There’s a lot of iconic food in New York City; we’re used to ambitious decor, meat as both entree and garnish, and traditional dishes done right. But as the clean-eating trend shifts, restaurants have gone in the opposite direction: smaller, veggie-focused and innovative.
And it’s just such a tiny tasting counter in Brooklyn that caught the eye of Bon Appetit for its annual America’s Best New Restaurants issue. Semilla beat out fellow nominees like Mission Street Food, Santina and Cosme for a spot on the list, to give you an idea of the competition.
Here’s what you need to know about the city’s new instant celebrity.
It began as a pop-up
Before Semilla, there was Chez Jose, a pop-up project by Jose Ramirez-Ruiz. He was joined by pastry chef Pam Yung for the opening of the restaurant back in October, which has been hailed as no less than “New York’s next great restaurant” by Eater. In its two-star review, The New York Times’ Pete Wells mentions Ramirez-Ruiz’s stints at Per Se and the Brooklyn Fare Chef’s Table coming out “in the way he elegantly props one flavor against the next.” It even serves bread and butter worthy of being one of Bloomberg’s best dishes of 2014.
Vegetables get top billing — and treatment
Lots of restaurants talk farm-to-table, but these guys were singled out by Bon Appetit because “every vegetable gets a chance to be front and center.” (Appropriately, Semilla means seed in Spanish). Browse their Instagram for a collage of fresh ingredients like tomatoes, ginger, dandelions, blueberries, kohlrabi — and often the farms they came from. And as you can see from the hardware above, what goes on behind the scenes is equally down-on-the-farm. Note, though, that Semilla is vegetable-forward, not vegetarian, with foie gras doubling down on the earthiness in this dish of beets and mushrooms.
Expect the unexpected, because there’s no menu
Each night’s 10(ish) courses will be seasonal and currently priced at $75, but those are pretty much your only guarantees about the meal. There are no menus, but your complete list of courses isemailedthe following day to settle all those foodie queries. We love this idea as a way to discuss the food as you’re eating it in a real conversation and the genuine surprise of each course. And it’s not like you have to worry about quality. Even their “junk food” is healthy: Saturdays are forpizza, and check outthese nachos.
The bathroom has its own profile
We’re not so sure Semilla’s bathroom situation is a plus: The stall features a one-way mirror that looks onto the kitchen. In our opinion, the bathroom can never be too far away from the kitchen, but Bon Appetit called it “unexpected and playful.”
Personally, the line of what's appropriate on the toilet is somewhere between playing Candy Crush and eating. Though the chefs preparing your food can’t see you, the whole point of bathroom stalls is the polite fiction that we’re alone — and no one can hear (or worse) anything.
Eva Kis is on Twitter @thisiskis.