“Cook whatever you want” sounds like a dream, but it’s one executive chef Quang Nguyen and sous chef and pastry chef Amanda Perdomo are currently living at Cool World, a new Greenpoint restaurant that took over the old Xilonen space near McCarren Park in July.
Cool World comes from Julian Brizzi, Rachel Bailin, and Noah Bernamoff — the same team behind Grand Army, Celestine, and Pebble Bar — who gave Nguyen and Perdomo carte blanche to develop a menu that hearkens back to the heyday of iconic ’90s brasseries like Balthazar and The Odeon.
“The menu that we’ve created takes inspiration from classic dishes that show up on French brasserie menus, but we look at it with our own spin,” Nguyen says. “We don’t want it to be pretentious, because obviously the place is called ‘Cool World.’ So, if we were serving pretentious food, then we wouldn’t be as ironic as I think it should be,” Nguyen laughs. “Not cool!” Perdomo chimes in.
It was also important to Nguyen and Perdomo to make sure the menu was influenced by the past, but doesn’t live there. They refer lovingly to times they have “un-retroed” classics like Floating Island and moules frites, looking at them, instead, with fresh eyes. “If we just did stuff that we pulled out of a book from the ’90s, it wouldn’t be ours,” Nguyen says.
Their spins take inspiration from autobiographical influences: Both are from Louisiana and Nguyen, who is Vietnamese American, incorporates a pho broth into his pan-seared skate. Their previous kitchen stints also come into play, including their time spent in such restaurants as Wildair, Momofuku Má Pêche, Altro Paradiso, and Del Posto among them.
Most of all, Nguyen says, they’re striving for the kind of timelessness and the vibe you can still find at places like Balthazar and The Odeon. “We want this place to feel like a party,” he says. “We want this place to be a New York neighborhood restaurant that people just want to hang out at all the time.”
Here are four of Cool World’s signature dishes, explained by Nguyen and Perdomo themselves.
1. Pan-Roasted Skate in Pho Broth
“I’m in love with skate, so with this dish, we baste it in butter and some herbs like a bouquet garnish, [with] bayleaf [and] thyme,” Nguyen says. “And then the fish is served in this pool of pho broth, but we make the pho broth with dried shiitakes, dried porcinis, and dried matsutakes. Those are very floral mushrooms, so they pair well with warm spices like anise, clove, cardamom, cinnamon. We want it to be really aromatic when it hits the table, with toasted burnt onion and burnt ginger. And then we finish it with brown butter, seasoning it with lemon juice and some super thinly sliced scallion whites.”
“I never had skate before my first cooking job at Momofuku Má Pêche. Prior to cooking, I was really picky about eating fish, which makes me a bad Vietnamese person, for sure, because Vietnamese people love eating fish. And I’m from New Orleans, like all around [that means] I’m a terrible person [he laughs]. The first time I had skate, I was in love with it. And I love the technique of searing fish in a pan, basting it, and treating it like a real piece of meat.”
“Being Vietnamese and growing up with pho, I had to find a way to put it on the menu. I thought, fish and pho don’t go together very often, so we can tweak the broth to where they match. If we’re basting this fish in brown butter, maybe we can finish the broth in brown butter and add acid, but maybe not lime juice, so let’s hit it with lemon juice and then a little bit of espelette. Pho broth is obviously already three-dimensional, but then you just turn it and look at it from a different perspective.”
“I find it to be a humble dish, and I want it to be unpretentious. I find that skate is an unpretentious fish. It’s just unpretentious food that’s delicious.”
2. ’Nduja and Miso Moules Frites
“Moules frites is obviously a staple on brasserie menus,” Nguyen says. “In this dish we’ve got these mussels from Prince Edward Island. We’re sourcing as much as we can from Pierless Fish. My good friend Brian [Clarke] is running it; we used to be sous chefs together at Wildair and I want to help him out as much as I can. The base for the mussels is going to be ’nduja, miso, white wine, shallots, garlic, and thyme. Pretty classic. While my friend Dina [Fan] and I were doing pop ups over the last year, we were doing them with clams, and we steamed clams at [a pop-up that we did at] Cherry On Top. That’s where the dish was birthed.
“We steam the mussels with the ’nduja-miso base and white wine, and then we finish it with butter and tons of herbs: fines herbes like tarragon, chervil, parsley, and chives. Then we serve it with fries that we’ve tossed with a little bit of concoction. I’m a huge fan of Tajín, so I ground down some Tajín to make it a finer powder and then cut it with some other spices like garlic powder and onion powder. Then we’re going to toss the fries in there, and then we’ll have an emulsion or mayo for them.
“The first time I saw somebody make a base for mussels and clams to steam was probably at Momofuku. One of my sous chefs, Yuni Ha, she’s Korean and she made this miso base with a bunch of wakame. It was seaweed, miso, and it’s a lot of umami flavors. It’s always stuck in my mind. The first time I had that dish, I thought, this is incredible, I want to do something like that, but not the same way. So we’ll use miso and we’ll use nduja and straddle the line of whatever this is, Calabrian or Asian.”
3. Confit Lamb Shoulder with Spring Onion Sabayon
“This is a dish that I worked on when I was at Wildair. We never put it on the menu, but I was tinkering with it,” Nguyen says. “We confit some lamb shoulders, we press them, and then we’re cutting them into bricks, searing them on a plancha. The brick of lamb gets topped with chimichurri — I loved playing with the idea that lamb is always served with mint, so we did chimichurri with mint — and then we’ll grate some garlic, fresh cracked pepper, and some lemon juice. So, it’s very pungent, herbaceous, a touch peppery, and that’ll go on top of the brick.
“And then we char some seasonal vegetables to sit on the side. Maybe it’s shishitos, or I love snap peas. We dress them lightly with maybe some acid like lemon juice, olive oil, something simple, and maybe some herbs. Those all go on the plate and then we finish with a spring onion sabayon. We made spring onion oil from the greens and then emulsified it and then put it in an iSi to aerate it. Then we pickle the bulbs. We’re also using the pickling liquid from the bulbs to make the emulsion. So we end up with this green, bubbly, velvety guy that gets piped on top of the vegetables. And then we just finish with a nori powder. I roasted the nori powder, so it’s this toasty, earthy finish to this high-acid, fatty dish. Once this dish is on the menu, as the seasons change and more beautiful produce comes to the market, we’ll switch from snap peas to fall vegetables and whatnot.”
4. Peach and Tarragon Floating Island
“Upon accepting the job, I wanted to come in with ideas,” Perdomo says. “The first dessert Q and I talked about was Floating Island [a dish traditionally consisting of meringue that floats over crème anglaise]. We needed to find a way to un-retro the dessert, to make it its own, to make it my own. Automatically I thought, let’s put fruit on it. So, we shuffled around with different ideas of maybe doing berries, but it ended up being stone fruit. We’re using peaches, so I wanted herbaceousness. There’s tarragon, and tarragon oil, but then there’s also anglaise. All of the dairy, all of the milk is steeped like a tea. We warm the milk and then pour it over the tarragon. It infuses with all of the dairy flavor, similar to the way you would make infusions for gelato. The peaches are sliced in half, covered and rolled around in a ton of lemon juice and honey. From there, you put them on super low heat in the oven and the low heat extracts and slowly, gently pulls all the juices out. As that happens, every 20 minutes I’m pulling the pan out and basting the peaches in their own juices until they become shiny and soft. The idea was to achieve a peach that is just as delicious and perfect texturally as a canned peach.”
“It is like a boomer dish, but we [thought we] could do it in a way that could be cool,” Nguyen laughs.
“We’re just giving into the corniness and being like, this actually isn’t corny, this is gonna be beautiful,” Perdomo says.
Cool World is open Mondays through Thursdays from 5 p.m. to midnight; on Fridays from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.; on Saturdays from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m.; and on Sundays from 2 to 10 p.m.
Elyssa Goodman is a New York-based writer and photographer whose work has appeared in Vogue, Vanity Fair, InsideHook, and other publications. She is currently at work on her first book, Glitter and Concrete: A Cultural History of Drag in New York, forthcoming from Hanover Square Press. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter. Follow Resy, too.