If it wasn’t for critics and restaurant guides, who’d ever find a place like this? Nestled mid-block on a dark East Village side street between Avenue A and Avenue B, it’s hardly a spot that attracts much random foot traffic. A popular ramen shop is next door, but who’d know about that either?
But here we find one of the best new restaurants of the year, and better yet, not from any of the recycled names and restaurant empires that command most of the media ink in New York. The chef here is Thomas Chen, an ex-pat of Eleven Madison Park and Commerce. “Tommy” was his childhood name, which morphed into Tuome (“tow-me”).
I don’t want to jinx the guy, but if the early reviews are any guide, Chen in ten years could have himself a hot little empire like David Chang, Mario Carbone, or Andrew Carmellini. Just you wait. Or maybe he’ll stay behind the stove at his namesake spot, and turn it into a Michelin star restaurant. Who knows? Those are heady expectations to put on a chef from whom we’ve had one meal, but I’ll go out on a limb, and say the potential is there. What Chen does with it is up to him.
Chen does this in an unassuming double-storefront, decorated not very originally, with exposed brick, old knick-nacks hanging on the walls, and somewhat uncomfortable wooden chairs facing tables that are a bit too close together. But it’s charming in an East Village-y kind of way.
The menu consists of just fifteen dishes: “small” ($8–18), “large” ($23–29) and sides ($8–9). The core cuisine is American, but reminders of Mr. Chen’s Asian heritage abound, with accompaniments such as Chinese sausage, XO sauce, yuzu and shishito.
The amuse bouche (above left) was a kabocha squash soup with Thai chili foam. To start, we shared a chicken liver mousse with maple syrup and house-made milk bread ($13; above right), one of the richest, most luscious dishes of its kind that we had all year.
Among the entrées (sorry, “large plates”) is a Berkshire pig-out for two ($49; above). It features crisped cubes of pork belly with two dipping sauces and a salad that could be a respectable appetizer all by itself. “Best sharing dish of the year,” said my wife.
If that wasn’t enough, it comes with bowls of spicy seasame noodles (below left)—the Chinese take-out staple, but so perfectly prepared that you’d think Mr. Chen invented the dish.
We probably didn’t need a side dish, but ordered one anyway, the terrific Brussels Sprouts ($8; above right) with grapes, raisins, and pork XO sauce.
For a small place, there are a lot of staff here: we lost count of them, but noted there are even two hosts. Service is a lot better than it has to be, with grace notes usually reserved for higher-end productions, like replacing the silverware and wiping the table after the appetizer course. The one-page wine list could use more depth, but what they have is served at the right temperature.
One can infer only so much from a single meal, but the professional critics were impressed too: Eater’s Robert Sietsema awarded four stars. We won’t go that far, but we’d say Tuome is the most promising new restaurant we tried in 2014.
Tuome (536 E. Fifth Street between Avenue A & Avenue B, East Village)
Food: American cuisine with Chinese influences
Ambiance: Right out of the East Village playbook
Service: Very good: better than it has to be