Though eating out is an inherently pleasurable activity, truly fun restaurants are few and far between. Desnuda, a tiny wine and ceviche bar in the East Village, is one of those rare places. The limited bar seating puts patrons face-to-face with the personable chefs, and the ensuing friendly banter seems built-in to the experience. Dishes that followed, such as the audacious smoked-oyster shooters, were just as engaging. Right before your eyes, chef Christian Zammas burns tea leaves and Szechuan peppercorns in what is basically a gravity bong, catches the smoke in inverted shot glasses, then places them atop three freshly shucked bivalves. Lift the glass and the smoke wafts up your nose just before you down the briny goodness. We can’t decide whether the taste or the theatrics was more enjoyable. The ceviches, meanwhile, present bold interpretations of the acid-cured fish. While we’re partial to more traditional versions, Desnuda’s abandonment of custom is surprisingly successful. Mackerel is seasoned with smoked pimenton, fermented black garlic and lemon: a winning blend of exotic flavors. The mixto’s combo of salmon, tuna and tiger prawns with cinnamon, mango, hot pepper and Sprite may sound questionable, yet the flavors work. And while an experimental “dessert” of tuna in a sweet soy glaze doesn’t surpass the more standard offerings of a pastry kitchen, we can safely say it’s about as close to an after-dinner treat as fish is going to get—and a good deal more amusing.
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