Friday, December 16, 2011

Brooklyn Rustic

These places are opening all over now: local, sustainable, rustic, small. The restaurant is tiny and equipped to handle minimal crowds. We lucked out in scoring a three top right when we came in.

Cocktails are delicious, if a little too small. A tart, red drink tasted like sour cherries or currants, or a mix of the two.

A crispy kale salad was filled with crunch and salt and sweet (and a noticeable tang of fish sauce), but was, regrettably, overdressed and beginning to wilt. A cauliflower soup was thick and rich and bettered by candy sweet Nantucket bay scallops.

Veal sweetbreads a la meuniere was my favorite dish of the night, perfectly cooked and crispy outside with a grenobloise and crunchy romaine lettuce on the side, along with a caesar-y dressing. Pici with mushrooms and pea shoots brought me back to Tuscany and I could have used a bigger plate. But linguine with crab, though fine in its execution, didn't bring much to the table.

Desserts were kind of a failure. A fennel panna cotta was overrun by lemon rind that provided too much texture in a grainy, gross kind of way. A pear clafouti was overcooked and beaten to death by cinnamon cream. Next time, I'll go for the standard chocolate caramel tart.

255 Smith Street
Brooklyn, NY


The dining room is large for a four-star, with a raised platform around the perimeter featuring Grecian columns. A cocktail at the bar came with a round ice cube filled with flower petals. Nice touch.

We were VIP-ed.

A six-course tasting menu was actually twelve, since my companion and I each chose one of the two options. A duck liver terrine with marcona almonds, apple confit, and a glazed date was a perfect example of foie done well. A mosaic of duck and parsnip with poached quince and Champagne grapes was an equally well-conceived match. The dishes came with a Prum Kabinett Riesling from the Mosel.

Then: a trio of tuna (tartare with caviar, cured with compressed celery, en confit with anchovy dressing and a small puck of white anchovy); a delicious cured fluke with shiso and beets and an edamame coulis that was too difficult to eat. With it, we drank a Gruner Veltliner from Domaine Wachau.

A sea scallop, crusted in Buddha's hand and pine nuts meshed well with the accompanying celery mousseline. Artichoke and squid ink raviolini--neither a favorite ingredient of mine--surprised me with their character, delicacy, and depth. The wine pairing, a white Chateneuf-du-Pape from Chateau Monpertuis, was a small failure in pairings, overriding the delicacy of the food.

A white truffle course! Tiny pasta pockets stuffed with porcini mushrooms in a cream sauce with a quarter ounce of truffles shaved on top. We drank an impressive 1993 Heredia white Rioja.

Bacon wrapped swordfish was next, with spaghetti squash and cipollini onions. It wasn't my favorite; I felt a poached monkfish tail with toasted cashews worked better. A single vineyard Copain Pinot Noir from Sonoma was a lovely pairing.

Four Story Hill Farm squab may have been my favorite dish, cooked medium rare and served with a crisp top skin and sunchokes. With it, we enjoyed a pretty little Barolo from Sperino Lessona.

Our main courses underwhelmed me. A duo of beef (short rib and tenderloin) with chanterelles and cauliflower was ordinary. A veal plate of cheeks, sweetbreads, and tenderloin disappointed me entirely; the sweetbreads were woefully overcooked. But we drank with these my favorite wine of the evening, Chave "Offerus" Cornas from the Rhone.

Four desserts were next: apple, pineapple, chocolate, and coffee. They were fine, but better were the Chateau Pajzos Tokaji and Rivesaltes that we drank with them. Petit fours included chocolates and warm madelines. And then the night was over.

It was an impressive spread and, in some ways, more manageable than dinner at per se. Alcohol portions were too big, and I had to get out of my own way a few times. My memory is not as clear as it should have been. Alas.

60 East 65th Street
New York, NY 10065

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Chinese Two Ways

It started on Sunday night with a trip to Chinatown's Peking Duck House. This venerable duck spot is always crowded, never has reservations available, and allows patrons to bring their own wine (Riesling and Burgundy for us). Really, there is only one thing that you must get here: Peking duck (duh!).

Soup dumplings were a misstep, with a flavorless filling and an over boiled dumpling wrapper. Chinese broccoli--closely resembling broccoli rabe--in oyster sauce was good enough, fulfilling the need for something green. But the real star was the duck, carved away from our table and brought back in clean, lacquered slices. It was fatty and chewy and crispy and arrived with a julienne of cucumber and scallions, along with thin pancakes and hoisin sauce. We ate the whole duck.

Later in the week, I had a dumpling craving that required satisfaction and so found myself at the recently renovated (but still dirt cheap) Nom Wah Tea Parlor on Doyers Street, where a truly overabundant meal set me back twenty-five smackers--and where I should have shown restraint and ordered less. House special dumplings, pork and shrimp, came in a crisp, pan seared package. Shrimp and pea shoot numbers were in a thinner, gooier rice paper wrapper, equally delicious. Vegetable dumplings were the size of hacky sacks. Shrimp filling wrapped in bacon came deep fried and impossibly crunchy. Rice rolls--one with vegetables and one with beef--surprised us with their incredible texture and depth. A pork bun the size of two adult fists gave way to chunks of real, toothsome pork. And turnip cakes with Chinese sausage and dried shrimp were crisp outside and soft inside, a welcome departure from that old stand-by, scallion pancakes. I never even made it to the fried crab claw, which came with shell intact (a minor turnoff, to be honest). The evening's only real disappointment was a plate of "sweet and sour" spare ribs, more closely resembling a withered, soggy tonkatsu.

But for dumplings, well, it's worth the trip.

Peking Duck House
28 Mott Street
New York, NY 10013

Nom Wah Tea Parlor
13 Doyers Street
New York, NY 10013

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Surprisingly, Paul Liedbrandt's highly recognized TriBeCa haunt was nearly dead on a recent--though rainy--Wednesday night. The dining room is spare anyway, in varied shades of white, so the emptiness feels even more obvious when the place isn't full.

Corton strives to be a four-star restaurant, but sometimes it misses its mark. Service is scattered and servers don't know the answer to obvious questions (like where their proteins come from, for instance). Utensils were often ill-suited for the task at hand (and I had to use my butter knife to scoop the sauce from one small bowl, left spoonless). My wine glass was near empty until a sommelier deigned notice. A series of amuse bouche--pastry filled with Sauce Mornay; a warm croquette; an egg custard with black truffle gelee that needed salt; a weirdly smoked quail egg; and a successful albacore tuna skewer with charred lime--underscored the ambition of the evening, even if they didn't all work.

Our first course of a puck of foie gras wrapped in beet, was dainty and beautiful, but not the best I've ever had. A course of monkfish was admirable cooked and sparely plated, with an accompanying warm oyster laced in foam and a lentil and onion soup.

A Wagyu beef course was a painting in black: a circle of beef crusted in black toasted brioche; a black oval of sunchoke; black truffle sauce on the plate; a square of short rib in more brioche; charred sweet onion; and a side of potato with a melting sauce inside.

Next: a gorgeous sesame custard with concord grape sorbet that surprised me in its elegance and restraint. Caramelized sesame on top offered the necessary crunch. Finally, an apple composition arrived, puff pastry filled with apples and a side of white coffee ice cream. It might not last forever in my dessert memory, but it was nice while it lasted, as was the parade of final notes: pate de fruits; chocolates; and macarons. I held court with a perfect glass of 1982 Coteaux du Layon.

The food is good, if a little too conceptual for its ilk. We'll see if it grows or shrinks with age.

239 West Broadway
New York, NY 10013