Calm, cool, and collected
Some restaurants buzz with energy, others are quiet and orderly. Some are chaotic, others loose and laid-back. I'm talking about vibe, but also about tempo. Many factors go into this, such as location, architectural and design elements, personalities of the staff, and of course, the style of service, dictated by the operator. It's not always a fixed thing, either. Shifting conditions like time of day, the season, and whoever is working can have an effect. A little variation is expected, but a lot is undesirable. Consistency is a beautiful thing. A great restaurant is like an incredible person, in that way. Who wants to be friends with someone who's patchy and ultimately fake? We're attracted to people who are confident and self-aware, and we feel safe when surrounded by people we can rely on. When dining at a place with those same qualities, I'm at my best.
I live on the border of Clinton Hill and Bed-Stuy, where there's a restaurant I go to quite often. It's a tiny spot that sits right underneath the Franklin stop of the C train. Directly before you enter, look down, and you'll notice its name spelled out in black square tiles over white scalloped ones. The four-seat bar is backed by a floor-to-ceiling, shelved wall that serves two purposes: displaying a fun selection of liquor and natural wine, and separating the kitchen from the dining room. Add just a handful of tables, one of which is communal, and a bathroom, and that's the gist of it.
The menu is small, too, and it changes a little bit every day. One night, for dinner, there might be fresh ricotta with guanciale, ramps, and a hunk of She Wolf pizza bianca. Another night, that same cheese-and-bread dish could come with braised favas and serrano ham instead. At brunch, I've had sunny eggs on a bed of labneh and strewn with ratatouille, and I've had them with nothing more than marinated zucchini, some sautéed onions, and basil. The olive oil cake always comes with whipped cream, but sometimes you'll get spoonfuls of soupy-sweet blueberries and other times toasty hazelnuts. No matter the meal, you can always have the signature (and very delicious) lamb burger, which comes with dressed mixed greens and anchovies, and the nighttime menu is never without clam toast. Otherwise, the offerings are constantly in flux; the kitchen is always playing with what's in season; it's unfailingly exciting to eat here. On any given day, you can find the current menu online, but it won't be entirely unpredictable. At least one dish will have yogurt, and several will feature seafood and fish. Appearances of other Mediterranean ingredients, like olives, bottarga, aioli, and saffron, are likely. The cuisine is mellow and tangy, with pockets of richness and umami. It's distinct, and it's delightful.
As for the atmosphere? A coastal color palette washes over the room. From any seat in the house, you can catch a glimpse of the chef at the pass, through a window beside the bar. During the day, light pours in from a little skylight carved out of the blue, wood beamed ceiling. The restaurant is popular, so there is often a wait, but you'll never be under-quoted and brunch, surprisingly, is more relaxed. (For the record, they do take reservations.) Everyone on staff is accessible and approachable, never stressed. Your food arrives just a few minutes before you expect it to, each plate done with a touch of artfulness and vibrancy.
These days, more restaurants than not are described as neighborhood joints. Most aren't, though. This is. I never tire of it, I'm always happy to be here, and best of all, it makes me feel like the tempo it keeps—calm, cool, and collected.
506 Franklin Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238
Things I read this week (and liked):
A Restaurant Takes On the Opioid Crisis, One Worker at a Time [NYTimes]
California may be "the most influential force in American dining" right now, due to "a heightened sense of collaboration," but I'm still probably never leaving New York. Alas. [Eater]
I love those moments when you read something, like Jermaine Fowler's Grub Street Diet (side/un-food-related note: Sorry to Bother You is excellent, go see it), and it references something you just learned about, like how McDonald's changed their fry recipe in the '90s. I'm also sad I was born after this happened and can never try the beef tallow version, especially now that I've heard how Malcolm Gladwell speaks of them. [Grub Street, Revisionist History]
This compelling essay on why we must re-evaluate what it means to be a "great" (chef, artist, etc.) to be more inclusive. Canonization is problematic because of deep-rooted social inequalities, but I believe we can shape the canon of the future for the better. [Taste]
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