Behind an unmarked, vandalized door on a random street on the border of Chinatown and the Lower East Side is one of New York's most unique and under-the-radar restaurants. I have no idea why it took us this long to make it to Underfinger (they've been open for eleven days), but we finally had dinner here over the weekend. All we can say is that you've never seen anything like this before, and yet it feels so familiar. Here's the story.
The chef at Underfinger, Jesper Paulsen, grew up in Copenhagen just a few miles from Noma, and has eaten there several times. He's taken that training and applied it to the Scandinavian tradition of serving minimalist finger sandwiches at funerals. The end result is one of the city's most impressive tasting menus, a somber celebration of "farm-to-finger" ingredients and classic Neo-Nordic techniques.
If you're having trouble picturing what that might look like, you aren't alone. Underfinger has a strict no-photography policy, which might explain the lack of Instagrams, or "first looks" or "10 Reasons Why This Place Will Make You Want to Nom" coverage since they initially applied for a liquor license back in 2012. Paulsen believes very strongly in the idea of secrecy, likely a result of his years spent in the Danish army.
The best we can do is try and paint a picture for you, and hope you'll take our word for it. Underfinger is pretty much what you'd get if you combined the best parts of Momofuku Ko with the best parts of Askerhus, the Norwegian restaurant at Epcot Center. It is both challenging and accessible, fun and at the same time frightening for children. Read the Food Rundown to get a feel for what goes on here, and be sure to book a reservation if you're planning on checking it out. All you have to do is call on the second Thursday of whatever month is three months before the day that you'd like to visit.
Sea Bream Fish Sticks with Carrot Foam
A mild piece of white fish that's been pressed into the shape of a parallelogram and topped with a bitter carrot foam. It's a bit hard to handle, but this meal isn't supposed to be easy. It's supposed to be serious.
Underfinger cures their own meats in the dining room coat closet (something to keep in mind for winter visits), and they're amazing. But the real spectacle comes in the presentation. Instead of a board or a plate, your server will place a different dried meat on each of your fingers, then stitching them together with a single strand of edible silk. The end result is a salty, delicious fashion statement.
A sweet, spiny bite of seahorse, served atop a bed of vodka-infused hay. Don't feel bad. Feel proud that this is your position on the food chain.
Vinegared Cauliflower and Venison
An absolutely disgusting plate of food that you'll pretend to like so as not to seem unsophisticated.
Sweetbread Sweet Bread
This small, individual loaf tastes like a sweet mix of bananas and sheep thyroid. It's a revelation. Like the ones from the bible.
Steak for Four with Savory Doughnuts
The only dish on the Underfinger menu that comes with silverware, and for good reason. This is a 74 ounce cowboy rib eye, served atop a bed of savory cake doughnuts and ramps. It will set you back an additional $90 per person, but it is Pat LaFrieda beef.
For dessert: a single sliced pear, served upon a pile of polished river rocks.