I don’t make it out to Carroll Gardens often. I’d like to blame the F train’s unpredictability, but I suspect it’s really just laziness. That, and I forget the benefits Brooklyn can bring. The obvious one is space, and that’s exactly what made Bouillabaisse 126, just across the BQE, so special. [N.B. The name will soon be changing to Korhogo 126.] It’s not the space in the restaurant, either. It’s the garden, larger than many a Manhattan studio, yet set with few tables, creating a bucolic, romantic space far from the worries of the outside. Sitting there, under a verdant canopy and actual stars seen through an overgrown trestle, I was happy no matter what our gregarious, helpful, and genuine (if not terribly well-informed) server brought us.
But the food, like the space, was a treat. I always get excited when I see escargot on a menu done in some way other than the usual garlic, herb, and oil blahness. Actually, it’s pretty rare to see snails treated differently in the U.S., but Bouillabaisse 126, mixing French and African influences, delivers a new take on this adorable garden pest, making an anise-flavored Kedjenou ($10). Slow cooked with asparagus and tomato in a hearty umber sauce of pastis and accompanied by twin triangles of puff pastry, it was a powerful delight to eat. No less noteworthy was an elegant pea soup ($9), smooth as silk, touched with spiced truffle oil.
Main courses were less exceptional but still satisfying. Though the restaurant is by no means devoted solely to its eponymous dish, I felt it necessary to order the Bouillabaisse with Cruton and Rouille ($22). This bounteous bowl of fish and shellfish — tilapia, shrimp, scallops and mussels — was heartily sauced with a thick saffron broth and accompanied by saffron-schmeared croutons. But while the tilapia and mussels were tender and tasty, the scallops and shrimp were stringy and rather bland without broth. Roasted Chicken ($21) was perfectly cooked — a rarity from a restaurant kitchen — and the skin was spicy, salty, crunchy perfection. With it came Yassa sauce, a first for me. This was a heap of onions, tasting heavily of black olive and citrus. It’s not something I’ll make at home, but the strong balance of flavors kept the chicken interesting throughout the course.
Desserts stuck to a more familiar mold — gelato, tart tatin, and molten chocolate cake — so we skipped the course. Something French-African might have swayed me, but I’m glad I didn’t partake — even the portions are bigger in Brooklyn.