The fun and lovely Wayla was pretty much an instant hit when it opened in the spring of 2019, with crowds descending those steep stairs on Forsyth Street not only to feast on some great homestyle Thai food, but also to chill in the restaurant's charming backyard garden, a feature which — during our pandemic summer — has made dining here one of the toughest-to-get tables in town.
Now Wayla owners Erika Chou and Doron Wong have a new place where everyone will want eat, an elegant Japanese-Italian restaurant called Kimika that stars an enormously appealing menu from chef Christine Lau and, once again, is fortuitously blessed with a spacious outdoor seating situation thanks to its extra-long frontage on the extra-wide Kenmare Street sidewalk.
Let's talk about the food first. When I asked about the Japanese-Italian fusion idea I received some vague references to the neighborhood — Kimika's on the edge of Little Italy, and there are also lots of Asian restaurants nearby — but really, the driving force behind the concept seems to be "because they are both really delicious" which, no argument here.
Chef Lau does a great job of combining techniques and ingredients from both culinary traditions in almost every dish without ever forcing the issue. That old red-sauce-joint standby of prosciutto with melon, for example, is given an update by subbing in peak-fresh Greenmarket Peaches for the fruit, and adding shiso and sancho pepper beneath the San Daniele ham. Likewise, the plate of olive-oiled Heirloom Tomatoes, punched up with diced cucumber, sits atop a bed of sumptuous silken tofu.
Some dishes are more straightforward, like the beautiful Tuna Tartare with its mound of raw fish, spicy mayo, and surrounded by things like salmon roe and crispy rice. The idea here is to stir everything up, then spoon the results onto the accompanying sheets of nori. And the side of charred String Beans and Corn just flat out tastes like summer, no bells and whistles required.
On a menu of non-stop hits, the best dishes might be the pastas. The Roe Roe Roe Roe Spaghetti is Chau's version of the classic Japanese Mentaiko Pasta, and it's phenomenal, just a raging party of big flavored ingredients like tobiko, ikura, bottarga and, of course, mentaiko, all clinging nicely to the thick strands of extra al-dente noodles. The Crispy Rice Cake Lasagna might be even better, a crock of that Korean staple studded with sweet sausage and gobs of melted provolone.
There's a whole section of crisp fried pizzas, topped with things like Uni, Burrato from nearby Di Palo's, Summer Squash, and, the one we ordered, the Mortadella, with thin-sliced funky sausage laid over stracciatella and drizzled with a miso sauce. It was excellent. Other dishes that caught my eye but couldn't possibly fit onto our table included the soy-based Fusilli Cacio e Pepe, the Eggplant Katsu with panko crust, and a Kakiage Fritto Misto featuring fried shrimp, cuttlefish, and baby anchovies.
Save room for multiple desserts, all created by chef Clarice Lam. There are two Kakigoris on offer, one watermelon and one tiramisu, as well as a yuzu ricotta cheesecake Souffle, but we went with the clever Mochi Bomboloncini, the gummy pastry filled with Nutella, and, most amazing, the Yakult Softserve, a decadent ice cream parfait ribboned with strawberry and topped in unlikely but winning fashion by crispy chicken skin streusel.
Greg Kong is in charge of the cocktails, which run about $15 each. My companion enjoyed a Chamomile Negroni and I felt the same about my mocktail, a Yamamomo Tonic that was plenty refreshing but also harbored a definite bite. Wines by the glass and bottle, and an assortment of draft beers, are available as well.
Chao, Wong, and the rest of the Rivers and Hills Hospitality Group were well on their way to opening Kimika when the pandemic hit—the homey interior looks ready to go whenever lack of COVID allows—but for now are grateful for their sidewalk patio, which seats about 30 at comfortably distanced tables below the Nolitan Hotel. Reservations are available, and definitely recommended. And remember, please keep your mask on while seated whenever you're not actively eating or drinking, both for your safety and for the comfort of your diligent servers.
Kimika is located at 40 Kenmare Street, at the corner of Elizabeth Street, and is currently open from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily (212-256-9280; kimika.com)