The thrill of eating at a much-anticipated, brand-new restaurant is due only in part to being one of the first to try it. Mostly, it's the buzz: the nervous, attentive energy of a fresh-faced team heightened by the presence of confident industry folk and eager, starry-eyed members of the dining public. The people-watching, plates flying, and at the center of it all, the communal effort to break in a shiny new playground.
The first couple of weeks in a restaurant's life is not the best time to pay a visit. It's still gaining a footing; figuring out what works and what doesn't and making adjustments. The service could be wonky, a dish or two may miss the mark, and any determination on consistency is still a ways away.
So you go for the rush. You go because it's Friday night in late September and this is the headliner; the season opener; the hottest restaurant in town. It's in Brooklyn, obviously. Williamsburg, specifically—part of a grand and growing development by the water. You enter the room, which is cloaked in a powerful shade of grey comprised of bright-white walls, pitch-black seating, silver accents, and the time of day. This is a place for dinner, and the sun is not setting at 8 pm anymore. You try to ground yourself underneath the soaring ceiling and amidst clinking wine glasses, a domineering open kitchen decked in steel, and shadows drawn by the leafy tree planted behind the reception. But dishes are coming off the pass, and you want to know what everyone's having. Your eyes are darting for familiar faces, of those who are friends or famous.
And what do you order? An ultra-savory dish reminiscent of Christmas Day: charred, marinated, red and green peppers served alongside thick slices of crunchy-oily toast zig-zagged with extra-smooth, finely whipped ricotta. Meaty chanterelles in oil, rosemary, garlic, and lemon. A subdued (and thus better) version of Cacio e Pepe, done with buffalo butter and Parmigiano standing in for too-sharp Pecorino. Verdant tortelli, plump with spinach and mascarpone, swimming in brown butter and sprinkled with salty snowflakes of ricotta salata.
You can't try it all, but you can return, and so you do. You're addicted to the adrenaline. The next Friday night rolls around, and this time, you're equipped with double the party size. So you get all of that and more, with highlights including the most delicious dish of all: pruney, slow-roasted tomatoes drizzled in hot honey, tossed in coriander and fennel seeds, and finished with torn basil. It's bittersweet to love because summer (read: tomato season) is ending, but at least a refreshing and nutty salad composed of swirls of raw fennel and celery laced with chopped walnuts and plenty of Parm isn't going anywhere.
Like the rest of the menu, the dessert offering is simple: six gelatos. You've already tried a few, but now with seven people, you're poised for a proper taste test. Amongst creamy fior di latte, semisweet chocolate, biting espresso, herbaceous mint stracciatella, and grassy olive oil, the toasted almond stands out, bringing chocolate-shop rochers to mind.
Before you leave, you excuse yourself to use the restroom but really it's to take one last look around. You breathe it in and exhale slowly. As you head for the tall glass doors, you know, yet again, that your Friday night was well-spent.
329 Kent Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11249
Things I read and liked:
A scathing, must-read critique of Hudson Yards [Eater]
This ode to Via Carota has been shared around, but it rings true. Hot tip: the most perfect meal to take here is Sunday lunch. [New Yorker]
I'm a sucker for a Dorie Greenspan pastry discovery story paired with a recipe. Here's her on Mokonuts' cookies. [NYTimes]
Another ode! This time, to calzones, which was published on the same day I had plans to eat dinner at Ops. Needless to say, I ordered the calzone, and it was fantastic. [Eater]
"You can never have too much vanilla" takes on a new meaning [NYTimes]
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P.S. I'm heading to Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hanoi, and Singapore in less than two weeks! Anywhere I can't miss? Drop me a line.