By Lauren Brocato By Lauren Brocato | November 16, 2022 | Food & Drink
We catch up with chef Akmal Anuar, the brains behind one of NYC’s hottest new culinary destinations, 53.
Chef Akmal Anuar
Where did you find inspiration for the menu?
The menu is collaborative and cohesive by design; it’s curated by a multinational and global team. In initial discussions, we first considered leaning toward Chinese cuisine, and as the conversation developed we organically widened our scope while still keeping true to our original concept. We saw a need in New York City to serve all of the different flavors of Asia under one roof—Japanese, Chinese, Singaporean and even Southeast Asian.
Many dishes speak to different cooking techniques or are classics, even some home recipes, reimagined or reinterpreted for today.
53’s sleek interior
Art is a major part of the restaurant. How does that play into a dining experience at 53?
The 53 experience is certainly multisensory, from the cuisine to the design of the spaces and even the music playing in the restaurant. The art only contributes to that experience. Our location, adjacent to the MoMA, only enticed us to pay close attention to the visual experience.
Our partnership with Petzel Gallery only solidifies the collaborative nature of this concept that we’ve created with 53.
What are some of your favorite dishes on the menu right now?
I have two unexpected favorites, though I am proud of how the whole menu is coming together. The first is the eel club. It is decadent and brings together contrasts of Asia and Europe in a land and seafood version all in one explosive bite. It is already a top seller.
My other favorite is the skate sambal. It is unique and unusual to have on a menu and brings me back to my roots and what I grew up eating in Singapore with all the full robust flavors of Southeast Asia. We barbecue our fresh skate wrapped in banana leaf, which is marinated in our housemade sambal sauce. Our sambal is made with freshly ground chiles, shallots and dried shrimps cooked over a large pot for hours and seasoned with tamarind, palm sugar and salt. This dish is best enjoyed with our fried rice.
Lobster spring rolls
What has the response been like from diners since opening?
We are seeing a very large Asian clientele dining at 53, which tells me that we are doing something right. Our client trusts us and appreciates experiencing the familiarity of the flavors in a dynamic yet thoughtful environment. As we continue to evolve, we are excited to introduce new dishes and new art for a different iteration of the concept of 53.
A trio of cocktails
What’s next for 53?
First, we’ll continue innovating when it comes to our menu, and you can expect to see dishes that continue to support local farms and purveyors, always focusing on seasonal ingredients. As an example, we just launched the Emperor’s Delight, a shellfish medley featuring shrimp, New England diver scallops and squid with a delicate caviar sauce. We are developing a Hokkaido snow beef claypot with white truffles, which will be both seasonally unique and incredibly decadent.
Next, we will be rotating the current artist-in-residence, Jorge Pardo, to a new artist, whose artwork will be revealed in the restaurant dining rooms toward the end of November, as part of our curatorial partnership with the Petzel Gallery. Finally, there is still a secret cocktail lounge, which only some may know about, hidden behind a red lacquer door, currently for private events only, that we are hoping to unveil later this year or in early 2023.
Photography by: FROM TOP: PHOTO: COURTESY OF 53; PHOTO: BY EVAN SUNG; PHOTO: BY ALEXANDER STEIN; PHOTO: BY ALEXANDER STEIN