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[Tvt News]A Secret Downtown Star, This Chef Will Get a New Forum for His Talent

Mimi and Babs chef Efrén Hernández. Photo: Liz Clayman

When the pint-size West Village bistro Mimi opened in late 2015, it did so without much fanfare. This didn’t take long to change, courtesy of the talented young chef Liz Johnson. In a world that felt increasingly fast-casual, Johnson’s cooking — the classic veal Oscar, crispy eel with peaches and mustard sauce — was daring and lavish, making it clear that she had some serious culinary pedigree. The restaurant became a surprise hit. New York’s Adam Platt praised Johnson’s “odd little wonders” in the same month that Mimi landed on GQ’s national Best New Restaurants list. But, just as suddenly, Johnson left, and the young owners — Louis Levy, brothers Evan and Daniel Bennett, and Camilla Deterre (who is no longer an active partner) — found themselves in the unenviable position of having to replicate their lightning-in-a-bottle success.

For a while, the restaurant faltered, but there are once again interesting and unexpected things happening at Mimi, as close observers of the downtown scene may have noticed last spring. That’s when the kitchen was given over to Efrén Hernández, a young chef who has been cooking a steady stream of dishes like firefly squid and merguez in pastis beurre blanc, and pork crepinettes with Madeira jus.

the Smile. “He’s someone who I’m happy to see doing what he’s doing.”

Nitehawk Cinema. He took his first short film, Master Muscles, to Sundance in 2014 but became disenchanted with the movie industry. “I don’t want to talk shit about film people, but I think restaurant people are more fun, more interesting — I get along with them more,” he says.

Faro, the celebrated Bushwick trattoria. “Ef was one of the most important people we hired,” Faro chef and co-owner Kevin Adey says. Hernández eventually took over the pasta station and, Adey says, “I still use his employment as a benchmark for how good you have to be to work the station.”

carry over to Babs. While the restaurant takes its cues primarily from Vienna and the Basque country, you’ll find a riff on pescado divorciado, the popular dish of fish grilled with two different salsas. At Babs, it’s a dorado split down the middle with piquillo-pepper romesco, a Spanish sauce, and an herb pistou, a French-Italian sauce. “It’s a mix between this Mexican dish and the more European grill thing we’re going for here,” Hernández says.

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