Come for the food, stay for the wine
I apologize for my absence last week, I just moved! So things have been a bit crazy. Before I get into this week's edition, a brief interlude to mention that I'm headed to Berkeley this week for my cousin's wedding, and then Portland, OR for the weekend. Naturally, I have some plans in mind and reservations on the docket (Chez Panisse at last! Mister Jiu's! Kachka! Nong's Khao Man Gai!), but I am accepting recommendations—restaurants and otherwise. Just reply to this email. :)
Some of you may remember a few weeks back, I linked to an Eater article about chef-driven wine bars, expressing that I'm eager to see the model continue to take off in New York. They are ubiquitous in Paris, where I've been to several that I love (Le Dauphin, Aux Deux Amis, and, although less cheffy—La Buvette and Septime La Cave), and apparently in London and Copenhagen as well (I haven't been to either city in quite some time). There are places here that bill themselves as such, but I can only think of two—one in Manhattan, the other in Brooklyn—that are playing seriously in this arena. Over the past two weeks, I enjoyed a dinner and a weekend lunch at the latter. Both meals blew me away.
When you arrive at the light wood-paneled, Williamsburg locale, the question asked of you is not "do you have a reservation?" or "how many people?" but rather something along the lines of, "are you having dinner with us tonight?" or "for lunch?" It's a genuine inquiry—not rhetorical—because plenty of folks come here only to drink. After all, the wine list is no joke, the staff knows more than a thing or two about the all-natural selection, and the wraparound bar that dominates the space is complemented by further bar seating against the window, plus a standing bar. You can have a glass, or order a bottle, and hang for as long as you desire without having anything to eat. That would be a mistake.
From a small, open kitchen in the back of the room, a team of chefs over-performs. Perhaps because the food co-stars, and thus the pressure is not so much on, they can take their time. Or, maybe since natural wine is in vogue, with this place having helped prop it up in New York, recognition for nutriment is second-rate. Either way, sitting down for a meal here is by all means underrated.
The atmosphere is extraordinarily pleasant, generated by a modern, detail-oriented design combined with a front of house crew who are kind, cultivated, and noticeably comfortable in the space. I think this is because the concept is so fleshed out; you don't just end up here if you're not interested in wine, and if you're serving exciting, progressive wines, you are compelled and often willing to teach and chat with those who come in to try them. But back to the food.
The dinner menu is seasonally-rooted and often changes (as menus do). On a recent Tuesday evening, my friend Tabi and I had a beautiful endive salad bursting with thin slices of pluots, bright pistachios, and thick shavings of pecorino cheese, layered with pink peppercorns. I loved it so much that I tried to re-create it at home. There was raw Montauk fluke, forcefully refreshing with just-shelled English peas, a spoonful of trout roe, and a vivid cascade of herb juice. Shreds of snappy snap peas and candy-sweet sungolds swimming in stracciatella with opal basil. More sips from a bottle of easy-drinking rosé. A chunk of toasted bread slathered with ricotta and smoked tomato, just in case we forgot it was summer. Finally, a roasted pork sausage that was salty, immensely satisfying, and served with charred broccolini and a scallion vinaigrette.
It gets better.
Every weekend, the chefs riff off what they have in stock, or a dish they've been wanting to make, and build a prix fixe menu around it. They'll announce what they're serving on Instagram. For only $28, you get some sort of house-made bread, a salad, a hot or cold vegetable dish, a main—all served family-style—and eventually, dessert. For Saarim and me last Sunday, that translated to warm, crusty ciabatta, intended to be torn and dipped into garlic-infused olive oil; a bowl of crisp, dill-flecked romano beans and chickpeas; an herbaceous radish salad with walnuts and feta; and perfectly-grilled lamb skewers accompanied by a small pool of almost-caramelized onions and a dollop of cumin-laced yogurt. Sophisticated, light, and lip-smackingly good, it was a meal built to nourish, meant to be lingered over, and accompanied by wine. I went with a loose, bubbly rosé from Agnès et René Mosse, called Moussamoussettes, which is dry, slightly tropical, and a bit savory. Dessert was a square of orange-almond cake with a honey-like glaze and some whipped cream. When I took a bite, I was immediately reminded of the miniature orange cupcakes you can buy at chain grocery stores. This was better, of course, but those are quite good. Halfway into his own slice, Saarim looked up, and proclaimed, "I like lunch so much better than brunch." He hasn't ordered eggs since.
The Four Horsemen
295 Grand St, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Things I read this week (and liked):
People have been saying the New York restaurant scene is lacking innovation, and yet I'm kind of obsessed with places like King, Chez Ma Tante, and Hart's, where instead of luxury ingredients and fancy techniques, the focus is on cooking wholesome, crave-worthy food and creating a convivial, neighborly vibe. (Speaking of lunch, who wants to eat it at King with me?) [NYTimes]
Restaurant playlists matter and I love this story of an obsessive, musically gifted regular taking the reins. [NYTimes]
I hope you're all eating plenty of ice cream this August (btw, I found my new favorite ice cream shop—MilkMade, in Carroll Gardens! How had I never been since last night?). Sadly, it's a treat not so easily accessible to everyone. [Quartz]
Along with those mini orange cupcakes, Kiwi Strawberry Snapple was a highlight of my childhood. [Eater]
In case you didn't realize it was possible to be a Sourdough Librarian. [Roads & Kingdoms]
New to Some Things Considered? Read my archives here.