In the months before the pandemic, a little East Village sandwich window was getting big attention for its locally infrequent ingredients like camel and bison heart, alongside more standard fare like shrimp, lamb and roast pork. It closed three years and many fans later due to that old Manhattan classic, a lease dilemma. Foxface expanded its concept, menu, space and name not too far away this past spring with the opening of Foxface Natural on Avenue A.
Though several times its predecessor’s size, Foxface Natural’s long, narrow dining room is still petite, swiped mostly in white with a few lines of sandy wood and a bit more color from potted plants. Like before, the menu is frequently updated; quail, live scallops, goat, outsized prawn heads and other underwater noggins having graced tables throughout Foxface Natural’s two seasons in operation. It’s still, in this new iteration, spotlighting some infrequently commercially seen items, a few available on a blink-and-you’ll-miss-them basis. A shipment of percebes, for example, was recently lost at JFK, conjuring all sorts of hypotheticals about the unintended party eventually on the Portuguese goose barnacles’ receiving end. Studied sourcing and its beautiful conclusion aside, there has still been little else quite as attention-catching as that camel here at 2.0, though the kangaroo tartare ($25) comes close.
Next to nothing is unheard of in New York City, including kangaroo, which I’ve previously enjoyed in carpaccio form at since-shuttered Public in Nolita, and you can presently find skewered at Williamsburg’s Isla and Co. The lean meat is milder here than its “gamey” shorthand, and lends itself well to the raw, chopped approach, served in a heap with brittle Sardinian flatbread and a delightful little pouf of airy charred eggplant. A glancing taste could easily be mistaken for more common beef, a value judgment for the eye of the beholder. I’d get it again.
Elsewhere among the assorted proteins, the wild boar pork tongue’s ($22) thin, cold cut-style slices are reminiscent of sandwiches, though more evocative of the catered luncheon variety than the unique affairs Foxface was first recognized for. The dainty pink pile is laced with light greens and served atop a tonnato sauce that obscures any tuna and anchovy notes with a heavier mayo presence. Its meat is plenty tasty, if only a little distinguishable from any other high-quality ham.
Everything here is suitable to share; some for a few bites and some for several more, and the printed menu’s order follows a conventional smaller to larger format. In a rare suggestion of restraint wherever money changes hands, you might be told you’ve ordered too much, and encouraged to cull a plate or two. There are half a hundred ways to do so, even on a menu less than 20 lines long. Foxface Natural’s frequent rotation and pleasant, unrushed atmosphere lends itself to return visits to mix and match, and a first trip its as good a plan as any to follow the day’s recommendations.
Seafood is the kitchen’s stated can’t-miss category at press time, and the hiramasa “pastrami” ($24), one dish consistently available since opening, gives a gentle kick to the geometrically-textured, thin slices of nearly-blushing fish. The app’s rye crisps and horseradish dabs close the loop on the subtly executed conceit.
One of Foxface Natural’s best preparations is also its simplest, arriving just how the menu describes. A whole Montauk fluke ($56) is wood oven-roasted with parsley and an abundance of garlic that suffuses the tender fish with fragrance and deep, silky flavor without cloaking the fluke’s own near-sweetness. Relatively uncomplicated as it is, this is still a wonderful demonstration of what Foxface’s “natural continuation” can do.
The Vibe: Peaceful, pleasant and unrushed.
The Food: Frequently updated, unique, and skewed to seafood recommendations like the hiramasa “pastrami” and whole Montauk fluke at the moment. One of a few spots citywide with kangaroo on the menu.
The Drinks: Beer and wine.
Foxface Natural is located at 189 Avenue A.