The latest in our Quick Bites series brings us to the East Village for some Hawaiian food...
When's the last time you ate Hawaiian food? Prior to this past weekend—when I was lucky enough to get a seat on consecutive evenings at the brand new and very impressive Noreetuh in the East Village—the answer for me was probably at a class "luau" in 5th grade, when I was the only kid who dared eat the purple-grey poi.
It's not that I have anything against the cuisine, but other than Onomea in Williamsburg, which opened a couple of summer ago, and maybe Makana in East Harlem and the Upper West Side, there really aren't many Hawaiian restaurants in the city.
All of which is why I was instantly intrigued by Noreetuh—it's pronounced like Norita, rhymes with Nolita—starring Chef Chung Chow in the kitchen, a Hawaiian native coming off stints as sous-chef at both Per Se and Lincoln. It's not easy to bring something new and different to the table in this town, but Chow's expertly-composed offerings seem to qualify as exactly that. It's not that the ingredients are so exotic, or the preparation so outlandish, but you definitely won't look at this menu and think "oh THIS again."
Noreetuh is a handsome if slightly awkward space, with a narrow bar-with-tables area as you enter, and a narrow romantically-lit dining room adjoining to the right. "Honeycomb" seems to be the design theme, and though the service is noticeably polished (the two other principles, Jin Ahn and Gerald San Jose, are also Per Se vets), the atmosphere is decidedly grown-up casual, and the most expensive entree is $22.
The Noreetuh menu is divided into snacks, starters, and mains, and is appealing all up and down, with fish and pig dominating the proceedings. I ate five things over two nights, and everything was a winner.
Definitely get the Monkfish Liver Torchon, an insanely rich mousse-like mound surrounded by tart passion fruit and pear, which you can spread on soft, warm slices of Hawaiian roll and all of which will make your knees buckle or toes curl or whatever else happens to you during moments of intense physical pleasure.
Almost as orgasmic is the Silken Tofu, the custard-like protein topped with generous portions of uni, ikura, and a dab of a mostly-shiitake mushroom paste that gives the dish a surf-and-turf feel. The Corned Beef Tongue Musubi is Chow's take on the apparently iconic Hawaiian snack, usually made with Spam. The mouth-meat here is wonderfully tender, there are peanuts adding some crunch, the rice is sticky and perfect, and the slightly-warmed nori is, for some reason, the best-tasting piece of that workhorse seaweed I've ever had.
My pair of mains maybe weren't quite as magical as what proceeded them, but they were still very good. The Chow Noodles is based on a recipe of the chef's father, a Hawaiian noodle-maker of some renown according to San Jose, and it is a spicy, earthy delight, filled with thinly sliced shiitakes, jalapenos, bean sprouts, and chewy tofu. Finally, the Pineapple Braised Pork Belly teeters on the brink of too-much-of-a-good-thing (always a concern with dishes featuring a huge slab of sweet fat), especially since the pig is placed on top of soft yam, but the acidic bite of the surrounding pickled vegetables smooths things out.
I learned about halfway through my first meal that, technically, Noreetuh is still in soft-opening/friends-and-family mode, but nothing about the experience seemed like "practice." These guys clearly know what they're doing, the food is exciting, and the restaurant feels like it fits in the neighborhood, even as it aspires to become a destination spot as well.
The easy-to-swallow pricing helps, of course, making Noreetuh a viable option for many occasions, from early-on dates to a friend's-night-out, and your parents will likely like it too. Highly recommended. Note: I had to sit at the bar, or at a backless-stool bar table, both times as a walk-in, even at 6 p.m., so you should probably make a reservation if you really want to go. Which you do.
Noreetuh is located at 128 First Avenue between 7th Street and St. Mark's, and is open on Tuesday through Sunday from 5:30 until 11:00p.m. (Tuesday through Thursday), 1 a.m. (Friday and Saturday), or 10 p.m. (Sunday). Closed Monday. (646-892-3050, noreetuh.com)