Graf-Art Master Class

01/02/2008 12:00 AM |


Graffiti
, 224 E. 10th St, 212-677-0695
Price range:  $40-70   Rating:  5L’s

Graffiti is an art form, a “FUCK YOU” to The Man, improvisation, and now a restaurant. At former Jean Georges pastry chef Jehangir Mehta’s new joint, it’s all of these, and it’s definitely not vandalism. The food and the scene are Banksy and Basquiat, controlled, purposeful and passionate, not just random tagging.
In this East Village neo-Persian hole-in-the-wall, you’ll find a cuisine unlike anything else in this city, in one of its smallest rooms. With just four tables and a studio apartment-sized kitchen, Mehta and crew somehow turn out an inventive menu of 16 small plates and three desserts of shockingly high quality at a seamless pace.
From our first plate of green mango paneer, the kitchen’s attention to detail is clear. Paneer is never this memorable, soothing the bitter young flavor of green mango dancing with hot chilies. A plate of farmers’ market tomato encapsulates the restaurant’s global ethic. The flawless yellow and red slices, some of the season’s last, are paired with olive and balsamic sorbet and sprinkled with those candied fennel seeds found at Indian restaurants. Using Indian, Persian, Asian and European ingredients, Chef Mehta displays a Thai ethos: every dish balances salty, sweet, sour, bitter and hot, yet feels organic, as in chili pork dumplings paired with grapefruit confit and crispy noodles. Flavor and textural contrasts like these are the hallmark of a great pastry chef, which Chef Mehta is, but he has found a way to succeed with this same approach to savory — a leap most aren’t prepared to make.

The menu is divided by price, from $7–$15 a plate, but all are roughly the same size. For my party of two, the chef, who was also our waiter that evening, chose the progression. Again, he was spot on. A few dishes reveal his Persian origins, an unexpected tapestry of flavors to the uninitiated, as in a braised pork bun, heady with sweet and savory spices, paired with apricot chutney and tantalizing unshelled bitter almonds. Some stay planted firmly in Europe, such as a foie gras and raspberry crostini with walnut salad.

A dessert of halva and mascarpone date cream was too laden with nuts and fruit for me after such a wide-ranging meal (we split a total of seven courses). And it tasted a bit too authentic for this restaurant, but maybe the biggest shock, the ultimate culinary F-U of the moment, is an unironic, traditional festive favorite direct from Tehran. Now that’s art.