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DISH BY SEAMUS MULLEN
PHOTO BY LESLEY UNRUH

 Inspired by Momotaro in Chicago

Kushiyaki Moruno (grilled & marinated beef skewers)

 

No other firm marries concept and aesthetics as much depth and personality as Avroko does; they have an uncanny ability to make spaces feel old, new, and timeless all at once. There is a cohesion to everything they do within a space—everything guests see or touch feels unified and considered. What’s refreshing is that Momotaro’s aesthetic is neither the slick minimalism we’ve come to expect from high-end Japanese restaurants, or the kitschy neon craziness of Tokyo dive bars. Instead, Momotaro takes its inspiration from midcentury Japan, a period of growth and innovation called the “Economic Miracle” in which the Japanese embraced the best practices of their own culture and Western culture to revive their economy. The massive, 11,500-square-foot space feels refined without being stuffy, polished but not precious.

          The first thing that struck me was the trio of long light fixtures suspended over the bar. To me they look like a play on the most ubiquitous and overused design element in any Asian restaurant—the hanging lantern. But leave it to Avroko to wholly reimagine it into something beautiful and utterly modern.

          The more I looked at those light fixtures, the more they also reminded me of skewers, and then I knew instantly what dish I would make. To me, Japan has some of the best food in the world, from the super high-end restaurant to the back-alley stall, and everything in between. Since Momotaro takes cues from the Japanese salaryman and the yokochos he would frequent late at night, I wanted to create my version of something you might find at an izakaya but with a Mediterranean touch. Yakitori or Kushiyaki are delisious skewers of chicken, beef, meats, and vegetables. Here I use beef top round. My favorite spice to use is Moruno 21, a spice blend I created with my good friend and chef, Lior Lev Sercarz. Moruno 21 is coriander, cumin, saffron, and other spices, and it gives a modern twist to the classic pintxo moruno, a North African-influenced Spanish dish.

 

Serves four as an appetizer

1         pound beef top round, cut into 1” cubes
2        tablespoons kosher salt
2        cloves garic, coarlsey chopped
4        tablespoons Moruno 21 spice blend
2        cups olive oil
½       cup roughly chopped mint
½       cup roughly chopped flat leaf parsley
1         cup baby mustard greens
          
Maldon salt or sel gris
          
Metal or bamboo skewers for grilling

Process

Skewer the beef and season with kosher salt and Moruno spice mix.
       
In a large baking pan, combine the olive oil, garlic, lemon zest, parsley and mint, and add the skewers of beef, turning to coat thoroughly in the marinate. Cover with plastic and set aside to marinate for a few hours, or, ideally, overnight in the refrigerator.
       
Pre-heat the grill or a griddle pan to medium high and quickly sear the skewers about one to two minutes on each side.
       
Arrange the mustard greens ona plate and gently rest the skewers on top. Season with finishing salt, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, and serve.

 

Seamus Mullen is an award-winning New York-based chef and owner of Tertulia, El Colmado Butchery; and culinary director of Sea Containers restaurant at Mondrian London. He is the author of the cookbook Hero Food.