581 Vanderbilt Ave., (718) 576-6233, Prospect Heights
Tygershark. The divergently misspelled name evokes a powerful, conjoined entity, or perhaps two creatures, locked in a fight for dominance. And at the so-dubbed Prospect Heights establishment, both definition
s are alternately played out—starting with the space: the front is segmented off into a ‘hey brah’ sort of café, decorated with surf boards and potted palms, and selling cold brew coffee and pastries. The back, on the other hand, is devoted to a spacious, unexpectedly adult and predominantly Asian restaurant, boasting both counter and table seats with adequate lumbar support.
Cocktails sound smart-alecky (there’s gochuchang and sesame oil in the “Charlie Don’t Surf,” and the rum and pineapple soused “Juggernaut” serves 2-4), but prove ultimately well considered. Bitter orange Aperol and Indonesian Batavia Arrack—distilled from red rice and sugarcane—mingle swimmingly with coconut in a “Ninocolada,” and the “Tommy Toyohashi” submits shiso and tonic as superlative mixers for riesling.
The bill of fare, though ostensibly Korean, clearly aims to subvert such an easy, unequivocal description. There are numerous reference points for a plate of whole fried porgy ringed with banchan, for instance, which can be assembled into two-bite, bao-wrapped sandwiches, and dipped into Thai nuoc cham. And classic condiments like gochujang serve as touchstones for various culinary fusions: You’ll find the fermented chili paste dressing grilled rice balls topped with cured mackerel and tobiko—a quirky love child of Japanese onigiri and Korean bibimbap.
All this mixing and matching is also a bit of a mixed bag, however; stubs of deep-fried bacon and whorls of crema render octopus tteokbokki unbearably salty, while dense and ponderous corn fritters—reinforced with cotija cheese, imitation crab meat, and scorched shishito peppers—seems merely confused. Which is why it’s hard to believe they co-exist with Brooklyn’s best, wholly unadulterated rendition of soondubu. It’s a burbling, chili-stained lava pit of curdled tofu, singed pork bulgogi, and in the shell clams. It’s neither cute, nor revolutionary, nor clever—just wildly, unrestrainedly delicious. It’s also evidence that Tygershark is at its strongest when it allows its temperate side to win out.