I found myself wondering recently what Chris Johnson the Sake Ninja is doing these days. Therese and I had met him at the Wine & Food Festival Grand Tasting last October, where he made us delightful cocktails from sake and sorbet. So I tweeted him and he tweeted back to say that he is at Cherry Restaurant in Chelsea on most nights (he is the restaurant’s sake sommelier). I had never eaten at Cherry, and after reading about it, I decided it would be a perfect place for a lovely Friday night dinner.
In New York City, it seems like restaurants and bars pride themselves on being very dark and very loud. Cherry thankfully does not play loud music, but with its dark velvet interior and furniture, you may find yourself reaching for a flashlight to read the menu.
Luckily, this is really the only criticism I can level at Cherry. Well, there is the bathroom, too. Trying to find the bathroom in Cherry is a bit like trying to negotiate your way through the House of the Undying in Game of Thrones. You walk through a door and find yourself in a room with black lacquer walls and numerous black doors. It is only when your eyes have adjusted to the darkness and you get within a foot of each door that you discover that most of their signs read “private” and only one reads “men” and one “women.” Very strange.
But let us leave behind darkness and talk about food. About exceptionally good food, actually. For I will give the whole game away, but I will tell you anyway: our dinner at Cherry was the best meal I have had in a long, long time.
Being dairy allergic, I find refuge in Japanese and other Asian cuisines, which usually do not feature dairy of any kind. However, when I read about Cherry, I learned that Chef Andy Choi is French-trained, and has brought some French influence to bear on the menu he has created for Cherry. For example, the most popular item on the menu is a foie gras shortrib gyoza (Japanese dumpling). So I was cautious, aware that there might be some cream sauces and butter in this restaurant’s offerings.
As I examined the menu and consulted with our server, I happily discovered that my trepidation was largely unwarranted. We had no trouble selecting a delightful mixture of 6 dishes that we shared: lobster tacos, stuffed shishito peppers, sea bass tempura, tempura onion rings, uni crispy rice and a bbq eel roll.
These were all hits with us. But the last two especially drove us mad with delight. I tasted uni, sea urchin, for the first time only a few months ago when I was in Orlando, Florida. This preparation of uni on top of chewy crispy rice with strands of seaweed on top was out of this world: creamy, sweet, salty, chewy, sticky.
Then there was the bbq eel roll. Among standard sushi rolls, eel is one I will order frequently. I love the chewy salty eel and the sweet sauce that is usually drizzled over it. But this roll raises the eel roll to a place of rare decadence and extreme richness. For it served with avocado and bacon and a sweet barbecue sauce. Just unreal.
To start the evening off, we had ordered a nice carafe of sake: the Shichi Hon Yari Nigori called “Seven Spearsmen.” It was not that long ago that we tasted nigori, which is the unfiltered style sake, for the first time. We love it for its chewiness and how well it holds up to rich food. And from the lobster tacos to the eel roll, this was a meal that begged for a hearty sake. This Seven Spearsman Nigori was perfect, and we were thrilled to have enjoyed it with our first Cherry meal.
When we got home from our wonderful meal, I had this uncommon feeling. I was still infused with excitement and delight from what I had experienced that evening. I realized that it was the meal. We had had a truly transcendent dinner, and we could feel its effects. We were truly happy.
I only regret that I was not able to share our delight with the Sake Ninja. I did not see him at Cherry that night, unfortunately. But I will share this post with him, and when I see him next, I will tell him about our excellent night at Cherry.