Review: Luksus at Tørst, Brooklyn, NY
Greenpoint, Brooklyn is not necessarily where one would think to look for one of New York’s 76 Michelin-starred restaurants. Its limited transport links have slowed gentrification, keeping the Polish butchers, Chinese nail salons and small family-run shops at the heart of everyday local life. But one chef saw potential in a graffiti-marked doorway, opening a small restaurant in the back of a bar and earning the prized accolade after just one year of business. Now, another year later, he’s publishing his first cookbook through Phaidon.
Manhattan Avenue, the area’s main artery, is busy on a Saturday night. The screeching of breaks rips through the early evening air as a cyclist whizzes through traffic lights. Car horns create a polyphony of beeps oozing impatience. Heels click-clack on the pavement as diners hurry to make their 9pm reservations. At number 615, in the little kitchen tucked in the back of craft beer bar Tørst, Daniel Burns is quietly preparing the first round of snacks for the second sitting of the night. Only an unmarked sliding door separates him from the chaos outside. It opens briefly to let the diners in, then slides shut, sealing them into the cocoon of calm that is Luksus.
Despite the star and years of experience at a string of world-renowned culinary institutions including The Fat Duck, St. John, Noma and Momofuku, the chef takes a decisively unconventional approach to fine dining. Through the food, the ambience and the service, he questions the role and definition of luxury in this day and age. It starts with the name (luksus meaning luxury in Danish): a tongue-in-cheek allusion to glitz and glamour that one will not find here. The off-beat location sets it apart from those restaurants chasing fancy post codes. Then there’s the interior itself: no white linen tablecloths here. Instead, wooden tables, chairs from Denmark and a simple bench provide minimal furnishings. It’s a narrow space; only wide enough to allow servers to pass between the open kitchen and the tables.
All that aside, what really sets Luksus apart from other Michelin-starred restaurants is its complete lack of a wine list, let alone cellar. Beer takes centre stage here. Together with his business partner, Danish gypsy brewer Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, Daniel hopes to elevate beer to the same level as wine, believing in its capabilities to enrich and enhance a culinary experience.
“There are so many flavours available in beer,” he says. “Wine is great, but there are some limitations due to terroir and tradition, which means you can’t manipulate the flavours that much. But with beer you can do whatever you want.”
Careful selection ensures each brew is interesting, unique and difficult to find elsewhere. With every plate comes a new beverage; an aluminium can, an artfully labelled bottle; and its story. Attention is paid to its geographical location, brewing technique and the reasons why it was chosen for pairing with a particular plate.
“When you make the dish you pair it to a beer with similar flavours that complement it. Other times it’s interesting to focus on one small element of the dish and highlight that. Tasting a beer with food is completely different to drinking it on its own.”
A zesty and foamy Pivo Pils from Firestone Walker, made from German-grown hops dried in California, is matched with a dish of dehydrated carrots, dulse and speck.
Daniel thinks about the whole menu in its entirety when pairing beer, contemplating how the different brews interact with each other before finalising the selection. He talks about the importance of featuring the full spectrum of flavours in a tasting, from sour and sweet to bitter and acidic, in order to fully develop the palette during a meal. When a dish is acidic, he serves a beer that’s sweet and high in alcohol; the opposite of what you would do with wine. For a main course, he usually goes for a barrel-aged sour ale. But in every instance, the food comes first, then he figures the beer out.
As a former mathematician, his cooking style is methodical, precise and the perfect equation of opposites. He describes it as Nordic-inspired New American cuisine for its focus on locally-sourced seasonal ingredients as well as a balance of taste and texture. He brings a concentrated mushroom flavour to the satisfyingly dry, crispy plain of the roasted maitake chip. He places cured fluke atop celery in the most refreshingly juicy snack ever made. He gives us a glimpse of his time in Copenhagen with mackerel on knækbrød. He tops ricotta on little gem with a sprinkling of fennel. He pairs a single oyster with a lone cabbage leaf. By zoning in on individual ingredients, he creates a unified experience that engages all the senses.
By focusing on the quality of the ingredients, the precision of their preparation and the experience that guests take away with them after an evening at Luksus, Daniel Burns is giving people the luxury of time and taste, reminding us all of the true value of the simple pleasures in life.
Food & Beer is being published by Phaidon in May 2016 and is available now for pre-order on Amazon.
Luksus at Tørst offers a seasonal tasting menu at specific seating times for $125, with an optional beverage pairing for $55 per person.
615 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn, NY