Benefiting from the many nationalities in this city and the wealth of culinary talent here, foodies have always had an opportunity to explore a global selection of cuisines. Chefs who have trained in a variety of kitchens now create fusions reflecting their own personal heritage as well. Ready for culinary adventure? Read on!
Japanese cuisine shows up in many permutations, wedding its own flavors to other cuisines. Japanese and Korean culinary marriages make perfect sense, as the countries’ proximity allows for easy migration of talent and recipes. The Bari focuses on small Japanese and Korean plates from restaurateur Danny Hahn and Chef Mason Rhee. The restaurant prides itself on spicy and umami fusions, like sashimi with gochujang (red chili paste), or uni bibimbap. For something unexpected, The Bari’s bulgogi truffle udon is likely to become a new obsession.
Korean melds with French at Soogil, a cozy bistro from Chef Soogil Lim, a native of South Korea with a culinary pedigree from French restaurant Daniel. Try French beignets filled with Korean sweet potatoes and a side of chilled white kimchi soup, or short ribs braised with soy sauce. A menu standout, the nurungji gras is a plate of sautéed foie gras served over spinach and oyster mushrooms atop a rice cake.
Experience Japanese with an Italian twist at Natsumi Tapas. You won’t have to choose one favorite here, because the small plates menu encourages diners to create a mash-up medley. How do tofu ravioli, hamachi carpaccio with balsamic vinegar, or meatballs with basil pesto teriyaki sauce sound? Chefs Andrea Tiberi and Hiroyuki Nagao conjoin the two countries’ tastes with dishes that are subtle (shrimp fettuccine with yuzu tobiko) or dramatic (salmon pepperoncini roll).
Japanese influences also merge with Jewish cuisine at tiny Shalom Japan, where co-chefs and spouses Aaron Israel and Sawako Okochi literally marry their culinary backgrounds. Brooklyn Jewish traditionalists might go into shock seeing kasha from the Old Country used as a crust for fluke, enhanced here with a sake beurre blanc; or the radical but wonderfully flavorful matzo ball ramen with a foie gras dumpling. Okonomiyaki, a messy Japanese omelet-pancake, goes even further down the fusion fairway when served with pastrami, sauerkraut and bonito flakes. Desserts and cocktails include Japanese sweet potato and ricotta cheesecake with a black sesame crust or the potent Oy Vey Iz Kir cocktail with Manischewitz wine.
Japanese-Peruvian has become another hot combination. Japanese migrant workers settled in Peru in the late 19th century, adapting culinary traditions with ingredients found in South America. The resulting cuisine, called Nikkei, is a fascinating fusion of tastes and preparations. Sen Sakana, from Chefs Mina Newman and Taku Nagai, illustrates this cuisine with a menu of cold and hot small plates, sushi, grills and main dishes. Here you’ll find Peruvian accents like yuzu, aji amarillo and raw fish, or Peruvian dishes like cold ceviche, also served hot and with Japanese mushrooms. A personal favorite: Japanese cucumbers with fried Peruvian quinoa and a drizzle of sesame and soy.
Chinese-Cuban has been an inexpensive NYC dining option for years, starting with diner-like La Caridad 78, opened nearly 50 years ago. Slightly newer Flor de Mayo offers Chino-Latino combination plates. Both restaurants popularized the idea of serving dishes from two cultures, to be eaten side by side.
Taking this a step further is the blended diaspora cuisine known as Chino-Indo. Named after a club offering dining for Chinese expats living in Darjeeling and later in New York City, The Chinese Club draws inspiration from the centuries-old fusion of Chinese and Indian cuisines. Chefs Stacey Lo and Salil Mehta have upped the spiciness intrinsic to much of this cooking, using Hakkanese and Kolkata-Chinese regional recipes as a base and creating dishes like tandoori kung pao chicken marinated in spices instead of yogurt, and Calcutta chicken dressed with sambal, scallions and celery.
The product of Chef-owner Richard Sandoval, winner of Mexico’s prestigious Toque d’Oro, Zengo has commanded recognition for its forward-thinking Latin-Asian fusion menu. Dishes like hamachi tiradito with shiso, Sriracha and ponzu (Japanese-Peruvian); achiote hoisin pork arepas (Mexican-Colombian-Asian); or the restaurant’s signature Thai chicken empanada filled with chile poblano and Oaxaca cheese (Thai-Mexican) show off bold fusions of traditional preparations with regional ingredients.
Korean-born Phillip Lee’s dream was to introduce Korean tastes to New York diners in a variety of accessible ways. His creative Kimchi Taco Truck, perennially mobbed at food truck rallies, has expanded to a brick-and-mortar establishment. Kimchi Grill serves up a menu of Mexican-inflected Korean standbys. A variety of dishes include homemade kimchi (spicy pickled cabbage), a staple throughout Lee’s early years in Seoul, and the popular vegetarian tofu edamame falafel taco.
Duck confit enchiladas and smoky poblano peppers stuffed with goat cheese make waves on the Mexican-French menu at Jolie Cantina, which offers French dishes like bouillabaisse with spicy tomato-achiote broth and habanero aioli. Bring a group and create a mini-ravioli or steak tartare World Cup competition, choosing Mexican and French versions of each to share, washed down with a Michelada or Frenchilada, made from Modelo Negra or Kronenbourg beer. Each drink has MX hot sauce and lemon, and is rimmed with salt and chile a la Mexicana.
Lolo’s Seafood Shack may be more pan-Caribbean than true fusion, but it’s all a matter of delicious definition. With the Caribbean itself being influenced by its British, French and American cultures, island cuisine is already a mash-up by default. Here you’ll find smoked Mayan-influenced chicken wings, perfectly salted conch fritters and New England seafood steam pots.
Finally, should your taste skew to something less complicated, perhaps something more mainstream, you can always grab an all-American burger like the one at Shake Shack or Corner Bistro, but why would you, when you could try the crave-worthy fusion sensation, the ramen burger, now in its own storefront restaurant, Ramen Shack in Queens.