “My dad would come home with a big piece of meat, and my mom would throw it in some sauce,” he recalls. “I loved it. She still cooks for me now and then.”
As a young man, Nguyen worked in Japanese restaurants. When he opened his own place in 2003, “I took the things that I liked and put them together,” he says cheerfully. “And somehow it came out good!”
Good is an understatement — foodies have dubbed the place “Nobu north” and Zagat rates it just one point below that Manhattan legend. The sushi and sashimi are pristine and presented with artistry, as are all the dishes. “But it’s the specials from the kitchen that drive people crazy,” says manager Adam Benjamin, noting that Japanese dishes don’t typically involve fruit, or cream and dairy products, as they often do here.
Truffle Gyoza, for example, mixes steamed pork dumplings with a creamy mushroom and black truffle butter. The rock shrimp tempura is served with a spicy yuzu aioli (yuzu is an Asian citrus fruit). Tuna pizza (sushi tuna atop a fried flour tortilla) might be the wittiest of Nguyen’s Italian-Japanese combos. And green tea mascarpone cheesecake is a dessert hit.
Nguyen visits his “back-home mom” in Saigon and she has been here. “I couldn’t ask for better moms,” he says. “One gave me life, and one taught me quality of life.”