Yes, at TAG’s snug new subterranean sibling, streamlined & gleaming as a snack bar in a Japanese airport, they really do yell “Poppycock!” when you come in, both as a disconcerting but cute greeting & a promise of the namesake amuse to come—a sweet-salty mix of candied popcorn & nuts as well as pieces of roasted kombu.
But by the time you leave, it may be the anagram that’s ringing in your ears, because the trio of young guns behind the bar—chefs Sam Freund & Shaun Motoda along with mixologist Joshua Smith (who’d wowed me at the ROOT cocktail competition I judged a couple months ago)—exude a brash energy, a cocky pop indeed, that suffuses the whole place.
The menu’s printed daily, a sign that it’s tweaked according to the availability of ingredients. This is a good thing not only insofar as listings du jour are SOP for any raw bar worth its sea salt, but also because my one beef was that, of 10 seafood preparations, fully 7 were based on either ahi or hiramasa. I’m assuming the lack of variety was just a fluke (ha! no pun intended), because clearly these guys love playing with whatever they can get their hands on. Freund in particular was practically giddy over his soon-to-be unveiled experiments with housemade burrata, nacho cheese powder from Savory Spice Shop, & frozen treats from the Paco Jet: while proffering me & my lunch companion, Andra of French Press Memos, a quenelle of intensely pure, creamy banana sorbet, he told us of his plans for a beet, tomato, & cucumber “sorbet salad.”
Sounds refreshing, right? Well, that’s par for the course: deceptive simplicity, lightness & brightness are the primary hallmarks of the food here. Chunks of cucumber were just barely splashed with rice vinegar, agave juice, bonito (dried, smoked fish) flakes & sesame seeds; the green beans mixed with garlic shoots, sesame oil & chilies positively squeaked.
All that hoopla over the kangaroo tartare TAG first introduced a few weeks ago is deserved. The meat is wonderful, robust & sweetly fleshy, like a cross between beef tenderloin & (speaking of) ahi tuna; topped with a quail egg, tiny sunchoke chips crackling beneath an almost burnt-sugar veneer, & a cinnamon-touched foam,* it’s suave yet vibrant, carefully balanced & fully realized.
But it wasn’t my favorite dish. That title goes to the lamb loin.
A sprinkling of coarse salt smoked over oak chips from Chardonnay barrels brought out the savor of the seared meat—so distinctive, good lamb is, like fresh blood mixed with dried herbs, or vice-versa. Some sort of boldly sweet contrast was a given—but rather than your average port reduction, whiskey-peach gastrique the color & consistency of sap was more than just an accompaniment; it was a deeply tangy thing I had to scrape up on its own.
The name is awesome; the Los Chingones roll itself, filled with chopped ahi & avocado & topped with dynamite sauce & kabayaki, is just fine—technically proficient if not especially novel. Sushi, I figure, is a matter of extremes. Purists insist on the basic building blocks, nothing more, nothing less—fish of exceptional quality & cut; perfect, lightly vinegared, sticky yet firm rice; fresh grated wasabi—& roll their eyes at wacky house concoctions laden with America’s favorite food groups: salt, sugar, fat. I think there’s a place for the latter as well as the former; this roll falls somewhere in between, so next time I’ll try the Bulldog with hiramasa, kimchi & apple, a combination more in line with this kitchen’s penchant for clarity of flavor.
On that note, the Persian lime–drenched hiramasa tiradito—oft-described as a cross between ceviche & sashimi that reflects the Japanese immigrant influence on Peruvian cuisine—was unassailable, as though you could taste sunlight glinting off the surface of the sea.
And yet, & yet, the real trick is to apply such a light touch to the richest of rich ingredients; Freund & Motoda did just that with this torchon of foie gras, barely denser than whipped cream & complemented by bittersweet kumquat marmalade.
Assuming they keep this up, I have an alternative suggestion once “Poppycock!” gets old (which it will): “Crackerjack!” Because, you know, when you’re really good, that’s what they call you.
*Apparently, as Freund explained & as Laura Shunk noted here, there’s duck-liver fat in the foam too. I couldn’t detect it, which doesn’t mean it wasn’t serving a purpose, at least in terms of body. Be interesting to do a side-by-side comparison with a foieless version.