SEASON-INGS: Shaved Ice and Summertime Meetings

Adjacent to the verdant Jefferson Market Garden in the West Village lies the unassuming restaurant Saikai Dining Bar.  As a name, Saikai is poetic and evocative. Meaning reunion or meeting, it is an apt locale to enjoy an epicurean yet unpretentious dining experience.

Highlighting the flavors of the year, the menu remains in a delightful state of flux. While dishes such as smoked duck breast with foie gras or grilled maitake mushrooms serve as standards, invariably every few weeks there are new offerings. Amongst the concrete walls that make up our fair city, discovering such a perennial menu, is akin to spotting the first crocus of spring hiding beneath greying snow, or peeping the flash of orange among the green leaves of a fading summer.

Currently, as the heat from the pavements casts the city into an undulating mirage-scape, we find blissful solace in Saikai’s Japanese-style kakigori, or shaved ice. Infinitely more refreshing and refined than a curbside Mr. Softee, these floating visions are sweetened haystacks of delight. Gone are typical flavors and colors, no more blaring red cherry or neon green lime. Instead, we savor flavors like yuzu, fresh strawberry, kuromitsu, and the most intriguing of all – purple sweet yam.

These diverse flavors and foodscapes are led by Hong Kong native Chef Siu W. Cheng. The chef spent his formative years gaining an appreciation for seafood thanks to his father, a fish farmer who raised sea urchin and kanpachi.  (Infact, Chef Cheng’s favorite dish to this day is a steamed fish, simply flavored with vinegar, if necessary.) In the early nineties Cheng’s family retired to Langford, Colorado, and it was there he began working in kitchens. Arriving in New York eight years ago, Cheng has worked with the likes of Masa Takayama and other heavy hitters.

Part of the founding team of Saikai, Chef Cheng’s international experience has helped to guide the menu. Not limited by geographic constraints, he draws inspiration from across Asia. In particular, dishes and ingredients that have gained popularity abroad yet haven’t yet made a splash in the United States most intrigue him.

Saikai also hopes to make fine dining within reach for the everyday restaurant goer. Ingredients such as truffles, uni, foie gras (see delicious photos below, courtesy of Saikai), as well as other seasonal delights such as mussels and scallops are offered at a price none to shabby! Complementing these delicacies, in the coming months of August and September you’ll find corn, sweet yams, and asparagus heralding the joys of a deepening summer.

In the meantime, if it’s the kakigori that’s got your attention, be sure to swing by Saikaiduring the month of August! September will bring new refreshments.

Alexis SanbornComment