For all the buzz that Talde's been getting, there's another restaurant from a Top Chef alum on the other end of Seventh that's also churning out some incredibly inventive, inspired, delicious, and most of all, fun food. It's Kiwiana, and it's the brainchild of New Zealand-born chef Mark Simmons. It's a hidden gem that's right up there with the neighborhood's best.
Since opening on Union Street just west of Seventh Avenue last August, the restaurant's developed a loyal following of regulars who feel like they're in on a secret. The space is comfortable and has a retro feel, and service is attentive and knowledgeable. Every day until 7 there's a rotating happy hour with cheap drinks and even cheaper food, like dollar oysters and killer pulled pork sliders in a sweet and savory sauce (below).
The menu is constantly changing depending on what's fresh and seasonal, but some items are menu mainstays: crunchy and tender horopito (a peppery herb) and buttermilk fried chicken, smoked and pickled mussels, craveable manuka honey and Marmite braised baby back ribs, expertly cooked New Zealand lamb, and the classic Kiwi burger, a lamb patty topped with cheddar, beets, and a fried egg.
Everything on the menu has something incredibly unique about it, and that just adds to the fun. Nicely caramelized diver scallops (below) are served on the shell atop a chunky caluiflower and bacon ragout, tied together with a tangy passion fruit sauce. Crispy-skinned New Zealand snapper (top) is served alongside a creamy saffron risotto dotted with peas and chunks of chorizo. Tiny little whitebait fish are breaded and fried whole, and eaten head and all. Baby beets are slow-poached and served with lavender infused fresh ricotta and Marcona almonds. A vegan Jerusalem artichoke soup is so rich and earthy you'll swear it's loaded with cream and butter.
There's a real sense of whimsy and playfulness here, and that extends to the cocktail list as well. There's a ramp gibson, made and garnished with pickled ramps, which are sweet and tangy and should be sold by the jar. A martini is made with pickled mussels. There's also a nice selection of inexpensive wines (with a slant toward Australian and New Zealand selections) as well as beers from that region that I've never seen anywhere else, like Steinlager and Boag's.
For dessert, don't skip the lamingtons, soft squares of sponge cake doused with cherry or raspberry liqueur, rolled in coconut and topped with fresh whipped cream.
And then there's brunch, which is generally when they're at their most crowded. It's just as inspired as the rest of the menu. It's clear that Chef Simmons is incredibly proud of his work, and is in the kitchen every night creating some really inspired food. Next time you're in the mood for a nice meal but don't feel like waiting for the same dish as always at al di la, head a block east. You'll leave happy.
Kiwiana, 847 Union Street Brooklyn NY 11217. 718-230-3682.