There’s a new adversary on the New York restaurant scene. Its M.O.? A modern and thoroughly inventive approach to southeast Asian cuisine.
Now open in the Flatiron neighborhood, Nemesis is the latest creation by the team behind Antidote in Williamsburg. The name is intentionally and playfully combative, defying conventions about which cuisines and people are typically granted entry into that tier of competitive, buzzy, and creatively well-regarded restaurants.
Here, executive chef Francis Tanrantana, who previously worked at Nowon and Tong in Brooklyn, pulls flavors and ideas from his own Thai roots as well as those of Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and beyond, shaping them into dishes that nod to the familiar but are distinctly original and not beholden to any particular culinary styles or palates.
“The Southeast Asian concept,” Tanrantana says, “it’s a dope, dope, food to dive into because I think people just know some of it here and there. But here, it’s experimental stuff. We’re kind of going on a journey together in Southeast Asia, you know?”
Tanrantana, along with beverage director Nick Hwang, spoke to Resy about some of the recipes on offer at the stylish new Manhattan spot.
1. Yum Yum Salad
“It’s a play on Thai flavors called ‘yam,’ which means ‘to mix,’” explain Tanrantana. “We decided to call it Yum Yum just to make it more fun. I tried to take traditional flavors from my roots and use modern ingredients like kale — you know, textures that most American people eat and other foreign people will understand. It comes with a chile lime dressing. We also offer a vegetarian option, but there is fish sauce in that dish. It also has cherry tomatoes and seasonal fruits; right now, we’re using longan.”
2. Padang Beef Ribs
“With this, we did a play on Indonesian satay, or grilled meats,” says Tanratana. “We took short rib and we seared it off and braised it with Asian aromatics, and then we did a play on peanut curry sauce. It’s served in a bowl with a banana leaf and an assortment of pickles, like Persian cucumbers and hot peppers. So you get the savory, smoky beef flavor you would get on a skewer, but you also get this pickle, which kind of refreshes the palate. It’s a good pairing together.”
To add some texture and visual intrigue, Tanrantana tops the dish with chile threads, as well as shiso leaves for a bright contrast of flavors.
3. Night Market Noodle
“The night market noodle is a play on hawker-style noodles, a Singaporean dish but also a Thai dish,” Tanrantana explains. The dish, which includes both chicken and squid, is based on a common Thai rice noodle stir fry. But unlike the traditional preparation, the rendition at Nemesis uses fresh calamari instead of dried squid.
“We chose the name ‘night market’ to bring in customers and kind of keep them guessing, too. Like, ‘Oh, what is thisI’ve never heard of this.’ We use chicken thighs, calamari, tentacles, bean sprouts, and scallions. On the bottom is a bed of greens. We use watercress, which has a nice texture. If you want more heat, we can give you fresh chiles on the side or one long piece of dried chile.”
When it comes to spice levels, not just in terms of the night market noodle, but for the entire menu as a whole, Tanrantana takes a customizable approach.
“I try to accommodate everybody — if I say it’s gonna be spicy, it’s not gonna be like, Thai spicy, or Indian spicy. But if you want it, we can give it to you to add it.” As guests start to make return trips and become familiar with the menu, he encourages them to request whatever spice level they’re craving.
4. Pandan Flan
“The pandan flan is my play on Filipino flan. I decided to add pandan because most of Southeast Asia uses pandan for desserts and other sweet stuff. My strong suit is really not in pastry, but I tried to accommodate people with that. We use pandan leaves, coconut milk, egg, and condensed milk. Flan is just a very enjoyable dish. I’ve been eating a lot of desserts in New York City, and often it’s, you know, it’s creme brulee, it’s panna cotta, or something soft. And I think flan is kind of relatable to most people. They come in and they’re like ‘OK, I could have that.’ It’s kind of rich, but it won’t turn people off.”
5. Chili Tigre
Beverage director Nick Hwang says the cocktail program, like the food menu, plays with new and inventive combinations of Asian and Western flavors and products.
“Each drink is a carefully crafted symphony,” Hwang says, “where traditional Asian ingredients like lychee-infused barley tea, oolong, yuzu, and kaoliang baiju harmonize with classic Western spirits. Our cocktails not only complement our food but also stand as individual expressions of this vibrant culinary crossroads.”
The Chili Tigre is a bold mix of sweetness and heat, mezcal, and milk. “Retaining the smoky essence characteristic of mezcal margaritas,” Hwang says, “Chili Tigre blends the fiery zest of Thai chili and the tropical aroma of passion fruit. A milk wash technique perfectly melds these flavors, rendering the cocktail both smooth and full-bodied.”
Nemesis is open for dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays to Sundays.
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