Food & Travel / Words & Photos
I stretched my birthday a bit. Last Monday’s delightful diner à deux at Roberta’s is followed, a few days later, by dinner with friends.
For this, Prime Meats does not disappoint. Here, you get all the thick glasses, beards, vests and cocktails you need to know that you’re smack dab in the middle of Brooklyn. It’s a fantastic spot and with our big table for 11 at one end of wooden-paneled, high-ceiling-ed dining room, it felt like a tiny church in New England.
Tipplers in the pews, we finish our cocktails (old fashioned this time, applejack Sazerac next time), and I ask the wonderful Amy Zavatto to be in chargee of picking out a few bottles for the table. Among others, she steers us toward a fantastic 2009 Red Tail Ridge from New York State. New York reds – who knew?
Plates arrive – an order or two of bluefish rillettes, (a clever natural for that preparation) create quite a stir, but I’m almost too happy nibbling away at smoked sweetbreads to notice. I want to share and hoard.
The real sharing comes with the mains – I share bites of my steak frites – with just about everyone and reap the benefits. Friends return the favor with crispy and moist schnitzel, juicy, taut bratwurst, and tangy homemade sauerkraut. Elisabeth has an iceberg lettuce salad with Maytag blue and bacon.
“They do that as well as anyone these days,” she says.
I look over at Amy, who, after biting into her cod, takes on the look of a parishioner at prayer and Jonathan does the same when I offer him a second bite of my New York strip. It’s crispy on the outside, with a ribbon of tasty fat on one edge, and pink happiness within.
“You know,” he says, snapping out of his trance, “you can throw all the ingredients you want in a dish, dress it up however you’d like, but that? That’s hard to beat.”
A quibble - It took a little while to get to our seats; Two people in our group were running rather late and, in short, the staff didn’t want to sit us until every member of the party of eleven arrived. We offered to order right away, offered to wait to order until they arrived. The staff, some polite, some a little less so, declined, but it wasn’t quite full enough in there to put up that kind of a stink. I get it if half of a party of four is missing, but how rare is it that one couple in a much larger group gets held up? It puts a good dent in the pleasure of an evening.
465 Court Street
+1 (718) 254 0327
Cue the rock music, throw on a cool T-shirt and hop in the L train to Williamsburg – Roberta’s cures what ails you. While the possibility of a lamb dish worthy of a spot in Daniel next to a pizza might sound a bit schizophrenic, here it works just fine.
With its woodsy feel and merry, multicolored light garlands on the walls, Roberta’s, est. 2008, has a feeling of a saloon that sits not too far from the 49th parallel – one that hits full swing by 7 and stays that way till the last tippler is pushed into the Brooklyn night at closing time. I was invited by my sweetheart, Elisabeth, who’d picked up on some very strong hints on where I’d like to celebrate my birthday and we were not let down.
These guys, particularly chef Carlo Mirachi, have some serous friends in the food sourcing business. ‘Beef Carpaccio’ shows up with the marbling of something noteworthy and turns out to be Wagyu from a farm on a big, flat state out west. A drizzle of stellar olive oil creates a dreamy, one-two-three-four adagio progression between vegetal freshness, slick vegetable fat, beefy meatiness and Wagyu fat. I got as much pleasure nibbling away at it as watching Elisabeth enjoy it – something she readily encouraged.
One plate over, tiny bay scallops with crispy bits of trout skin, Meyer lemon and poppies snuggled in a bowl, reminding me of not one but two childhood favorites – Mom’s broiled scallops, and, thanks to the poppies and the almost bread-y flavor to the broth they waded in, the frozen Pepperidge Farm rolls she’d make in the oven when I was little.
The big gun, however, was the lamb breast main course, cooked sous-vide for a long time then sizzled for a short time to create a crispy/melting combination that recalls the textures of a savory crème brulée. Nearby, a comma of yogurt, dollops of a light mint aspic and gently-braised leaves of, I believe, radicchio and Swiss chard provided punctuation marks of acidity, bitterness and a faint sweetness. Any three-star restaurant would be proud to serve the dish at three times the price.
Next to the lamb, we’d ordered a pizza – this is a pizzeria, after all – and maybe because it was next to something so spectacular, our pie was the evening’s only relative whiff. The ‘Tracy Patty’ pie features tasty mozzarella, ricotta, lip-smacking boquerones (vinegar-drenched anchovies), garlic and savoy cabbage, but it lacked some juicy agent like tomatoes or more of that amazing olive oil to shuttle each slice it to its final home.
No matter. Next time we go, we’ll likely try another pie. Perhaps the ‘Voltron’ – it’s got sopressata.
While some crow that the bar-like atmosphere is an odd or uncomfortable place for food this sophisticated, we could have cared less. This is the kind of spot where you want to grab good friend or three on your birthday and have one of the best nights of the year, fussiness be damned. Mirachi’s created an American doppelganger of Sicilian chef Francesco Cassarino’s wonderful Pizzeria Caravanserraglio.
On the subway and once nibbling some of Elisabeth’s fantastic birthday cake at home, we got talking about the best dishes we’d ever had. Rare are the meals that engender that sort of conversation.
“What were the tens?” Elisabeth asked, a question that brought us around the world and back to the meal still in our bellies.
Our lamb, we agreed, was a 9 ½, the scallops a scarce point and a half behind.
“What about the Wagyu carpaccio?” I asked. “A solid eight?”
She responded without hesitation.
“That was a ten.”
261 Moore St.
(Editor’s note: No reservations at Roberta’s - go early or wait in line.)
The Txikito gang has been doing some early Christmas shopping. Alex Raij and Eder Montero, the couple who made Chelsea a better place by opening both Txikito and El Quinto Pino, signed a lease on Monday for a new Brooklyn restaurant, La Vara, slated to open in early 2012.
Located in the spot recently vacated by the ill-fated Breuckelen restaurant at 268 Clinton St. - next to the lovely Ted & Honey Café - Raij says the cuisine will be “Spanish food seen through its Moorish and Jewish roots.”
The food will be a mix of small plates and shareable larger dishes.
“The basis will be home cooking, not the traditional ‘meat, starch, veg,’” says Raij.
Who’ll be running the line? “We will, for now,” she says.
Somewhere in there, Raij will also be having a baby.
“We did our last opening like that,” she jokes.
Why change now?
Now that I’m back home and typing up a bushel of NYC blogs, the one place I really want to go back to is Brooklyn’s Fort Defiance. Not only are the drinks top notch, chef Sam Filloramo wowed me while, thanks to some sort of new restaurant timing/shipping glitches, he was still working from a half-empty* kitchen.
His deviled eggs were so good, I went home and told my mom about them and if that wasn’t enough to get me to want to go back, the ever-changing menu they now post on their Web site does: rabbit and chorizo hash, oysters Rockefeller, pan-fried catfish … my word.
Apparently, they even do breakfast and all I can do is imagine the possibilities.
I’m interested to see how the combination of a serious drinks bar combined with chef who’s making his mark pans out. It can only be good.
*Apparently, in mid-September, after the equipment arrived, a health inspector stopped in to check the kitchen and found gas equipment without gas service - like a car with an empty gas tank - and decided the restaurant would be better off closed for the week until they got the pipes hooked up… go figure.
Click here to see my Boston Globe Travel story, “Small Wonders” - featuring an interview with Fort Defiance owner and drinks expert St. John Frizell.
They could serve Spam in the can here and I’d still come back. With a view this good, it really doesn’t matter what you eat. At Alma, it’s all about the view of southern Manhattan from the roof.
I joined friends of mine here - they were nibbling away on sturdy Mexican food - and accidentally figured out a peculiar system that allows you to bypass the restaurant’s Mexican-themed drink offerings, get a tasty microbrew at the b61 bar downstairs (try the Sixpoint Ale), then walk it topside and enjoy it with your guacamole and fish tacos.
“It’s almost winter!” you cry?
No worries - the roof deck is still open on the weekend and imagine it to be just as blissful watching an autumn sunset or when the snow flies.
RED HOOK, BROOKLYN
I was late for an interview at Fort Defiance.
I took the subway. I took a bus. I ran.
I was also hungry.
While I was running, I passed the Brooklyn Ice House and it was about that time when I smelled the barbecue.
The owner was sitting on a bench out front with some friends and I asked if I could get a quick pulled pork sandwich. Truthfully, the three of them looked so relaxed and friendly, I just wanted to sit with them for an hour.
The owner brought me inside - fantastic and saloon-like, a bar and a place to hang out. I watched a father and daughter sitting at in the corner, playing Rock’Em Sock’Em Robots.
My favorite part? At a serious beer bar, I asked what the owner would recommend to go with my sandwich.
Pabst Blue Ribbon.
She could have said something that cost twice as much - and I would have enjoyed it - but for a guy who’s running late and might not have a ton of time to appreciate what he’s eating, she stuck with something good. And cheap. My whole mini-meal cost $7. Woohoo!
Good thing she didn’t ask me to marry her.
Brooklyn Ice House - MAP
318 Van Brunt Street
+1 (718) 222 1865