At Mischa, chef Alex Stupak’s first restaurant outside his Empellón empire, the cuisine is nominally “new American.” That doesn’t mean all the classics are on the menu. In fact, any dish that seems like a classic is really anything but.
“I know that everyone in New York City loves a blue-cheese wedge. I’m not making you one. That’s not my job,” Stupak told Robb Report recently. “I don’t think I was put on this earth to do that. I think my job is to make things that no one else would make.”
But how does that square with a restaurant where part of the mission is to be useful, to provide some common and ubiquitous meals that diners rely on for their comfort and steadfastness? At Mischa, those two ideas are flip sides of the same coin.
So you’ll find both a hot dog and a patty melt as mains, but they’re unlike any iteration you’ve ever had. To give you an idea, the patty melt is made with a burger that’s 100 percent mushrooms, passed through a meat grinder to mimic ground beef. It’s not fried, like many veggie burgers are, but griddled as any old-school patty would be. Topped with American cheese, the mushroom patty sits between house-made marble rye, with mayonnaise (also homemade) and ketchup (classic Heinz) on the side.
The hot dog, meanwhile, is a bit of a behemoth. “It’s a little too big. It’s a little too long. When you pick it up, you will feel its gravity,” Stupak said. Made of dry-aged brisket in a natural casing, the hot dog is placed in a house-made potato bun. Sounds simple, until you notice the sidecar of dry-aged beef chili and five other condiments (pimento cheese, bacon-habanero chili crisp, in-house yellow mustard, cucumber relish, and kimchi). All of those accoutrements make the hot dog worth its US$29 (HK$227) price tag (Stupak thinks it’s actually worth more).
“The two most controversial dishes on the menu are going to be a hamburger and a hot dog,” he notes. “Are we ready, in 2023, as a society, to have the only burger on the menu be plant-based?”
Stupak, obviously, hopes the answer to that question is yes. But he’s still a little nervous about the opening. It’s a massive departure from Empellón, the creative Mexican restaurant he opened 12 years ago that has since expanded into a mini culinary empire. While he saw that spot as being ahead of its time, he thinks Mischa is actually right on time—he doesn’t feel like he needs to explain the flavor combinations that dot the menu: Yes, kimchi can be served with a hot dog rather than sauerkraut. And yes, a pasta section can include absolutely no Italian food (instead, there’s kasha varnishkes and apple vareniky, in a nod to Stupak’s Ukrainian heritage). Ideally, diners will agree.
“Once you get known for something, the ability to break away from it… that’s pretty meaningful,” Stupak said. “If Mischa could be a new institution of American dining, but done this way, I’d be really proud of that.”
Click here to see all the images of Mischa.