Unlike more navel-gazing chefs, José Ramírez-Ruiz and Pamela Yung don’t let dishes marinate on their menu long enough to become signatures. Instead, the partners, in both life and the kitchen, cut their ever-evolving creations with a macabre glee to rival George R. R. Martin.
There’s no set menu at Semilla (Spanish for “seed”), the pair’s intimate, vegetable-forward chef’s counter, with the rootsy output (8–10 courses for $75) changing weekly, sometimes daily.
That spontaneity allows for constant revisions and brainy inventiveness—not a surprise given the couple’s pedigree. Ramírez-Ruiz put in time in the experimental kitchens of César Ramirez at Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare and the Ignacio Mattos–era Isa, while Yung honed her skills via serious-minded pastry programs at Roberta’s and Torrisi Italian Specialties.
Their cooking is as high-flying as it is powerfully fixed to the earth, a cerebral quality offset by genuinely warm service. (The chefs personally deliver dishes to diners at the stark, 18-seat ashwood bar.)
A duet of rutabaga opened a recent meal—a concentrated mash bundled inside a crispy spring-roll cigar and a spare salad of powdered lovage, shallots and salt-cod mousse (proteins act as the supporting cast to the starring produce)—but was soon overshadowed by more deviceful duos.
One vibrant, virtuous drape of roasted beet, looking both otherworldly and terrestrial, claims the third course. But the simple, sparse plating—the sliced taproot matched with a neat, bracing dot of fermented-ramp aioli and a scattering of sunflower seeds—is a ruse, for beneath that sheet is yet another beet, lighter and softer than its covering, thanks to a burnt-juniper vinegar marinade. There’s the risk of being one-note, sure, but Ramírez-Ruiz deftly sidesteps monotony, pulling remarkable depth from his produce.
His celery soup gets a double shot of the mild-mannered veg. Twisty, potent tagliatella ribbons of grilled celeriac— celery’s knobby, wintertide cousin—come nested on a swath of rich, creamy cheddar cheese before they’re given a tableside slickening of warm, malty celery soup, stirred with Evil Twin Brewing’s cardamom-coffee Turkish Delight ale and speckled with crunchy nibs of puffed quinoa. It’s lustier and heartier than anything celery-related has any right to be.
But despite her partner’s excellent efforts, the dish of the night goes to Yung’s spectacular porridge sourdough, supremely moist and nutty and served with Cowbella butter and tangy buttermilk. It’s a stunning midmeal course that fully negates the trope that you shouldn’t fill up on the bread. Go on. Fill up.