Does Gabe Stulman have this whole restaurant thing down or what? The guy drops a new one every couple of months like they’re mixtapes. In just a few short years, he’s put together an impressive playlist of West Village restaurant hits, including Joseph Leonard, Jeffrey’s Grocery, Fedora, Perla, and now his latest, Chez Sardine. Each of Stulman’s restaurant concepts are completely different, yet they all share a few unmistakable traits: they’re all small, don’t take themselves too seriously, and they all play awesome tunes. Maybe that’s why were so fond of nearly all these joints. We just like a good time.
Stulman keeps things fresh with Chez Sardine. The menu takes all kinds of risks and the majority of the time, those risks pay off. What exactly does that mean? It means that you’re going to see some things in front of you that shouldn’t make sense. But they do. And no, this is not a French bistro. It’s actually an American play on a Japanese Izakaya restaurant featuring a Canadian chef. Crazy? A little. But for the ambitious food enthusiast who likes an adventure, Chez Sardine is as much fun as the Burger King ball pit was when you were five. Now that we think about it, maybe this place needs a ball pit.
Our favorite meals are ones that are built to share, and that’s exactly what goes on at this restaurant. There’s a menu full of crazy sushi inventions like chopped beef with sea urchin and smoked arctic char and sticky rice, plus imaginative small plates like their signature miso-maple salmon head and the crazy delicious “breakfast pancakes.” The only real problem is that, despite not appearing to be so upon first glance, Chez Sardine is an expensive restaurant. Every piece of $8 sushi adds up, and before you know it, you’re dropping some serious cash money on a meal. Maybe we’re just disgusting gluttons with zero self control, but we’re pretty sure you will want to order a ton of food while you’re here, just like we did. Hopefully that sense of adventure you’re so proud of comes with a wallet. You’re gonna need one.
Pork And Unagi Hand Roll
This initial bite was the first indication that we were going to really like Chez Sardine, and it’s exactly the way you should be starting off your meal here too. A pork and eel hand roll? Why hasn’t anyone done this before? It’s definitely a bit…bold…but the flavors and textures work together perfectly.
The “sushi” at this bar isn’t what you’re accustomed to ordering at a Japanese restaurant. This is some crazy unique and crazy delicious sh*t. We were kind of blown away, to be honest. Each bite of these wacky creations – Smoked Arctic Char with Sticky Rice, Oyster with Apple and Chive Oil, Hamachi with Chicharron and Ginger, Chopped Scallop with Quail Egg and Trout Roe, and Chopped Beef and Sea Urchin – are all absurdly tasty. We’d highly suggest you try each one, but be careful. Your bill will add up quickly if you do.
Miso-Maple Salmon Head
The (literal) centerpiece of the menu, don’t be scared of salmon head. She may not be the prettiest fish in the sea, but damn does she taste good, thanks to that maple syrup and miso treatment and a topping of lemon zest and radishes. We were literally dissecting this with our hands and sucking the meat off the jaw bones. We didn’t have the balls to take down the eyes though. Do you? Pics or didn’t happen.
Hamachi and Crispy Rice
This special was incredible. It’s basically a salad of raw hamachi sprinkled with crushed pretzels and served with trout caviar and smoked yogurt. Exciting stuff.
Sushi Rice Balls
These are fried rice balls served with tuna sashimi, smeared avocado, spicy mayo, and tobiko. It’s a fun combo, and is something that should be on your table.
Someone must have smoked a lot of weed and then ended up lost at the fish counter while in search of some pancakes. A stack of silver dollar flapjacks is decorated with fish tartare, salmon roe, and yogurt. Again, it’s crazy, but it’s also both beautiful to look at, and absolutely delicious. A must order.
This was the one and only dish we didn’t particularly like. The chicken with aioli and kimchi just wasn’t that exciting. You can skip it.
Just so you know, brussels sprouts are now required to appear on all restaurant menus by the New York Department of Everybody Else Is Doing It. These crispy fried sprouts in an apple and brown butter sauce are tasty, but God we’re getting sick of writing about brussels sprouts.