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
312 Graham Avenue
New York, NY 11211