11/05/14 4:00am

Forrest Point
970 Flushing Avenue


As many new establishments in Bushwick are intended to be, the bar and restaurant Forrest Point is painfully cool. Located on a triangle-shaped parcel along a desolate stretch of Flushing Avenue, the space hums with activity of the young, good-looking, and buzzed. It’s all the work of Mark Trzupek, Darin Rubell, and chef David Rotter, who came over from the nearby eatery 983 Bushwick’s Living Room. These guys know their audience, and smartly deliver strong drinks and a fun menu in a location that draws you right in.

Forrest Point’s sprawling outdoor patio, decked with twinkling lights, is prominently on display along Flushing Avenue, and it’s the place to be if the weather permits. Inside, scruffy bartenders will take your order after throwing back a shot of whiskey, but the space is anything but a dive. Welldecorated, with exposed ceilings, it’s a less gritty, more refined version of Bushwick. The drink and food menu reflects that, too. There’s a long, impressive list of cocktails that pack a punch. The milk punch (my waitress recommended the “Fancy Pants” version) is a slightly milky, mostly light concoction with a flavor profile that defies exact description. My recommendation: Don’t miss it.

The menu goes way beyond bar food, although the somewhat haphazard mix of dishes and flavor profiles suits the bar-like setting. There’s a medley of Mediterranean, Japanese, Chinese, and American flavors. In short, something for everyone. The crispy cauliflower, deeply marinated in Sriracha and yogurt and lightened with parsley and lemon, had notes of Chinese influences. So did the porchetta sandwich, which was sweetened with caramelized onions, fig, and apricot relish. As for a Mediterranean option, be sure to try the shawarma-style flatbread. It’s grilled pita packed with chicken, Israeli salad, olives, and tzatziki sauce. Not the easiest thing to eat, but you’ll happily stuff it in your mouth anyway. An order of the tempura rock shrimp lettuce wraps got lost somewhere in the bustle of the bar, but when it finally came, it did not disappoint. Perfectly-cooked shrimp and pickled veggies nestled into a delicate piece of Bibb lettuce? Yes, please.

A word of warning: At 10 pm, that awesome outdoor patio closes up. Our waitress closed our tab without inquiring about dessert, and the bar, completely packed on a Thursday night, offered no open tables. My dining companion and I missed out on the cast-iron s’mores, which I had been dreaming of throughout the meal. Sure, it was a disappointment, but a few drinks in on a full stomach and under twinkling lights, it’s hard to stay mad at this Bushwick newcomer.

10/22/14 4:00am

King’s Clam Bar
622 Washington Avenue, Prospect Heights

Despite the unending list of restaurants and bars opening in Prospect and Crown Heights, the neighborhood retains a few sleepy spots, like the stretch of Washington Avenue just south of Atlantic Avenue, where there are plenty of apartments but a dearth of restaurants, bars, or cafes. So it was welcome news when King’s Clam Bar quietly opened at 622 Washington Avenue, between Pacific and Dean streets. A few restaurants have called the space home in the not-so-distant past, including Ortine, a French café, and Atlantic Co., which served booze and pizza. Is this under-the-radar location cursed? Let’s hope not, because I hope King’s sticks around.

As the name would suggest, this restaurant specializes in seafood. Chef Bill Seleno is giving off the vibe of an East Coast seafood shack, where you can mark your order on paper menus and food comes in paper containers. There’s a raw bar, a selection of sandwich rolls, sautéed and baked fish, and, finally, soups, salads, sides, and slaws. The server will recommended that you order a side condiment with your baked fish, and options are as creative as ginger cilantro, garlic dill, and jalapeño tartar.

The fish, to put it simply, is good. It all tastes fresh, which made dishes like the shrimp cocktail and lobster roll shine in their simplicity. The sautéed mussels sat in a pool of sauce that I can only describe as heavenly—black garlic, burnt rosemary, and double cream, oh my. The boiled clams came bathed in something simpler, and lighter, with a sprig of thyme. None of the fish dishes needed the extra ginger cilantro sauce ordered. The big disappointment of the night was the majorly stale baguette bread, which came with the mussels and clams. With sauces this good, give us something solid to soak it up with!

A side of the clam dip didn’t look like much, in its paper container brimming with chips, but it was the perfect seafood guilty pleasure. (If you’re like me and have a weakness for creamy, fattening dips mixed with salty chips, just go ahead and order it.) The potato salad with bacon and egg was solid but nothing special; it would have stood out with a more significant portion of bacon.

After so much goodness from the sea, an apple crisp dessert fell way short. It wasn’t warm, wasn’t served with ice cream, and tasted a few days old. King’s Clam Bar: Stick steadfast and true to fish. In that respect, you know what you’re doing.

10/08/14 4:00am

2 Duck Goose
400 4th Avenue, Gowanus

Fourth Avenue, as it runs through Park Slope and Gowanus, isn’t known for its bustling restaurant scene—rather, this stretch of new housing developments is criticized for its lack thereof. That’s why 2 Duck Goose, located on the corner of Fourth Avenue and 6th Street, is a welcome addition to the neighborhood. Chinese takeout this is not: 2 Duck Goose specializes in “Classic Cantonese with a twist,” according to its website. It’s the brainchild of Kay Ch’ien and chef Ben Pope, who both grew up in Hong Kong and missed the food from their youth. The goal was to bring NYC a better option for Cantonese cuisine. They definitely succeeded in unexpected flavor combinations, modern additions to old-school Cantonese, and generally a fun meal to be had.

The restaurant interior is sparsely and modernly decorated, almost echoing those shiny glass developments that loom outside. Dinner starts with a small dish of candied walnuts, salty, sweet, and crunchy in all the right ways. The menu offers two dinner specials—a roast duck feast, offered to parties of 4 to 5 for $120, and “char siu” roast pork served three different ways. Regular entrées include paper bag fish, Cantonese borscht stew, and stir-fried smoked tofu. There’s also a selection of “bites and apps,” from which I selected a dish of silken tofu. “Silken” is the right word, as the tofu gracefully falls apart as you tear at it with chopsticks; it sits in a soy sauce broth with hints of fish and ginger. The plate was massive for an appetizer, and my dining companion and I barely made a dent before the entrées came out.

Don’t leave 2 Duck Goose without trying one of the “char siu” roast pork dishes. The chef takes a seasonal, modern, and classic take on the dish. The seasonal dish includes rotating ingredients and the modern dish incorporates apple, a beet and ginger purée, and pickled fennel. The modern dish, with crispy slices of pork in a brilliantly bright pink purée, is phenomenal. The fresh, sweet beet purée uniquely compliments the fattiness of the pork; I could not get enough. Another highlight was the paper bag fish, a branzino that, yes, is served in a paper bag. Tearing open the bag to find a steaming fish, tomatoes, and mushrooms felt like a foodie’s Christmas. The duck fried rice fell a little flat after those two bold dishes; it is served traditionally with carrots, peas, eggs, and scallions. The next day, it tasted like a classic Chinese leftover dish.

The meal ended with a small bowl of black sticky rice pudding. The black rice was thick with coconut milk and accompanied by toasted sesame seeds and coconut flakes. This final dish seemed to summarize the meal—traditional elements done well, with enough creative notes to leave you surprised, satisfied, and eager for more.

09/24/14 4:00am

Seersucker Rises Again
345 Smith Street, Carroll Gardens

As you walk into Wilma Jean, the latest venture from the folks behind Seersucker and Nightingale 9, it feels like something between a chicken shack way down South and a cool Brooklyn restaurant. There’s something very down-home about the whole production, with mounds of crispy chicken piled onto trays emerging from the kitchen. But the framed chalkboard menus on the wall, impressive craft beer selection, and stylish children slouched against the bar bring you right back to Carroll Gardens again. Kerry Diamond and Rob Newton designed this casual Southern spot as an offshoot of Seersucker, their now-shuttered, more upscale Southern restaurant. The fried chicken and cheddar cheese grits live on from the Seersucker menu, only now they’re served in paper trays. And that’s not such a bad thing at all.

The menu is broken down into five sections: snacks, salad bowls, fried chicken, sandwiches, and sides. It goes without saying that you should order the fried chicken here—it’s perfectly cooked with a thick layer of crunchy skin. But Diamond and Newton do an interesting thing on the menu. You can get a chicken dinner with one side and coleslaw for $14, but you can also get chicken on a stick ($5), a single breast ($6), thigh ($4), or drumstick ($3). My dining companion and I decided to order just a few pieces of chicken and many, many sides. The meal—instead of a big pile of fried chicken with a modest side dish—became a modest amount of chicken and a taste of just about everything else. Tater tots, grits, fried okra, cornbread, cornmeal-crusted oysters, and a summer-fresh salad, all crammed onto two trays: It was a Southern meal as it should be.

Those oysters, also fried with a pleasingly thick and crispy skin, were served with “Mississippi Comeback Sauce,” an orangish mayo sauce with a little bite. The cheddar cheese grits were reliably good, as grits often are, and the fried okra disappeared from its paper container quickly. The fried bologna sandwich comes on a potato roll, with layers of bologna crisped up and nearly burnt (in a good way) and topped with a healthy slather of mustard. The cornbread was heavy and peppery, not at all sweet. It was served with a salted molasses butter with a flavor profile I pathetically described as “deep” in my notes—a better adjective never struck. With all that is heavy and fried, the summer vegetable salad felt necessary, although you do have the option of adding fried chicken to your greens. The salad, comprised of green beans, heirloom tomatoes, onions, radishes, and squash coated in a light lemon vinaigrette, is something you’ll crave more and more as the fried food starts to weigh down your belly. It was, alongside the fried chicken, one of the highlights of the meal.

To end, nothing too fancy, just a blackberry cobbler served in a tiny tin with a side of Blue Marble vanilla ice cream. The meal felt like it cost $100. Because the sides are priced between $2 and $5, it was $40 less. Now that’s Southern food I can stand behind: good, plentiful, and cheap.

09/10/14 4:00am

Greenpoint Fish and Lobster
114 Nassau Avenue, Greenpoint

Why shouldn’t Greenpoint—a very charming waterfront neighborhood—have a charming place to eat food from the water? That was the thought of Vinny Milburn and Adam Geringer-Dunn, who opened Greenpoint Fish and Lobster after recognizing the lack of decent seafood options in the area. The spot is part fish market, part raw bar, part restaurant. Milburn runs the front of house, where Greenpoint Fish and Lobster sells delicious-looking, fresh seafood —much of it local. In back is where Geringer-Dunn cooks, and you’ll find a narrow bar and a few small tables to enjoy all that fresh fish fancied up. It’s a cozy undertaking, but the carefully planned design reminds you that it’s a sophisticated one, as well. The folks at Greenpoint Fish and Lobster are trying to bring seafood to new levels here. The food is beyond promising, but it seems the restaurant still needs to get its sea legs.

The first visit to Greenpoint Fish and Lobster, on one busy weekend evening, proved unsuccessful. You should expect a wait during opening weekend of a much-hyped restaurant, but the narrow entryway got too crowded, and the wait time too unpredictable; so after an hour and a half (we were quoted 45 minutes to an hour) it was time to eat elsewhere. Visiting later, on a weekday evening, was a different story. Waiters wove comfortably through the restaurant, and handsome, scruffy cooks looked relaxed at the grill, which you can view from the bar. Anytime you looked like you needed anything, they spotted your glance and were at your service. This, I could deal with.

The menu is small—about five items, plus a special—and it’s accompanied by a drool-worthy selection of oysters. My dining companion and I ordered one of everything on the paper menu, using the pencils on hand to mark our order, and added a request to start with a dozen oysters. A starter dish of fried salmon skin (it tastes like bacon from the sea) disappeared in mere seconds. But what came after, instead of oysters, was all our food at once. Plates of beautiful, hot and steaming fish, threatening to go cold. At one point, a cook pointed out that our dish of king salmon crudo (saved for later, since it’s served uncooked) was actually cooking there on the bar.

So what to do with two people and five plates of seafood on the table? Eat, and enjoy. Indeed, the seafood was spectacular, fresh, and loaded with summer herbs, which the cooks pluck generously from plastic containers in the kitchen. The Baja fish tacos, which were recommended fried but also come grilled, were comprised of perfectly fried pollock, chipotle lime mayo, radishes, and cilantro. The massive mussels—some of the biggest and best I’ve eaten—looked downright lovely bathed in a creamy green curry coconut sauce. And the fried black sea bass, served whole, was down to the skeleton in no time.

To top it all off? You guessed it: the oysters. They were served elegantly on a long and narrow plate of ice, and they tasted as good as they looked. It wasn’t the ideal dessert, but with fish this good you’re willing to make some compromises.

08/27/14 4:00am

Orchard Café
257 Columbia Street, Red Hook

Siting outside the Orchard Café, a restaurant that opened last month on the southern end of the Columbia Street Waterfront, it’s clear to see this place has real down-to-earth, local roots. At one point, a modest car pulled up and a man and woman got out toting crates of lemons and seltzer through the front door. Soon after, a girl, about six years old and passing by with her father, stated, “Oh, I love the chicken here.” The inviting vibe is not an accident: The owners outline on the Orchard Café website that they’re “a group of food and art lovers who passionately believe in the power of convivial and creative atmosphere at the table.” The focus here is seasonal, locally sourced, and organic, as showcased on an ambitious menu. The space, cleanly decorated with exposed brick and a chalkboard wall, offers breakfast and brunch options, a selection of sandwiches, and a full dinner menu. There’s no liquor license yet, so drinks range from coffee and tea to “Orchard healing juice.”

The meal started with a smooth but not particularly strong iced coffee and a beet lemon shrub. “It’s not sweet,” the waitress warned. “It’s healthy.” And it wasn’t sweet, rather vinegary, but refreshing all the same. The summer lettuce salad that followed— decorated with blueberries, peppers, and a basil vinaigrette—felt underwhelming. In the most promising months of summer produce, salad greens shouldn’t look wilted, blueberries should taste brighter, richer, and basil dressing should be bold, not forgettable. An appetizer of Siberian dumplings (made with beef and pork), recommended by the waitress, proved more exciting. Served in a reddish pool of beet broth, flecked with lightly cooked kale and yogurt, it was one of the highlights of the meal.

The list of entrées boasts a healthy, vegetarian-friendly appeal: a lentil burger, barley risotto, roast chicken with ginger and cantaloupe. The barley risotto, wonderfully creamy but still slightly undercooked, was packed with mushrooms, greens, and parmesan—it tasted almost meaty. Buckwheat soba was a good summer pick, served cold with pickled carrots, corn, chicken, zucchini, and Brussels sprout kimchi.

The meal ended with two watermelon ice pops—how else to wrap up a warm summer afternoon? It was refreshing and perfectly enjoyable, but it still lacked that insane freshness you crave in the month of August. Once again, the promise of seasonality went somewhat unfulfilled. Orchard Café has all the makings of an established local joint, and it’s one of the few restaurants on this end of the Columbia Street Waterfront. It may just need a little extra oomph to get there.

08/13/14 4:00am

Pacifico’s Fine Foods
798A Franklin Avenue, Crown Heights

Fresh is the word at Crown Heights newcomer Pacifico’s Fine Food, where small plates and seasonal ingredients rule. You’ll be tempted here to order many courses, and you should. You should also bring along a friend to share them with, particularly one who enjoys seafood. By the meal’s end, you’ll feel satisfied but not overly full, and refreshed in a way that most restaurants can’t offer.

Pacifico’s continues a trend along Franklin Avenue seemingly started by the nearby American restaurant Mayfield. This bustling drag of Crown Heights is slowly becoming home to more upscale restaurants, places for younger, cash-strapped residents to take their visiting parents. It’s not that Pacifico’s will break the bank. But it’s styled—in both menu and decor—for a nice night out. It’s all the work of Shanna Pacifico, the longtime chef of Back Forty in Manhattan. Her menu here has both American and Brazilian influences, with sections offering small plates, vegetable and grains, fish and shellfish, and meats.

Ceiling fans gently whirred through the small, tastefully decorated space as I walked in one warm summer evening. A friendly waiter helpfully walked me and my dining companion through the menu; we had his full attention the entire evening. Cocktails like the Sol-Basil­­—a Solbeso drink with lots of fresh basil—and the Pimm’s Cup, complimented with ginger beer, made the heat of the evening seem far away. A starter of pork yuca fritters, which give the impression of heaviness, didn’t taste so. The balls were lightly fried and tasted more of yuca than pork, nicely complemented by a lemony aioli sauce. What followed was a cucumber and buttermilk gazpacho flecked with roasted almonds—refreshing to the core.

We focused on the seafood dishes here and didn’t regret the decision, considering the seafood is paired with unique ingredients that result in unexpected flavor combinations. A sardine special came with spicy corn salsa and roasted peaches. It was a bizarre mix of fishy, spicy, and sweet, and, yes, it worked. Chunks of sockeye salmon shone in ceviche form, perfectly coated in coconut milk and fresh herbs. The Montauk Squid dish fell short; the smear of cocoa brown butter and pickled red onions didn’t do quite enough to elevate the actual seafood. The grilled plantains on the plate, however, were a highlight.

It was all topped off by an order of coconut panna cotta, nestled next to peach slices, blueberries, and quartered cherries. This desert was made for a late summer evening. In fact, the whole meal felt perfectly suited to its season. It’s enough to leave you anxious for what will inspire Chef Pacifico as the weather cools.

07/30/14 4:00am

Montana’s Trail House
445 Troutman Street, Buwshwick

Never has a restaurant straddled two worlds better than Montana’s Trail House, a self-declared cowboy eatery in the heart of hipster Brooklyn. Seven stops deep on the L train, just off Jefferson Avenue, a barn-like structure stands between the low-slung warehouses of Bushwick. Walk inside, and you may as well be in Montana. Well-worn wooden floors and exposed wood ceiling beams are complimented by a retro-looking bar. Flags, deer heads, and curious-looking tools line the walls. It’s all the work of Montana Masback, who’s worked the bar at both the Second Chance Saloon and the Anchored Inn. He got all that wood from a barn in Kentucky, and the knick-knacks come from his friends’ and family’s homes. With all that, he transformed a former auto repair shop into something pretty special.

I have to admit, I didn’t think the pieces were going to fit. Cowboy food with Appalachian influences served up in a quiet corner of Bushwick? All orchestrated by a former bartender, no less? But Montana is a man with a plan. That was evident as soon as an okra special arrived at our table, lightly fried with creamy, mustardy dressing underneath and fresh parsley on top. The dish went down like a dream, leaving both me and my dining companion suddenly anxious for the next dish.

The food is the work of Nate Courtland, who’s cooked at places like Al Di La and Union Square Cafe. Here, he puts out an unusual mix of Southern, Western, and Appalachian-style food; at first glance the menu doesn’t look quite cohesive. But as cheery female servers, in their brightly patterned shirts and big glasses, stop by to drop off dishes, the meal falls into place. The Tongue and Cheek Reuben was rich and messy, packing in two different meats and house-made sauerkraut. The side salad was plain and simple; a separate side of collard greens proved much more impressive. They were cooked simply and delicately, topped with a squirt of charred lemon, and cut so thinly you could wind them like pasta on your fork. The Root Beer Braised Brisket didn’t much taste like root beer, but it was expertly cooked and came apart easily into a pool of creamy, risotto-like rice. The compliment of mustard green was unexpected but welcome.

As for the side of the Master Fat Fried Potatoes—oh my. The small but heavy dish is cooked in duck fat, and we ate every bite. (It felt sinful to leave anything on that plate, even the fried rosemary sprigs or the creamy ranch dressing.) While the potatoes leave an impression, the drinks do, too. The folks at Montana’s make their own Switchel, a “mountain soda” comprised of apple cider vinegar, ginger syrup, and maple syrup. You can try the concoction plain, but it’s recommended in a cocktail that includes whiskey, lemon, and soda. The Gin and Jam cocktail tastes like summer in a glass, and despite the bubblegum-pink color, it leaves you woozy by the end.

The pace of the dinner was relaxed, to say the least, but it allowed for plenty of time to take in the rustic, kooky vibe. By the meal’s end, you feel far away from Bushwick, at least until a hip-looking waitress brushes past your chair with a tail hanging from her ripped jeans. The check arrived tucked in an obscure paperback book plucked from an impressive shelf lining the dining room wall. And before you leave for the real world, there’s inherent pleasure in this world—part cowboy, part Brooklyn—that’s come to life in an old repair shop.