For the last meal of 2017, my wife Jun and I went on a double date with another couple. Shuka, in the former Hundred Acres space in the south side of SoHo that was turned into a Mediterranean restaurant by the team behind neighborhood favorites like Vic’s and Cookshop, has long been under my radar so I booked a reservation there. Mediterranean is such a broad and concept in culinary parlance so you should be a little more specific on the geographic focus. There is certainly a distinct difference between the more European-bent cuisine and the one more rooted in the tradition of the Middle East. Shuka tends to lean on the latter. While there were some nice dishes, I felt our dinner was somewhat pedestrian.
A meal at any Mediterranean restaurant should of course start with dips / spreads which more often than not also tend to serve as a pretty good barometer of how good the restaurant is. On that department, Shuka was already mixed from the beginning. It’s of course hard to find fault with the Greek classic Tzatziki. Everyone’s favorite seems to be muhammara spread consisting of roasted pepper and walnut which I loved for its smoky feel. The biggest disappointment was, however, the labne with harissa. Jun and I who have grown fond of harissa during our trip to Morocco earlier this year had very high expectations for this dip, which however turned out to be more like cream cheese gone bad where we couldn’t even get to enjoy the spicy kick of harissa.
Other dishes that followed had varying levels of success. The grills (we’ve had sirloin steak, shawarma spiced chicke and pork kofta meatballs) were overall serviceable, but I wished the seasoning of each meat were toned down a bit. I kept thinking to the days during our trip to Morocco where we can more successful grills with a lot less seasoning. The best dish of the night was the vegetable paella where the combination of foraged mushroom, squash, parsnips, Brussels sprout leaves and tarragon worked wonderfully together for very nice complexity of flavor that was quite delicious and memorable. On the other hand, the chicken schnitzel with sesame was OK but not particularly interesting.
Getting a reservation at Shuka wasn’t too difficult although the space got pretty packed during our dinner on the last Friday evening. There is full bar with somewhat exotic groups of wines that I hadn’t seen previously and I’m not sure that I will fall in after I sample each. The vibe of the dining space is that of a typical downtown Manhattan neighborhood restaurant looking to draw locals and tourists alike. Shuka was not bad but it had its fair share of hits and misses. For a casual, no-frills dinner, it may be worth checking out just for the scene and the location, but there are other Mediterranean / Middle Eastern restaurants on my list that I look forward to checking out with more enthusiasm in 2018.
- Creativity: 7.5/10
- Execution: 7.5/10
- Ingredients: 7.0/10
- Flavor: 7.5/10
- Texture: 8.0/10
- Value: 7.5/10
Address: 38 MacDougal Street, New York, NY 10012
Telephone: (212) 475-7500