By David Minsky
By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
By Candace West
By Laine Doss
The trio of Mind-Body-Soul soups ($9), in this case a warm spiced apple, red pepper, and snapper chowder, were served in small bowls on a single tray with their own spoons. A clear and invigorating snapper chowder was the kind of thing you might crave if you were a New England invalid; the red pepper soup was bland and flavorless; but the hot apple bisque was a knockout. The chef said it was made with crème fraîche, Granny Smiths, cloves, and black pepper a wake-up call of a soup that wove together sour, sweet, creamy, hot, and spicy. We never agreed on which soup represented which cosmic iteration (let my mind be ever sharp as the apple but my body less flaccid than the red pepper). We ate "inspired miso soup" ($11) topped with glistening slices of rare sesame-encrusted tuna; julienned vegetables and lemongrass-ginger-infused sticky rice lent it body, but the lemongrass shouted down all the other flavors. And we ordered three plates of specialty sushi rolls, all of them splendidly composed and unexpected. Day 5 roll ($12) combined, of course, creatures of the sea hamachi and blue-fin tuna, with mouth-filling silk of avocado, tart Asian pear, and the bitter-cool charge of cilantro and mint, topped off with masago, sayonachi (garlic sauce), and cilantro. This, and the East Meets West roll ($13) are as good or better than any rolls I've eaten anywhere, and as Jehovah is my witness, I've eaten a lot of sushi. East Meets West rolls married chunks of white tuna and lemon basil-spiked sticky rice to asparagus, truffle oil, little spicy pea tendrils, and crispy shiitake mushrooms; a tiny salad of yellowtail carpaccio marinated in Japanese mustard, ginger, lime, orange, and, we thought, mango, came with it. The fish in all was fresh and meltingly sweet top quality. I'm not such a fan of tempura rolls, but a perfectly executed Moses (salmon, avocado, chives, taramasalata a Greek sauce made from fish roe and crunchy shallots, $12) won me over.
The sushi chef at Emunah is no slouch. He's using pristinely fresh fish and pairing it with odd Mediterranean and Caribbean ingredients (mint, basil, taramasalata, truffle oil, eggplant spread, pineapple, orange, coconut), inventing what almost amounts to a new genre of eating. His partner back in the kitchen turns out entrées of equal freshness and complexity: Mahi filets wrapped in a banana leaf released clouds of curry and coconut milk-scented steam when opened ($16 half, $25 full); the fish fell apart in beautiful, translucent flakes. My "Seabass Divine" ($26) offered the tenderest cut of white fish sautéed and set over a buttery Jamaican yam mash subtly heated with Scotch bonnet peppers and drizzled with passion fruit vinaigrette, a cool apple and watercress salad (peppery, sour) alongside. What an amusing array of flavors! And then, two tiny, charred Scotch bonnet peppers.
Some of us, including me, had never bitten into a whole Scotch bonnet pepper before. The Scotch bonnet is the hottest pepper produced on Earth. There is no warning of this fact on the menu, nor did the waitress think it necessary to remind us that we might want to go easy. But "everything on the plate should be edible," John announced. So, intrepid foodies all, we each tried a piece. A piece about the size of an infant's pinky fingernail.
The experience of finding a Scotch bonnet pepper in your mouth is something like this: You're in an '80s disco, dancing happily along to Gloria Gaynor hits, and then some joker hands you a bottle of amyl nitrate. Fun, right? You take a gigantic snort. Stars explode in your eyes, the top of your head opens, and little flames erupt from all the pores in your nose. Your neck and chest blow up like a bubble, and your hands unscrew themselves and fall to the floor. It's kinda cool and kinda scary.
Nobody at our table, having had one tiny nibble of Scotch bonnet, wanted to try another. Could there be permanent genetic damage?
The antidote for pepper burn is sugar. I turned to see Ashley, head thrown back, dilated eyeballs leaking tears, neck and cheeks the purplish blue of raw tenderloin, furiously ripping open and emptying whole packets into her mouth, one after another. She couldn't speak or even look at any of us for some time afterward. Sorry, Ash!
Dessert eased physical and psychic pain homemade vanilla bean ice cream on banana bread pudding (as good as his mum's, David said, $6). A delicious dish of crème brûlée infused with chai ($7). A so-so chocolate cheesecake ($8) and a mousse-like carrot cake with its cream-cheese frosting dotted in little islands around it, with pistachio crunch ice cream ($9). These arrived with six spoons and six forks lovingly arranged to look like silvery waves... or aggressively racing sperm...
We looked around and evaluated the décor. Very college cafeteria: molded chairs, glass-topped tables, three too many TV screens. There was barely a pliable or inviting surface, acoustics like an echo chamber. And the special treat we'd been so looking forward to, a "side dish" of intellectual chat with Dr. Marla Reis (a session at Emunah is "a casual conversation with a professional source," Reis had been quoted as saying), wasn't available Reis was there only during the day, it turned out, and the deal was really more like psychotherapy than a spiritual rap session.