Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Dinner | Pearl & Ash

Last week, Andrew and I met up for dinner at Pearl & Ash over in Nolita, the restaurant opened by Chef Richard Kuo of Frej fame back in February at the old space of Bowery Kitchen. Chef Kuo has worked in the kitchens of wd~50 and Corton, so I knew we were in for some interesting things that evening.

The restaurant's moniker "comes from a story Chef Kuo heard as a child, about how a fine jewel does not need a showy setting."

I loved the interiors of Pearl & Ash. The interior of the 60-seat dining room is finished with light woods, including the table tops and the unevenly arranged open shadow boxes along the walls.

Pearl & Ash boasts a 1,000-bottle wine cellar and a selective offering of specialty cocktails, the handful made only using wine (regular and fortified) and beer -- not using the standard arsenal of spirits available with a traditional liquor license, which specifically fits within the constraints of the restaurant's wine and beer license. That's where Eben Klemm came in -- he carefully crafted a menu of drinks that were apertif-based to creatively work with these strict parameters.

Love the light fixture!

The interplay of pearly woods and dark slate tiles and upholstery really

Beverage menu at Pearl & Ash.

To start, Andrew had The Alley the Icewagon (right) with Dolin Blanc and Coldbrew coffee infused Punt e Mes, which was like a coffee-infused old fashioned. Then I had the Television Tonic with Bugey de Cerdon, byrrh, and strawberries -- a really refreshingly light sangria-like cocktail. Very creative cocktails given the limitations of the restaurant's wine and beer license! Andrew had a white wine after this -- a 2011 sauvignon blanc called Très Vieilles Vignes produced by Domaine Mardon from Quincy in the Loire Valley of France. A nice white to go with the first half of our plates.

The first plate we had was off of the raw section -- ama-ebi (i.e., sweet shrimp) with smoked lime yogurt, radish, and bee pollen. With ama-ebi being right in season, this dish was quite lovely. It had the light citrus notes from the smoked lime and subtle creaminess from the yogurt. The radish added a snappy, crisp texture matching nicely with the bits of bee polen sprinkled atop. It was delightful to see ama-ebi served other than au naturel in sushi restaurants. Very well done!

Our next plate was from the small section of the menu -- octopus with sunflower seed and shiso. The octopus had a nice charred exterior and a really tender interior, and  the sunflower seed cream (sauce?) did give a nuttiness to it all, which I found to be great. but it was a bit over-salted with seasoning, making it a little difficult to enjoy completely.

We also had the sweetbread with sherry, mushrooms, and morcilla. The flavors in this dish were good (mushrooms were fabulous), but the sweetbreads themselves were more fried batter than of sweetbread substance. Perhaps if the nuggets were bigger with less breading, the texture of the sweetbread would come out more.

Our last small plate were the pork meatballs with shiitake and bonito. The meatballs had a warm, juicy center, and the bonito added that Japanese flair to them. However, the sauce was quite salty and would've been better if there was either less of it or less salt in it.

From the fish section, we shared the half portion of mussels with hen of the woods and pumpernickel. It was nice not to worry about the black shells and just go straight for the mussels themselves. I loved the broth they were swimming in -- a buttery foam with bits of maitake and hint of pumpernickel.

Also from the fish section, we had a half portion of the rainbow trout with celery, black olive, and pearl onion. With some great Mediterranean flavors, the rainbow trout had the briny-ness from the olives and a toasty crunch from the flash-fried celery leaves. Definitely one of the most interesting dishes of the evening.

From the meat section, we tried the lamb belly and heart with kohlrabi and hazelnut. With the same exact texture as you would have with pork belly, the lamb belly just had that detectable yet enjoyable gaminess to it underscored by the caramelized hazelnuts and leafy kohlrabi. The heart had that dark meat kind of consistency to it, but I'd have to say that the lamb belly had more character and substance to it.

I am so silly to not have taken a photograph of the other dish we ordered from the meat section (see this one from Ryan Sutton's review in Bloomberg) -- quail with almond, pomegranate, and chicken skin. It was by far my favorite dish of the evening. The meat was not only incredibly tender but also deboned for easy nibbling. Nuts like almonds always seem to go well with game birds, and it was no exception here. The chicken skin gave a nice bit of fattiness and crispiness to the quail, and the pomegranate gave a wee taste of autumn amidst a summer evening. I wish we had ordered the full portion of this -- would definitely encore this one at a subsequent visit.

As a side, we had the potatoes with porcini mayo and chorizo. It was a delicious mix of earth, cream, spice, and starch. Great for sharing!

Andrew finished the evening with a glass of red -- a 2011 Côtes du Rhône produced by L'Oustalet from the Rhône Valley of France -- which was as solid as a Côtes du Rhône can be! I went with a dessert wine -- a 2005 late harvest Tokaj Classic from Tokaji, Hungary. With it being a dessert wine, it was a lot sweeter than I had anticipated but still very enjoyable.

For dessert, I had the lemon sorbet with meringue and brown butter. The meringue had a beautiful torched surface and wasn't at all heavy. It made for a nice palate cleanser, punctuating the meal with a light citrus finish over the savories from dinner.

Andrew had the Fernet-Branca ice cream sandwich, which I could've swore was fresh banana, but I am probably mistaken, haha. Fernet-Branca is a bitter and aromatic spirit from Italy, which is made using a secret family recipe that catalogs 27 herbs from five continents, including aloe from South Africa, rhubarb from China, gentian from France, galangal from India/Sri Lanka, chamomile from Italy and Argentina, saffron, myrrh, and elderflower.

It had the elements of a classic ice cream sandwich -- rectangular cakey cookies with ice cream sandwiched in the center plus the wax paper wrapper emphasized that nostalgic feel as well. The Fernet-Branca ice cream was a little subdued in the creaminess, but you could detect little fruity, herbaceous hints of flavor.

Findings: All in all, our dinner at Pearl & Ash was one of mixed feelings. We felt the beverage program (cocktails and wines by the glass) were all home runs -- we thoroughly enjoyed everything we sampled. However, this wasn't the case with the plates we had to share. We found many of the dishes a bit salty, which took away from the focal point of each plate, but with exceptions like the ama-ebirainbow trout, lamb, and quail, Pearl & Ash certainly holds some promising potential in the future. Perhaps, the kitchen is still figuring it out its identity and getting its bearings on the direction of its cuisine, so I can fully understand how things can change in the first year of a restaurant's life. Until then, I was only half-impressed with the execution and a tad disappointed with how some of the dishes turned out. But, with that being said, the orchestration of ingredients along in each small plate is innovative and quite original. I'm curious to see the next menu iteration at Pearl & Ash by Chef Richard Kuo -- I am sure it will be even more awe-inspiring and more refined in execution. Looking forward to where Pearl & Ash is headed -- somewhere promising, I'm sure!

Price point: $9 for each raw course, $11-13 for each small course, $15 for each fish course, $14-16 for each meat course, $12-13 for each cocktail, $10-14 for each glass of wine.

--July 18, 2013

Pearl & Ash
220 Bowery
New York, NY 10012

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Wanderlust | Down East (Maine)

Over Independence Day Weekend, Marcus and I took a trip with Lisa to Maine, where we explored about Portland and six other towns within an hour or so radius from there. So here's a little summary -- everything we did, what we liked/disliked, logistics, and some beautiful glimpses into our amazing trip over the course of three days (Wednesday through Friday).

01a - Ogunquit
First stop was to Ogunquit, one of Maine's most visited resort towns, about four and a half hours away from New York City. Its name is derived to mean beautiful place by the sea" from the indigenous Abenaki language. Lisa stumbled upon the cute town during a Today Show feature a while back.

01b - Lobster Shack
First thing was first -- we had to have our inaugural lobster roll, which we happily ordered at Lobster Shack, where its staff sport red t-shirts that read "Got Tail?" on the back. This place was legit. The lobster roll special includes homemade cole slaw, ruffled chips, and a cup of homemade clam chowder ("Momma's recipe" per the owner :P). And yes, the roll part of the lobster roll was buttered and toasted. Please be warned that the clam chowded is really hot, so proceed with caution!

01c - PC Candies
There's also a nostalgia candy shop called Perkins Cove Candies in Ogunquit which sells barrels of assorted salt water taffy as well as lost relics in the candy world including (but not limited to) Warheads, Bubble Tape, and Pop Rocks.

Our main attraction in Ogunquit was {1,3} the lobstering trip with Finestkind Cruises. Our tour began at 2 PM, and {4} there was already a queue to board the boat!

01d - lobstering 1
{5,7-8} During the ride to its lobster traps, the tour guide gave us a little background on how lobstering works in Maine, what's involved, etc., {6} including a rundown of how a lobster trap works. There are two chambers to the trap -- the kitchen (i.e., where the bait is kept) and the parlor (i.e., where the lobster is trapped from escape). {9} We were also shown the difference between male and female lobsters so we'd be able to identify them on our own.

01d - lobstering 2
{5} One of the catches that day included {2} a cull, i.e., a one-clawed lobster and {3-4} a few lobsters deemed to be regulation friendly. Lobsters can actually regenerate a new claw after losing one as a result of a defense mechanism, which can take up to two whole years. The tour guide also showed us some other sea creatures that tend to be caught in its lobster traps from time to time, including {6} a baby starfish as well as a sea urchin and hermit crab (not pictured).

Upon leaving Ogunquit, we made a pitstop to Yarmouth, home to the DeLorme Headquarters and {1-2,5Eartha, the World's Largest Revolving/Rotating Globe, {4} as esteemed by the Guinness Book of World Records in 1999. Completed in July 1998, Eartha took two years to build, spanning 41.5 feet in diameter.

02 - Eartha
Eartha represents earth as it is seen from space with a scale of 1:1,000,000 (i.e., one inch is about 16 miles). It rotates and revolves on a specially designed and built mechanized, cantilever arm at 23.5 degrees (same as the Earth!), and one revolution and rotation occurs every minute at maximum speed. The images on Eartha comprise of 792 map sections, all printed and mounted on lightweight panels with each about 8° latitude by 10° longitude.

We stayed in Phippsburg via Airbnb over the duration of our three-day jaunt in Maine, equidistant from Portland (where we planned on spending the Fourth) and Boothbay Harbor (the next day).

We had dinner in town that evening (a restaurant which shall remain nameless just to keep it simple) -- it was pretty mediocre and not very good, but we made do because we didn't wanna stray too far away from the beach house after dark.

But despite dinner being so-so, the view of Cape Small Harbor was quite nice.

View from the restaurant's window.

The next day was July 4, so we decided to spend the entirety of it in Portland. Our first stop was supposed to be Duckfat, a Belgian sandwich shop, but unfortunately it was closed for the holiday. Thankfully, our back-up plans had an oyster bar across the street from Duckfat called Eventide Oyster Co. {1Eventide Oyster Co. "marks the transition between day and night, a time that calls for refreshment and rejuvenation" as it aims to be {10} a true "revival of the great American oyster bar that offers pristine shellfish and a fresh take on classic New England fare." With it being an oyster bar, you can bet your bottom dollar that {4,10} Lisa and I ordered a crapload of oysters to slurp and enjoy. There were two section of offerings -- one listed Eventide's selection From Maine and the other listed selections From Away.

04a - Eventide
Since Lisa and I've had our fair share of the ones listed in the From Away, we wanted to really immerse ourselves in the local cuisine, so we decided to do a Maine-centric flight of oysters.

{7} From right to left, starting at accoutrement:
(a) *Winter Point Select from West Bath, Maine: Briny and peppery with a smooth finish.
(b) Norumbega from Damariscotta: Less briny than Winter Point Select.
(c) Dodge Cove from Damariscotta: Meaty and buttery.
(d) Brown Point from Damariscotta: Along with the previous two oysters of Damariscotta origin, this was very similar.
(e) John's River from South Bristol: Buttery.
(f) *Flying Point from Freeport: Nice and buttery.
{3} Starting clockwise from accoutrement:
(g) Nonesuch from Scarborough: No other word to better describe this other than funky.
(h) *Basket Island from Casco Bay: Very clean tasting and refreshing.
(i) Taunton Bay from Acadia: Didn't like very much.
Here were the remaining highlights of what we ate:
{2} fried oyster buns with tartar sauce and pickles: LOVED! Perfect size to get a taste of a well-battered oyster. Wish the bun was toasted though -- it was a little soggy by the end.
{6} lobster stew with sherry and paprika along with a homemade biscuit: AWESOME! Not too thick with lots of lobster chunks.
{8} Eventide lobster roll with hollandaise over a house-made bun: Though this lobster roll is more of a bite/appetizer size, the hollandaise was a nice touch.
{9fried Bangs Island mussel salad with orange-fennel vinaigrette and arugula: Really nicely done -- mussels were lightly battered, and the dressed greens made it even better.
04b - Downtown
The shopping in Portland is really quaint and cute. These were some of my particular favorites.{1}The vintage sail totes and accessories at Sea Bags (sadly closed on the Fourth) are made from recycled sales (from sailers and sailing communities around the world) that still have the markings from the retired sails. The design and manufacturing process takes place here in Maine on Portland's working waterfront. {3Abacus Gallery has a captivating collection of one-of-a-kind gifts, including jewelry (ranging from high-end to highly affordable) as well as unusual crafts and home accessories. I fell in love with an original giclee print (entitled See Maine) during our perusals there and regretted not getting it while being in town. Thankfully, Abacus has multiple locations, including Ogunquit (where we had gone the day before) and Boothbay Harbor (where we were headed the following day), so I was very much in luck. {2} Fizz Mixology Shop had just opened its doors that very day when we had stumbled upon it, offering a variety of bitters, syrups, mixology paraphernalia (shakers, muddlers, glassware, etc.). The soda bar inside the shop was still under construction at the time, so that would definitely be another spot to hit up during a subsequent visit.

04c - MDICC
A summer trip like this one isn't complete without having some churned confections, so we made our way to Mount Desert Island Ice Cream. The flavors we tried included: {3} salted caramel and cinnamon; {4} Ovaltine malt ball and Thai chili; {5coconut (incidentally President Obama's favorite when he visited this very shop); and {6} fresh mint chip. All these flavors were really solid -- the fresh mint chip that I got was just divinely refreshing -- as they had the right amount of flavor and sweetness without being overwhelmed with too much punch and sugar. Crazy to discover that Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream was noted in this recent round-up by Huffington Post as "Where to Taste the Future of American Ice Cream".

04d - Bard
If you're looking for a place that offers some really great coffee, Bard Coffee is your best bet. The coffee shop's name is derived from bard, which is "a minstrel poet of an ancient Celtic order who composed and recited verses celebrating the legendary exploits of chieftains and heroes." With this in mind, the baristas at Bard Coffee have made it their mission to tell stories of the people and places behind the great coffees it serves. I had an iced cappuccino with soy milk and a splash of simple syrup, and it was fabulous!

Since we were in town on the Fourth, I wanted to be sure we picked a restaurant that gave us a guaranteed dinner reservation. {1} So we headed to Street and Company for an early dinner in Portland's Old Port, tucked away on Wharf Street, a cute cobblestoned side street. This was probably the most refined dining experience we had on our trip, and boy was it pretty damn good! Also found out that not only do they take reservations up to two months in advance, they reserve 1/3 of the restaurant for walk-ins! {5} With a warm, welcoming atmosphere of rustic influence, Street and Co. has a few mantras that embodies what kind of restaurant it strives to be -- one that offers very fresh seafood (really "local seafare") with Mediterranean flavors with simple preparations that maintain the ingredients' essence ("less is more") of sizzling pans with garlic, olive oil, basil, shallots, and a little flame. The service at Street and Co. was very nice, making us feel right at home.

04e - Street and Co (1)
For our starters, we decided to go family style and try four dishes that struck our fancy over a bottle of a 2006 Gewurztraminer from Alsace produced by Trimbach. {2} The calamari in a spicy tomato broth with olive couscous proved to be very tender and robust in flavor, and mixed surprisingly well with some bites of the {3} fresh crabmeat tossed with local English peas, grilled red onion, Upland cress, and orange citronette. {4} The roasted pepper and tomato soup was hearty and concentrated with the boldness of the earthy red fruits. Maybe a little too much with the ridiculously hot weather we had that day, but it all worked out. We also shared {6} the mussels provençal with garlic, white wine, and butter -- can't beat mussels generously showered and basted with these three things, especially if they're nice and plump!

04e - Street and Co (2)
{1,3} We sat in the restaurant's back dining area, which was really roomy but cozy. The noise level was comfortably energetic, making our meal there that much more pleasant. {2} For my main course, Among the main courses we had were the broiled scallops with seasonal vegetables -- it is really hard to do scallops right -- getting that perfect interior temperature is really tricky. But the simple preparation surely had these beauts sing their true flavor. {5} The blackened sockeye salmon with seasonal vegetables was fantastic, too. The blackened rub made the filet of salmon taste super zesty, giving some excitement on the palate. {4} Lastly, we tried the monstrous but awesome lobster diavolo (for two) -- one whole lobster (split in half), squid, clams, mussels, and shrimp over linguine in spicy, tomato-y fra diavolo sauce. Honestly, the portion really isn't for two -- it could have fed all of us in addition to one more main course. (6) To end our meal, we had the pecan pie a la mode. Apparently pies are a thing in Maine, and this was quite lovely. All in all, this was undoubtedly my favorite dining experience during our entire time in Maine.

Our last day in Maine first brought us to Edgecomb, where {1Glidden Point Oyster Sea Farm has its commercial and retail storefront. {6} We arrived ready to shuck some oysters with our very own oyster knives and gloves. Glidden Point cultured oysters are "well-known around the world for their uniform size and shape, deep shell cup, and superb freshness with a flavor that is both distinct and complex (briny yet sweet) as well as meat that is plump and firm, directly a result of slow, cold water growth."

05a - Glidden Point
{4} We got two dozen Glidden Point Select oysters and some of the Farm's cocktail sauce to go with it, {3,7} where Lisa and I used the skills we learned in the oyster shucking class at the Astor Center to open up these precious bivalves and {2,5}eat them fresh out of the shell right here at the Farm. The Farm's store is stocked daily with diver harvested oysters (along with other shellfish), which are "grown in a very natural, pristine setting, using no machinery or processing equipment as everything is done meticulously by hand." {8} Here are the remains of the two dozen oysters, shucked and eaten (made for a really, really great tasting East Coast oyster).

Lisa and me at Glidden Point Oyster Sea Farm, shucking our own oysters.

After our oyster shucking extravaganza, {2} we drove on over to Boothbay Harbor, about fifteen to twenty minutes away from Edgecomb. We worked up quite an appetite, so when we arrived to {1,5The Lobster Dock (Lisa's favorite casual spot in Maine during her last visit), you can bet your bottom dollar that we ordered a crapload of grub.

06a - Lobster Dock
{2,7} We had our fair share of fried seafood, including these awesome fried clam strips, plump fried oysters, and lightly battered fried calamari with fra diavolo sauce. {6,8} For our larger starters, we shared an order of mussels marinere with garlic, wine, herbs, and crusty garlic bread as well as Throwdown crab cakes (made famous on Throwdown! with Bobby Flay) served with summer salsa and topped with signature remoulade sauce. Both were fantastic! And last but not least, we tried two different lobster rolls -- one cold served with a touch of mayonnaise and the other hot which was gently warmed with butter. I think of all the lobster rolls we had in Maine, this was by far our favorite. It was the perfect ratio of lobster-to-roll and more about the lobster than the mayonnaise or butter. Plus, a well-buttered and toasted roll makes any lobster roll THAT much better.


We walked around town after lunch (walking off all that food was key), where we stopped into a really cute used bookshop, Friends of the Library Used Bookstore, where Lisa found some presidential biographies for less than $5 each, and I scored a copy of Chef Christina Tosi's Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook for a mere $5!


Also, since the Sea Bags headquarters shop in Portland was closed on the Fourth, I was able to find a retailer in Boothbay Harbor called Sweetbay Shop which carried a wide variety of the repurposed sail totes. I found this fabulous one with anchors that I happily brought home with me. I also returned to Abacus Gallery to pick up that print that I had fallen in love with in Portland, and it now hangs on our living room wall! :D

06b - BBH gifts
On our perusals through down, we found this really cute gift shop called Maine Made & More which had {1} beautiful display ships crafted by hand, {3} gilded nautical paraphernalia (compasses and the like), and {4Sea Bags with the coordinates of Boothbay Harbor sewed on. One thing that particularly sparked an interested in Marcus and me were these gorgeously crafted Galileo thermometers. Being the geeks that we are, we bought one for the apartment, and we continue to marvel at the sheer brilliance behind the Italian scientist's clever apparatus.

06c - DT CP
No trip to the New England coast isn't complete without picking up some salt water taffy, and we found the perfect spot to do so. {1,3,4Downeast Candies' Daffy Taffy Factory had an interesting selection, including wacky flavors like licorice and root beer. Then down the street was {2,6Coastal Maine Popcorn Company which had many originally flavored popcorns, most notably a bacon and chocolate variety.

Before we were on our way back to our airbnb, we drove through the cutest town called Wiscasset, allegedly heralded as the prettiest village in Maine. Judging by what we saw, I don't think that title is without merit! :P

{2} We passed a little corner shack called Red's Eats, which {1} had a line going around the corner -- we thought to ourselves that something but be amazing here for people to tolerate a queue this long. And just like that -- it became our spot for dinner. Funny enough, Red's wasn't always located in Wiscasset -- its original home was in Boothbay Harbor until 1954.

07a - Red's Eats
{3} The sweet potato fries were really good (and this is coming from someone who doesn't typically like these), and unfortunately, the (in)famous lobster rolls here -- guaranteed at least one pound of lobster per roll! -- were a wee bit overwhelming for us. Although you get a bigger bang for your buck at Red's (and bragging rights for having eaten at the "World's Best Lobster Shack"), it was kind hard to eat and enjoy because the lobster-to-roll ratio wasn't necessarily ideal. Perhaps it was because it was the last lobster roll of our trip (and we were certainly not only seafood'd out but truly lobster (roll)'d out, but we didn't see what the hype was all about. It was a ton of lobster, and not enough roll to support it. Nevertheless, it was nice to end our trip in a pretty town like Wiscasset -- it made for a peacefully satisfying farewell to our time Down East.

Price point: $15 for the lobster roll special at Lobster Shack; $17 per person for the lobstering trip with Finestkind Cruises; free admission to Eartha at the DeLorme Headquarters; $15 for half dozen of oysters at Eventide Oyster Co., $27 for full dozen, $11 for each stew, $7-11 for each cooked item, $8 for each salad; $3.75 for each single sized cone at Mount Desert Island Ice Cream; $3.50 for each iced cappuccino at Bard Coffee; $5.95-12.95 for each starter at Street and Company, $28.95-47.95 for each main course, $7 for each dessert, $39 for a bottle of Gewurztraminer; $22 for each dozen of Glidden Point Select oysters, $3 for each serving of cocktail sauce; $7.95-12.95 for each starter at The Lobster Dock, $8.95-16.95 for each side, $15.95 for each lobster roll; $17 for each lobster roll at Red's Eats.

--July 3-5, 2013

*Lobster Shack
110 Perkins Cove
Ogunquit, ME 03907

Perkins Cove Candies
103 Oarweed Road
Ogunquit, ME 03907

*Finestkind Scenic Cruises
boarding dock at Barnacle Billy's
70 Perkins Cove
Ogunquit, ME 03907

The DeLorme Map Store
2 DeLorme Drive
Yarmouth, ME 04096

*Eventide Oyster Co.
86 Middle Street
Portland, ME 04101

*Sea Bags
24 Custom House Wharf
Portland, ME 04101

*Mount Desert Island Ice Cream
51 Exchange Street
Portland, ME 04101

*Abacus Gallery
44 Exchange Street
Portland, ME 04101

*Bard Coffee
185 Middle Street
Portland, ME 04101

*Fizz Mixology Shop
345 Fore Street
Portland, ME 04101

*Street and Company
33 Wharf Street
Portland, ME 04101

*Glidden Point Oyster Sea Farm
707 River Road
Edgecomb, ME 04556

*The Lobster Dock
49 Atlantic Avenue
Boothbay Harbor, ME 04538

Friends of the Library Used Bookstore
behind Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library
4 Oak Street
Boothbay Harbor, ME 04538

Sweetbay Shop
9 Townsend Avenue
Boothbay Harbor, ME 04538

*Abacus Gallery
12 Mckown Street
Boothbay Harbor, ME 04538

*Maine Made and More
25 Granary Way
Boothbay Harbor, ME 04538

*Daffy Taffy Factory
Bridge Street and By-Way
Boothbay Harbor, ME 04538

Red's Eats
41 Water Street
Wiscasset, ME 04578

Friday, July 12, 2013

Dinner | Gwynnett St.

Last month, I took Amanda and Kris out to belatedly celebrate her birthday and his college graduation over at Gwynnett St. in East Williamsburg. Loved the brick exterior of the restaurant -- gives it some age and character! I'd been meaning to get my butt over to Gwynnett St. for quite some times

The restaurant's name is "named in tribute to the Village of Williamsburg and is inspired by the original Gwinnett Street." Prior to 1852, Lorimer Street (from Broadway to Grand Street) was "a territory in old city Brooklyn known as Gwinnett Street," which was "the first street to connect Williamsburg to other counties in Brooklyn." As such, Gwynnett St. is an ode to old Williamsburg as well as a metaphor for "a unique and expanding food culture that is connecting Brooklyn restaurants, chefs, and artisans to the rest of New York City and beyond."


Owen Clark has cooked in New York City for seven years. Hailing from Colorado he was exposed to the fishing, hunting, and outdoor activities the state is famous for. Owen became familiar with many wild edibles, learning to forage he developed a true feel for the seasons. Starting his culinary career in a family style Italian restaurant, he decided to enter a culinary program in Boulder at the Culinary School of the Rockies. The degree helped him land an apprenticeship in the elite Michelin 2-starred “L’Oustau d’Baumaniere” in Les Baux- de- Provence, France. Owen then earned another apprenticeship in Europe at The Fat Duck in Bray, England. The restaurant was rated the “Best in the World” by Restaurant Magazine. From there he was invited to cook at WD-50 in New York City‘s Lower East Side. He spent two years rising through the ranks and learning more than he ever thought possible about flavor pairings, technique, and modern styles of cuisine. After leaving WD50, Owen was attracted to Blue Hill restaurant for its seasonality and emphasis on sustainable ingredients. He worked for two years with Dan Barber, a James Beard award winner and one of Time Magazine’s 50 most influential people for 2009. Owen started as Sous Chef on the opening team, then proceeding Mr. Hilbert, Owen is finally into his own Executive position.

The brick from the outside walls bleeds into the interior, whereby the exposed brick creates a warm atmosphere within the restaurant.

While Kris and Amanda started enjoying drinks at the bar prior to my arrival, I began with Mr. Pink -- a daring concoction of mezcal, elderflower, absinthe, lime, and pink peppercorn (along the rim). Smoky from the mezcal, floral from the elderflower, and punchy from the peppercorned rim, this drink was a bit of a heavier summer cocktail, but still a good one.

We had an order of whiskey bread with cultured butter for the table. Warm and buttery, it had that same familiarity of dinner biscuits with a hint of evaporated whiskey on the finish.

For my first course, I had the sunflower with cocoa nib, charred onion, and artichoke. Though entirely vegetable driven, this course had its fair share of heartiness from the earthy combination of ingredients that were crafted together here. Texture played an interesting role here as well, as you had a crunch throughout from the nibs and lightly charred bits along with the crisp leaves on top. The artichoke was like a proxy for a pasta dish you would typically see as a starter course, playfully dressed like agnolotti. I enjoyed this course for its beauty in plating as well as its widely contrasted flavors throughout.

Amanda started with the stinging nettle soup with clam, kombu, and parsley. At first, we weren't sure what to make of the dark, swampy looking soup until we sipped our first spoonful. Intensely herbaceous, the chilled soup surprised us with a symphony of bold flavors that only made sense if all ingredients were consumed in harmony. With mixed concentrations of land (nettle and parsley) and sea (clam and kombu), this soup was strangely yet satisfyingly refreshing and filling.

Kris had the fluke with cucumber, knotweed, green almond, and horseradish. The fluke was more texture than anything, a blank slate for the accompanying greenery to speak. Overall, while this dish was done nicely, it was also very delicate and didn't really stand out like the others did.I'll give Gwynnett St. one thing though -- it was gorgeously plated.

For my main course, I had the chicken with Chinese black bean, green garlic, and turnip. The Chinese black bean (more colloquially known in Chinese as dozi) was what got me really curious -- really wanting to see how an American chef would exploit the most of its intoxicating flavor. The chicken was quite juicy and tender (especially for chicken breast!), and the black bean sauce was puréed into a smoother grainy-ness, the kind perfect for sweeping bites of chicken and turnip (whose bland flavor really permitted the black bean sauce to permeate. While the green garlic was fragrant which very much rounded out the dish aromatically, I found the blackened coating on the chicken to be really oversalted. Perhaps it was to accentuate the smokiness of the dish, but at the end, it just made it hard to finish it all, which was the most saddening of all because I liked everything else about it. A little lighter on the salt, and this would've gone really great without a hitch.

Amanda had the duck with golden beets, dandelion, and quinoa -- perhaps my favorite dish of the entire evening. A protein most associated with the fall and winter found its way happily during the summer months with the spot-on complements of earthy yet sweet golden beets and pearly, light grains of quinoa. The skin was well-charred to a dark crisp, and the meat was playfully pink medium rare. Loved everything about this! :)

Kris had the beef with ramps, broccoli rabe, and flowers. It was a nice cut of beef which had an interesting interplay of aromatic ramps and bitter broccoli rabe. Again, a visually playful dish that was thoroughly enjoyed.

For dessert, I decided to try the hazelnut with fennel and chocolate. What made this dessert so different from any typical chocolate one is the inclusion of an herb as peppery and as unusual as fennel. Don't get me wrong -- I love me some fennel -- but I've always seen it as something more savory than sweet. Guess the folks at Gwynnett St. showed me how it was actually feasible and equally enjoyable. Even with the use of dark chocolate, it was still sweet in that bitter kind of way, but the fennel certainly added something totally unexpected to it -- lightly herbish with a touch of that punchy spice. Very cool!

Amanda had the strawberry with yogurt, verbena, and elderflower. Quite light and refreshing, this dessert emulated the ideal breakfast of Greek yogurt and berries, only here in a much more gourmet execution (and light floral and citrus notes from the elderflower and verbena). The mixture of tart and creamy worked really well here.

Kris had the carrot with caramel, cardamom, milk, and honey -- ultimately a deconstructed carrot cake with all of the necessary trimmings. However "modern" the composition, it had the essential things that make a really good carrot cake -- the spices, the hint of fresh carrot, the cream cheese-esque frosting (the "milk and honey" here, I believe), the spongey part of the cake. The twist was the caramel, adding a little sweetness to a dessert that's so classically savory. Taking a little bit of each element, and you have one fulfilling piece of a modern carrot cake.

Findings: Gwynnett St. proved to be a true homage to Brooklyn and the cuisine it has be cooking up in recent years. Not only was the ambiance the opposite of stuffy (even with its tables draped in white linen), the service was the right balance of reservedness, insight, and prescience. Everything about Gwynnett St. was extremely relaxed without compromising quality or sophistication (partially attributed to the wall of exposed brick. Dining here is like being in a museum of colorful flavors -- plates full of abstract culinary paintings, all so deliberate and aesthetic that you feel pangs of guilt for even thinking about disturbing them with a bite.

While there were some dishes that I felt needed a little more refining, I still enjoyed the meal overall. Not sure how frequently the menu changes, but when it does, I'd be tempted to go back once more to try new things to better calibrate my review. I really did love our dining experience here, and it really eats at me that I couldn't say the same about every single dish -- the stand-outs were undoubtedly the stinging nettle soup, sunflower, duck, and all the desserts. So I haven't lost faith in Gwynnett St. Within her lives the spirit of old city Williamsburg to which its moniker pays tribute, and the beauty in the carefully crafted cuisine here does not tarnish this one bit. All in all, nice to know that Brooklyn boasts a great contender like Gwynnett St. against the dense realm of fine dining options in Manhattan.

Happy Belated Birthday to Amanda and another big congratulations to Kris! :)

Price point: $12 for each cocktail, $5-16 for each starter, $26-30 for each main course, $10 for each dessert.

--June 14, 2013

Gwynnett Street
312 Graham Avenue
New York, NY 11211


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