Crafty Experimentation and Beefed Up Minimalism
Claim to fame: Secret pleasures above a beer museum
Reason to go: Ten tastes on every plate
To look out for: Specialized pairings with dark ales
Think about your typical brew house pub. Then consider Upstairs at Mikkeler, a most atypical restaurant, there to make you reassess your usual beer and food pairings. The Nordic-woodsy, brightly lit eatery started as a temporary weekend experiment, a cool glass of pilsner whose foam quickly trickled over and extended to Thursdays as well, eventually spilling its way permanently onto Thailand’s ever-growing panoply of Asian-Western dining choices. Don’t. Ever. Call. It. Fusion! Call it Progressive American, if you must label it, though the only thing here with a U.S. stamp is the chef’s passport.
Manned by a young toque from Chicago, one might assume that Upstairs would emphasize meaty-manly, in-your-face, straight-from-the-slaughterhouse entrées. Wrong. Jeff Bark, a brooding and seriously creative Korean-American with an asymmetrical lick of hair held up by gel, is so shy he’s barely able to look diners in the eye, let alone make the obligatory post-meal rounds. His kaiseki-like courses, many in curved, half-moon arrangements, are Japanese-derived in staples, spices and esthetics, they present so long a list of produce, foams and fantasia that the kitchen’s back wall has them all written out for reference in very long columns. Bark’s relentless combining seems to work best on the vegetable dishes: curled slivers of taro with chunks of pear and taro purée, a powerful mushroom purée with beet rounds, thick apple milk and Thai flowers with horseradish punch. Also successful: a dainty custard packed with hints of lemon and celery, dotted with salmon eggs and a single piece of perfectly singed white tuna. With his desserts, the whole black hole of edible galaxies seems to explode: a peanut butter slab with grapes, pomelo, and a cream made from brioche, or lemongrass foam and black tea paste informing snaky trails of light chocolate.
Do not enter Upstairs lightly, do, however, enjoy the full range of craft beer choices from downstairs where there are 30 on tap; everything from mild IPA’s to fizzy raspberry-flavored brews to intensely bitter, even coffee-flavored stouts, not always an exact match but always a gustatory adventure of homemade aromas.