NOW THE FOURTH LARGEST CITY IN THE COUNTRY IF WE WERE SOLO, BROOKLYN FINDS ITS EVER-EXPANDING RESTAURANT/BAR INSPIRATION FROM OYSTER BAY TO OSAKA, FROM PARIS TO THE SAVANNAS OF AFRICA
BY MATT SCANLON CATHERINE GIGANTE BROWN DAVID PORTER AND AMANDA McCOY
EXOTIC HEIGHTS: Savannah Rooftop
Recently opened on the 12th floor of the Z NYC Hotel and taking design cues from the wild African plains, Savannah Rooftop, in Long Island City (which this edit crew has long unofficially claimed as part of Brooklyn), presents a décor of Acacia and eucalyptus wood furniture, ersatz grasses, trees, and accent pieces in blue and green. It’s a combination that makes for a warm and winning experience spiced both by sweeping views of Manhattan and Long Island and specialty cocktails like the frozen Negroni and Coco Camino (the latter a mix of mezcal, Lillet Blanc, and coconut water). Along for the show is awesomely elevated bar fare from Chef Antelmo Ambrosio, like Savanna Beef Sliders (with grilled red onion, Gruyère, Sriracha mayo, and pickles on a brioche bun), Roasted Cod Lettuce Wraps (with pineapple paprika marinade, pickled carrots, and cucumber relish), and Grilled Adobo Chicken Tacos (corn tortillas, with pickled red onion and charred salsa verde). 11 01 43rd Avenue, Long Island City, 718.568.9860, savannarooftop.com
NEW FUSION FASCINATION: Maison Yaki
Greg Baxtrom, chef and owner of Prospect Heights’s revered Olmsted, has now partnered with Max Katzenberg to open this new 50 seat restaurant and patio that combines Baxtrom’s affection for classical French preparation with yakitori style (literally “grilled chicken” in Japanese, but the term also refers to skewered food in general). With a list of plaudits that includes Olmsted being a finalist for the James Beard Foundation Award for Best New Restaurant in 2017, and Baxtrom himself as a semifinalist for the same Foundation’s Best Chef: New York City award in 2018, we were thrilled at the thought of a new presentation.
Maison Yaki’s menu starts with a “Froid” section featuring dishes like Goat Cheese Salad (cheese coated and aged in carrot ash) and Duck Rillette with Brioche with wasabi hollandaise and pickled ginger. “Chaud” appetizers include Tempura Frog Legs Provencal (with lemon parsley ponzu) and Escargot with Shiso Butter, the latter topped with toasted panko crumbs and baked in a clay pot. The “Yakitori” section is divided into vegetable, poultry, meat, and seafood categories (many of its items featuring classic French sauces), and includes Asparagus with Bearnaise, King Trumpets à la Grecque, and Duck Meatballs à L’Orange with tare sauce. The Cauliflower Okonomiyaki & Hazelnuts, seen here, is a savory version of a Japanese pancake, spiced by hazelnut richness and finished with a gently sweet and tart sauce one of the most stunning transcontinental taste experiences of the year. 626 Vanderbilt Avenue, 718.552.2609, maisonyaki.com
PASTA EXTRAVAGANCE: LOBSTER AND SPAGHETTI WITH SAFFRON: Cecconi’s
The first Soho House & Co. restaurant in New York, Cecconi’s, on the ground floor of Empire Stores in Brooklyn Bridge Park, presents a warm, 240 seat space that’s bigger than a Tuscan farmhouse. It features a massive eat in bar with a wood burning oven, a main dining room, and a sprawling outdoor patio, all with views of nearby bridges and Lower Manhattan. Marquis meals include brick oven pizzas (from buffalo mozzarella and tomato and basil to black truffle, zucchini blossom, and goat cheese), Beef or Ahi Tuna Tartare, Classic Branzino with Taggiasca olives, and Tagliatelle in a Beef Bolognese. Then there’s this rich, subtly flavored, and unspeakably lovely spaghetti with Maine lobster, saffron, and basil the brand of $40 plus meal that makes you recall fondly the days when mom and dad were in town and treating you to a bit of wonder. 55 Water Street, 718.650.3900, cecconisdumbo.com
DIVINE DUMPLINGS: M Shanghai Bistro & Garden
Owner May Liu designed the menu at this 15 years plus and going strong Willamsburg Asian oasis “based on my grandmother’s cooking and the happy memories of eating homemade dumplings with family.” Lunch and dinner, which include dedicated vegan selections, are available in Liu’s woody, warm, and gratifyingly subtly lit dining room (there’s a garden out back, too). There are more than 70 dishes on the dinner roster alone, along with cocktails and a generous Monday through Friday $5 beer and wine Happy Hour. Crisp, not at all oily, and full of flavor and wit, her fare turns traditional Chinese on its head. Yes we love entrées like The Fabulous Mu Shu (pork, chicken, or vegetarian, served with four pancakes) and Pine Nut Chicken with Sweet Corn, but there’s a magic in May Liu’s dumplings that defies words (though we’ll give it a shot). Moist and juicy, ingredients very gently drizzling from fillings, and with wrappers that are thin, tender, and wonderfully flavorful whether you choose Crispy Fried Chive and Egg, Steamed or Fried Seafood, Fried Pork varieties, or the Signature Steamed Juicy Pork Buns (soup dumplings)—the experiences are comforting, hearty, delicious, and really do conjure taste memories of the family table. 292 Grand Street, 718.384.9300, newmshanghai.com
FALL CHILL ANTIDOTE: SOUPE À L’OIGNON: La Cafette
Charles Fayet and Cedric Cadin, lifelong friends, grew up in the suburbs of Paris. Both career kitchen/hospitality pros, they brought a unique French concept eatery to Williamsburg last year one that, they told us, honored the neighborhood’s “spirit, residents, and roots,” and combined the intimacy of a brasserie with light and airy modern design. They enlisted the help of co chefs Sylvain Aubry (Bagatelle, Brasserie Canterbury Bruxelles) and Jean Marie Perrot (Bagatelle, Charlot Southampton) to form a closely knit team that infuses the restaurant with genuine and seemingly effortless charm. Soupe à L’Oignon traditionally used in its native land as a hangover remedy is, to this edit crew’s palates, an unfailing barometer of a French restaurant’s goodness. Deceptively simple, it can go wrong in so many ways (bland and/or undercooked onions, thin flavor, the avoidance of good cheese, too salty). Sexy and savory, with a hint of honey like sweetness and just enough cognac, La Cafette’s delivers heaps of comfort flavor, a bread layer that miraculously keeps its texture, and the perfect cheese crust. Incroyable! 103 Havemeyer Street, 347.529.4060, lacafettebrooklyn.com
SPECIALTY PIZZA: MIXED SEAFOOD ON SQUID INK CRUST: Enoteca
Marco Chirico, a Johnson & Wales University trained chef, heads the ownership and kitchen at Cobble Hill’s Enoteca wine bar and restaurant, as well as at Marco Polo Ristorante just next door. The former’s considerable list of bottles spans continents and more than a dozen grape varieties, and its food menu is an evolving and inventive acknowledgement by Chirico that, at least in part, tastes for Italian fare are changing. Enoteca quickly became popular for smaller dishes like tapas, bruschetta (the house cured spicy pork sausage spread variety is simply dreamy), brick oven cooked octopus over lemon potatoes, and veal meatballs. Brick oven pizza is still very much in demand, too, though the chef offers his own take on that category as well. “Seven or eight years ago, you saw an expansion of whole wheat pizza crusts,” he said. “Though over time that idea became saturated, I still thought the concept of specialty doughs was a strong one, so we began to experiment. We tried cauliflower, kale, sun dried tomato, and other vegetables, as well as what I guess was a bit of a wilder notion: squid ink, which I thought would be a terrific compliment to a mixed seafood pizza.” This pie’s principal seafood component is octopus, which responds particularly well to high temperature brick oven cooking becoming just textured enough, but not overdone. Add the house sauce and mozzarella and the deep richness of the off black crust, and you have something complex, savory, and simply without parallel in the city. A specialty item, Chirico will make it to order with 24 hours’ notice. (How’s that for a bragging rights meal?) 347 Court Street, 718.243.1000, enotecaoncourt.com
BURGER INNOVATION: HAMBURGER DI SALMONE: Next Door
This establishment, owned by George and Michael Katsichtis (with the latter at the kitchen pass), is an adventure in modern Italian cuisine spiced by enviable views of Sheepshead Bay. The first floor is the main restaurant, while upstairs presents a private dining room, and there’s also outdoor dining when weather permits. By all means thrill to standout standards like the Rigatoni alla Norma and Linguine alle Vongole, but we often go rogue by taking in the most stunning seafood burger in the borough. Next Door’s Hamburger di Salmone is an almost impossible mouthful, heaping with chunk salmon and caramelized onions and finished with lemon aioli sauce. Perfectly crispy fries are a marvelous sidecar.
2005 Emmons Avenue, 718.942.5870, nextdoorbrooklyn.com
HAPPY HOUR HIGH: Lobo Loco
Mario Abitino, co-owner of this Mexican eatery in Bay Ridge, is a veteran of the city’s culinary landscape. The son of a restaurateur, he and his brothers grew up in their Italian born dad’s Brooklyn pizzeria, which launched in 1974. Flash forward four decades and Abitino Pizzeria has locations sprinkled all over Manhattan, along with two setups at JFK Airport. The family business also includes Uncle Mario’s Brick Oven Pizza and Draft Beer in the Theatre District.
In 2016, the clan made the decision to tackle a concept entirely new to them, and the result is this gas of a place. On a block where Italian bistros are in multitude, this relaxed joint found an immediate following among families and younger crowds eager for something different. A completely fun way to precede a sit down dinner of guacamole and peppery queso, seven taco options, loaded burritos and fajitas, and Mexican churros is a rotating list of special price Happy Hour items from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m., plus daily specials (similarly reduced) on Margarita Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Sangria Sundays, and Half Priced Burrito Tuesdays. The vibe is easy, tropical, and fun, and the prices are right. 8530 3rd Avenue, 718.921.1234, lobolocony.com
ITALIAN SANDWICH STANDOUT: Paneantico Bakery Cafe
A Bay Ridge combo platter of old school Italian café and new age craft, Paneantico stands apart in many ways offering a huge but thoughtful and innovative menu with robust portions that won’t break the bank. Customers wax philosophic about the thick, gooey deliciousness of a trademark balsamic reduction that liberally dresses sandwiches and salads (owners Frank Buono and Giuseppe Generoso also sell their bottled balsamic glaze under the Roso banner), and their café has everything from prosciutto bagels to brick oven heroes and fresh greens and an array of desserts seems to go on for miles. A great number of selections are complimented by piping hot, fresh made, and wonderfully crusty breads that give Paneantico (which means “old fashioned bread” in Italian) its name. “Our bread is the base of everything here,” Buono said. “It’s what makes our sandwiches outstanding.” But it’s also nice touches like crisp arugula and imaginative combinations like grilled aubergine, smoked mozzarella, and smoked spicy Italian salami that win acolytes. And the options barely begin there the menu includes similarly heroic sized options like Paneantico Philly Cheese Steak with American cheese, peppers, and onions; Pastrami with melted mozzarella and sun dried tomatoes; and a Grilled Vegetable variation with broccoli rabe and melted Swiss cheese that makes skipping meat for the day a joy rather than a chore. Seen here is what Buono describes as arguably the most customer popular: Grilled Chicken, with mozzarella and roasted peppers, which, when drizzled with that transcendent balsamic glaze, is nothing less than a Maslow Peak Experience. 9124 3rd Avenue, 718.680.2347, paneantico.com
GRAND FINALE: PEANUT BUTTER & JELLY CUPCAKE: Brooklyn Cupcake
Founded in 2010 by sisters Carmen Rodriguez and Gina Madera, this business, as its mission statement reads in part, “is a story of unconditional belief and unrelenting commitment…born out of challenge and hope for a community.” Rodriguez was at what she terms a career crossroads (after a thirty year stint in retail management) when she enlisted both Madera and cousin Michelle Caballero to help create a shop. What began as a talent for making weekend cupcakes for the family kids has become a regional sensation, and “Best of New York” placement among New York Daily News readers, one that “takes advantage of mixed cultural backgrounds to create a menu of Puerto Rican and Italian inspired cupcakes.” Flavors include types a fan of this treat might expect, such as Flan, Dulce de Leche, Tiramisu, and Tres Leche, but surprises are never far behind. The Coquito variety’s flavors, for example, riff off a Puerto Rican holiday beverage of the same name, one made with cream of coconut and rum, while Rainbow Cookie, Rodriguez told us, “is an inspiration from the Italian tri color cookie. Real almond paste is used, which keeps the moisture in and creates a slightly denser cake. There’s also a raspberry filled center, along with our chocolate ganache. It quickly became one of our most popular.” Seen here is, at least to your tireless editorial crew, one of the most seemingly simple but marvelous: Peanut Butter & Jelly. “Gina approved this one,” explained Rodriguez during a phone interview from Puerto Rico, where she was exploring ways of expanding the brand there to help revitalize that struggling U.S. territory. “The only cupcake she likes [laughs]. This is just the real deal…peanut butter, some butter, some sugar, a touch of cream. It made into the Barclays Center as a Chef’s Selection for Brooklyn Nets games Sky Boxes…a real masculine cupcake, if there is such a thing.” (It’s also available in the Center’s 40/40 Club and Sugar Factory). To the extent that “masculine” also means “incredible,” we fully agree.