264 Elizabeth St, 212-219-9212
Price Range: (For two) $40-80, without booze
At first bite, Plate NYC, a new restaurant from the people who brought you Soho Cantina, seems to be a faux-hipster venture conceived by cynical MBAs, seeking to capitalize on the scene-seeking bridge-and-tunnel crowd, boasting all the hallmarks of a restaurant sure to disappoint: The obligatory raw bar (it’s the new sushi), an Asian/Latin fusion menu (Asia de Cuba is always packed), a communal central table (Asia de Cuba has one of those too), the Postal Service pleading in the background (they’re still hip, aren’t they?), and to top it off, a campground-inspired rear dining room complete with picnic tables and lantern-style light fixtures (everybody loves a theme).
I had every intention of hating this restaurant and its faceted mirrors, exposed brick, misshapen glassware, “Saktail” menu, and pretentious name. But I didn’t. Plate NYC is everything it strives to be… and more.
Our meal began with blue-point oysters ($3 each), served with a sublime Thai mignonette and a blandly overpowering wasabi cocktail sauce in one of the restaurant’s few missteps. Next came a ceviche trio ($7), starring grouper, tilapia, and shrimp, enhanced by the clean, bright flavors of rice vinegar, jalapeno, and jicima. To tame my thirst, and alcoholism, I ordered the Buddha’s Dream ($11), a “Saktail” of kiwi-lemongrass-infused sake shaken with honeydew puree and plum wine, which was so nice I can no longer believe that all life is suffering.
For our main course, we ordered Spicy Rock Shrimp Lo Mein ($11) and Duck ($18). The Lo Mein was perfect: tart, sweet, scorching, accented by crispy coconut chips and glistening pearls of shrimp — enough for an entire meal. The duck was less successful. Although breast, leg, and fat were all cooked to perfection (a rare pleasure, and the mark of a highly skilled chef), the honey-chipotle glaze soon became an overly sweet bore, begging for a touch of vinegar and salt. It was further hindered by a Thai sticky-rice glob that only served to highlight the insipid sauce.
Dessert was first-rate. Our Asian-Spiced Brownie ($12) was presented as a cabin with chocolate Lincoln Logs, roofed by a dollop of luscious pistachio ice cream. The brownie was subtly spiced and refreshingly bittersweet (this dessert is not for those chasing diabetes at the Magnolia Bakery). A shallow bowl of the best cold cinnamon soup I’ve ever tasted rested on the opposing corner of the square plate. Sweet and luscious, the cinnamon was enlivened by a touch of crème fraîche, inspiring the hedonist in me to rejoice.
Confounding expectations, Plate NYC is a delight. The food is delicious, with a few easily corrected exceptions, and a relative bargain, presentations are pure Japanese minimalism, and the staff is helpful and earnest, though unseasoned. Come spring, with a newly minted liquor license and the back room’s neofuturistic silver insulation removed to reveal a glass roof and the sky beyond, Plate NYC will come into its own as a destination worthy of Nolita’s respect.