Tasting Seaweed from the Staten Island Ferry at Restaurant '13
Can an ingredient be too local? The gelatinous seaweed served at New York's newest pop-up restaurant is scraped each morning from the bottom of the Staten Island Ferry and strewn over sheets of fried kale. It's slippery stuff and it tastes dangerous, like it could kill you. It just might.
For the price of $120, the menu at '13 seems very short, but you'll be grateful for that once things get started. A tasting in late March allowed me to choose four dishes from a list of six, all of which were hopelessly underseasoned. I later learned that this kitchen's one luxury, a delivery of Welsh sea salt made with water from the Isle of Anglesey, had been delayed en route (a bag of the crystals arrives by sailboat once or twice a month).
Spring's first green nettles, foraged from the cracks in the chef's driveway, and from the path leading from his garden shed to the back door, were dehydrated to a crisp and shredded with raw knotweed and wild catnip, then served with a lukewarm shot of smoked puddle water.
But perhaps this dish should have been fed to the wild rabbits living under the porch; they are slaughtered once a week for the restaurant's most depressing dish, the "cottage pie." This is a thin slice of raw potato over a piece of rabbit meat, taken from the animal's thigh, cured underground for a day, and striped at the table with fresh, warm blood. It is lean and desperate and terrifying, like what our ancestors must have eaten before they discovered fire.
But it's not just flavors at '13 that fail, it's the unsettling presentations.The plating of the poached mutton buttock with fermented butter was so abstract, it was as if abused zoo animals had produced the dish in a therapy session. The plate was garnished with a warm embryonic fluid that tasted of baby corn and death. "Oh, but you're not supposed to eat that one!" The chef explained, "You're only supposed to Instagram it."
The chefs are brothers. Perrile and Rist Bleddyn come from Camarthen, a small Welsh town known for a stone memorial built for one Sir Thomas Picton, and the homegrown alternative rock band, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci. After finding success in London's underground dining scene, the duo moved to New York with their parents, Esther and Drwst Bleddyn. Now, to score a seat at their new 10-seat space, you must call the Bleddyns' home phone and ask for their mom.
If you manage to get through '13's infuriating reservation system, you'll eventually find your way to the family's garage, where a communal table is set for 10 guests three evenings a week. There's very little natural light in the unpleasant room, which is lit by a single Edison bulb and sparsely decorated with cardboard boxes full of holiday decorations and old books. It smells like damp earth and cleaning products, and the folding chairs aren't very comfortable. But as Mrs. Bleddyn told me over the phone, "They were two for one."
For an extra $130 a person, there's a series of house-made white whiskeys paired with the food. Does this sound nice? If so, soak a rag with rubbing alcohol and use it to cover your nose and mouth -- it will offer a strikingly similar experience.
With its poorly distilled trends and suspicious smells, '13 may well be the worst restaurant to open in New York this year, but luckily for us, it isn't real. Happy April 1!
No rabbits were harmed in the making of this April Fools review, which is brought to you in collaboration with Charlotte Druckman (Medium), Dan Saltzstein (The New York Times), and Kat Kinsman (Eatocracy).