Four years ago when Danny Yi opened Salt & Fat it was pretty groundbreaking. After all, the only small plates Sunnyside had ever seen were the mezze from the local Turkish joint. Each meal began with a paper bag filled with bacon fat fried popcorn, a treat that evoked the restaurant’s name, and ended with a shot of probiotic Yakult yogurt drink, a beverage more commonly seen in Korean restaurants. It’s a touch that evokes Yi’s Korean heritage. In between there was an oxtail terrine that called to mind a meat brownie, shaved foie gras with bacon brittle, and a pork trotter transformed into a crispy panko breaded croquette crowned with a slow-cooked egg.
As someone who attempts to eat at as many restaurants as possible in the rich edible tapestry that is Queens, I have often lamented the fact that I don’t eat at Salt & Fat often enough. I’d listen in awe as friends recounted tales of ordering the entire menu. So this month I’m glad to say that Salt & Fat has been in heavy rotation on my dining lineup.
One of the dishes I was most impressed by was a yellowtail tartare ($15). It’s a DIY affair. “The chef suggests you mix everything together and eat it with the cassava chips,” the waiter instructed. That everything consists of a rectangle of chopped yellowtail topped with minced jalapeno, radish, and green onion. Above it there’s a slick of yuzu, below it are several pools of spicy mayo. In between there’s a beach of furikake, a seaweed and spice mixture shot through with sesame seeds that’s a common Japanese rice topping. Mixed together it becomes more than the sum of its parts with the flavors—spicy, sweet, citrus, bursts of umami—coming in waves, all heightening the sweetness of the fish. It’s a good example of Yi’s prowess as a flavor alchemist. The pork trotter and oxtail terrine were both excellent as well.
Sweet and sour duck wings ($15) call to mind General Tso’s chicken, that is if the general were an admiral in a culinary army. The confit Hudson Valley duck wings in spicy sweet glaze are the creation of Andy Doubrava, a young gun who rose through the ranks at Salt & Fat to be named executive chef by Yi this past January.
A rotating selection of bao buns (two for $12 or four for $15) is also a Doubrava addition. The night I tried them, the pillowy buns were “al pastor.” Those quotes denote the young chefs globetrotting approach to the Mexican classic. Citrus braised pork belly, pineapple and Thai chili salsa, Japanese mayo, and Satur Farms radish combine to create a dish that’s as diverse and delicious as Queens itself. Doubrava’s says the selection changes whenever he or one of his sous chefs has a great idea. The bun’s prior incarnation was a play on bacon egg and cheese with roasted slab bacon, scrambled egg purée, queso fresco and toban djan ketchup.
A trio of scallops ($12) atop truffled corn with fried capers and a swoosh of roasted carrot—a Yi creation was lovely. Uni and lardo toast, another Yi specialty, was a study in decadent surf and turf. On my last visit I was disappointed to see it was no longer on the menu. Doubrava says he hopes it will reappear as the weather warms up. Me, too.
“My philosophy on food fits in well with Dannys, keeping things fun and familiar, but with big (sometimes unexpected) flavor combinations,” Doubrava says. “And, always a certain sense of “what the f*&k”? If we weren’t having at least a little bit of fun with the food in the kitchen I don’t think it would be as well received by our guests.
Doubrava also has a way with desserts, offering a nightly chef’s dessert. At one dinner it consisted of a lovely oatmeal ice cream surrounded by buttery rich cubes that called to mind cinnamon toast. Childhood breakfast as haute playful dessert? Yes, please.
A meal at Salt & Fat may still begin with popcorn and with Yakult, but these days there’s a lot of exciting stuff going on in between thanks to Andy Doubrava. Come to think of it Salt & Fat isn’t that much different from when Doubrava’s mentor Yi opened shop. It’s nice to know that they’re still killing is in Sunnyside.
Salt & Fat, 41-16 Queens Blvd, Sunnyside, 718-433-3702