We've seen a succession of restaurant openings over the last several months, but Linger, the second restaurant from Justin Cucci, the owner/chef of Root Down, may very well be the most anticipated new arrival of the year. And after a remarkably good dinner there last week, at which Cucci, along with executive chef Daniel Asher and pastry chef, Samm Sherman, trotted out plate after plate after plate of things I want to eat again, preferably every day, for the duration of my livelihood, it's a good bet that Linger -- like its name -- is a food temple with major staying power.
Cucci's board is a magnificent interstate of globetrotting street foods, flavors and ingredients, and while there are a myriad of restaurants throughout the city that single out the cuisines that Cucci's menu represents -- Asia, Eurasia, South Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Morocco, Indonesia, Europe and the Americas -- he's created a singular menu that embraces them all, without overextending his reach.
And the two-tiered space, which resides in the old Olinger Mortuary, is just as much of a conversation piece as the food; the sleek-retro bar is illuminated with Lite-Bright bulbs; there's a shrine of Jesus funeral fans that greets you just beyond the front door; the wallpaper is 1960s vintage; the hostess stand is an old church pew; the furniture, most of it reclaimed, was often rescued from dumpster diving; and since the quarters reside in a former funeral parlor, Cucci played off its morbidity by incorporating a Harold and Maude theme that extends from the bathroom doors to the mural above the kitchen -- all that's missing is a hearse.
Linger opens to the public tomorrow, beginning at 5:30 p.m. (dinner hours are Tuesday through Saturday, from 5:30 p.m. to close; happy hour is from 4 to 6:30 p.m.), but before you go, take a romp through our photo essay -- and bring an appetite.
The new bar at Linger, flanked by a retro bar surfaced with Lite-Bright bulbs and walled with windows overlooking the cityscape. Love the fact that the kitchen delivers a bowl of spice-scented popcorn to each table to snack on while diners peruse the menu. The popcorn changes on a whim, but on the night I was there, it was a delicious heap of popped kernels dusted with curry. A partial glimpse of Linger's new menu, which draws from Asia, Eurasia, South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Europe, Indonesia and the Americas. Pad Thai with rice noodles peanuts, bean curd, pickled vegetables, sprigs of cilantro, garlic chives and a wiggly-jiggly poached egg. The surprise stunner of the night: fava bean; lemon and spring pea hummus wreathed with feta, hard boiled egg shavings, paprika and preserved lemon, served with housemade pita bread. Pakora poppers, deep-fried in tumeric and beer, stuffed with cream cheese and masala potatoes, mango powder and ginger, crowned with cucumbers and pooled in a mint chutney. Cucumber white gazpacho with white grapes, almonds, shaved radishes and a scoop of terrific tomato sorbet. Chicken b'stilla pelted with almonds, apricots and golden raisins, powdered with Saigon cinnamon and accompanied by a preserved lemon yogurt. Goat cheese and compressed watermelon salad with rings of pickled shallots, chile-lime pepitas, aleppo peppers and drizzles of pomegranate molasses. Organic carrot, Turkish apricot, pine nut and Turkish chile kofte sided with a lemon-tahini yogurt. Masala dosa hugging spiced potatoes, peas and black mustard seeds, and paired with tamarind-date and coconut chutneys. Lemon-sprayed grilled octopus with zhartar rice krispies, greens and Fresno chiles, and dressed with a pepperoni vinaigrette. Vietnamese "goi bo" with wok-seared Wagyu skirt steak, carrots, crispy shallots, pickled daikon, peanuts, mung sprouts, nuoc chm and housemade shrimp chips. Seared diver scallops, Indonesian corn fritters, fresh ginger and watercress puree. Linger's Wagyu burger, slapped with slab bacon, paved with Promontory cheddar and smeared with curried sour cream -- and plated with mashed potato fries and tomato-chipotle ketchup.
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