Foraging Ahead

EN Japanese Brasserie’s Jesse Alexander Finds Tastes of Asia in Upstate New York

As co-owner of New York’s seasonal izakaya joint, EN Japanese Brasserie, Jesse Alexander takes pride in sourcing rarefied Asian ingredients via intrepid foraging missions. He invited NOWNESS on a recent trip to his favorite upstate stalking grounds, Bear Mountain, seizing upon stashes of green garlic (nira) and mugwort (yomogi) growing along the West Side Highway en route. “With foraging, there’s the whole ‘survival man’ mentality. I’m not really that guy, but I’m into the idea,” Alexander explains. “When you go into a store to buy spinach, you’re buying one farmer’s idea of how spinach should taste. In the wild, it’s thousands of years of empirical design that nature intended. As a result, things tend to be more bitter, but conceptually it’s far more delicious.” Alexander hit paydirt by day's end, collecting burdock, jewelweed, juneberries, mountain mint, Japanese knotweed (the roots of which taste like a combination of sour apples and rhubarb), and devil’s walking sticks—an invasive species, whose shoots are prized in Japan. The spoils were later served in such dishes as scallops in a green garlic butter sake and mugwort mochi with an shrimp dumpling. Raised in Georgia on a cattle farm, the epicurean’s interest in Japanese culture came as a result of his marriage to EN founder Reika Yo. While the fruits of Alexander’s labor occasionally make it to the restaurant’s specials list, he mostly saves them for regulars, friends and family, making the dishes among the city’s most exclusive.

To try your hand at EN's Mountain Mint and “Shiro” Rice Shochu and Kinpira, click here

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