Il Cucina Mordita, 7th and Main. (Existentialist Fusion. Lunch $25-35, dinner $75-120. Atmosphere: casual.)
The most striking thing about Hermann and Xantippe Kloob’s newest entry into the chef-owned genre of intimate American fusion cuisine is the twin severed heads adorning the the newell posts on the stairway leading to their upper floor restaurant. The heads, which are not really from a set of twins — Hermann was quick to tell us they died eight months apart — speak to the fevered impermanence of both tastes and perfection.
Every dish at Cucina Mordita is infused with that spirit in the quest to turn an evening’s meal into a reunion of primitive want and evolutionary imperative. From the absinthe-and-curry aperitif to the fermented mussels in a roux of Pakistani government surplus butter, the dishes here demand immediate consumption yet with a constant attention to taste. The dynamic between the server’s admonition of, “better dash this down because it’s not gonna keep” and my companion’s endless iterations of, “Does this taste right to you?” offered the necessary counterpoints that remind us that food is — as soon shall we all be — a once-living thing.
I decided to forego an entree as I was distracted by a needle which had found its way into my lower gums. My companion ordered the Chef’s Surprise, which turned out to be an angry stoat under a chafing cover. The presentation was spectacular. Regrettably, my companion managed only a few bites before the stoat ran off and the very attentive kitchen medic was called over to treat those bites.
For dessert, I chose the Ubu Liver Glace, a Japanese dish which, in a stroke that unites theatre with dining, the waiter plucked away just as I was about to dig in, explaining that the liver of this particular fish is fatally toxic. My companion had the novocaine.
Wind, 15th and Columbus. (Restaurant Air Bar. Lunch $12-$19, dinners $25-45. Atmosphere: variable.)
The bottled air craze continues to sweep the dining scene as health-conscious urbanites rush to sample imported atmospheres from the world’s unspoiled climes. It was only a matter of time before adventurous, European-inspired American chefs took on the more nuanced task of bringing urban and primitive flavors into the mix.
Chef-Meteorologist Frederick Mossberg showed us his cellar reserve of canisters containing compressed air not only from the usual locales such as the Himalyas and Antarctica, but the unique and savory venues. There is air from the Seventh Arrondissement of Paris, with its melange of fruit stands and undertones of walnuts and diesel.
A rare northern Mexican bottle from the late 1990s provides the actual taste of revolution when it is in the air. A trained palate can tell.
“We tried a few domestic brands,” Mossberg told us, “but we finally discontinued them because we couldn’t find reliable suppliers.” Indeed, his office bulletin board sports a clipping from The Times when prosecutors discovered a vintner fobbing off air from a depot in Chattanooga as a product of Madison, Wisconsin.
Rather, Mossberg has gone “high end” with air from Hanoi, Ekaterinburg, Mogadishu and Port-au-Prince. He allowed us to sample a half-carafe from rural Galway with its smoky overtones of turf and sheep and Joycean hints of ink and gunpowder.
I noticed that he took care to shake the canister to evenly distribute the particulates — something he does not always do.
“Frankly,” he said, “some of these aren’t safe to shake.”
Chernobyl, 411 Euclid Ave., Shippingport. Pa. (New American, Lunch $11-$20, dinner $15-30. Atmosphere: under review.)
Since its introduction, the microwave oven has struggled for acceptance from a superstitious culinary world. First demonstrated at the Bratislava World Exposition in 1922, it was little more that two dish transmitters positioned on opposite sides of a roast. Results were uneven and set off the rounds in a nearby guard’s ammunition belt.
Chefs have institutional memories and that unfortunate premier relegated the microwave to the role of poor sister of the kitchen, employed only for the baked potato and drying socks.
Enter Chernobyl, the edgy “method” restaurant opened last year by Ludmilla O’Brian and her late husband, Sergei. Their goal is to dispel the idea that wood-fired ovens are the only acceptable technological swerve in cuisine.
“When Sergei was still able to speak, he told me we needed to redefine cuisine in terms of power, not whether something was an animal or a vegetable or even a rock,” Ludmilla told us as she prepared the table-side tossed limp lettuce salad with hot shallots and exploded potato.
Consequently, the O’Brians dispensed with the traditional menu rubric of salad, soup, pasta, beef and fish. At Chernobyl, the menu breaks things down according to wattage used in its preparation.
Consequently, a baked spaghetti squash sits alongside rump roast, while popcorn and espresso share a category.
One innovation that is sure to add a new dimension in the diner’s relationship with the process is a table setting that, in addition to the traditional knife-and-fork combo, features a small geiger counter.
“We don’t determine doneness by temperature here, because many of the dishes continue to cook even after we bring them to table,” Ludmilla explained.