1. Brooklyn’s Ascension Is Official.
Not so long ago, Carlo Mirarchi’s improvised, elaborately inventive tasting menu was a local secret among assorted roustabouts and neighborhood gourmets who frequented a semi-anonymous pizza hall out in Bushwick called Roberta’s. But these days, Roberta’s is an international dining destination, and it’s harder to get a reservation at the restaurant’s new twelve-seat tasting atelier, Blanca, than it is to secure a table at one of the old-line Manhattan dining palaces like Daniel or Per Se. When I dropped in for dinner not long ago, the pleasant little room—in a converted garage in the Roberta’s compound—was filled with eager gourmands who’d flown in for their 27-course dinner from far-off destinations like Montreal, Vienna, and L.A. Mirarchi has long had an underground reputation as a pasta wizard, but pay special attention to his meat dishes, in particular the crunchy, honey-colored slices of roasted duck and the country lamb, which the chefs cut in thin, melting ribbons, and garnish with spoonfuls of gêlée, flavored, in the new haute Brooklyn style, with mint from the communal garden outside.
Food-obsessed Brooklynites used to have to take the L train into Manhattan to get their fix of the latest Asian-fusion or tapas craze. But these days, it’s jaded Manhattanites who are making the long slog out to Talde, in Park Slope, to sample ingenious fusion comfort-food creations like pretzel pork-and-chive pot stickers, smoked char siu pork shoulder, and deliciously sticky, chile-infused Kung Pao chicken wings, which the former Jean-Georges acolyte Dale Talde serves with soothing pots of buttermilk dipping sauce. The best pork dish this Manhattan-centric critic enjoyed last year was a quince-and-rose-glazed cut of suckling pig, which those noted Manhattan tapas aficionados Alex Raij and Eder Montero serve as an occasional special at their new Cobble Hill restaurant, La Vara. And if you crave scrupulously authentic home-style Northern Thai specialties like chopped duck salad or fiery pork laap, there is now no better place to find them in all of New York than at Andy Ricker’s multi-star, no-reservations Thai restaurant Pok Pok Ny, which has been mobbed by a chattering rabble of thrill-seeking food tourists from all over the city since it opened its doors last summer on Columbia Street, down by the lonely docks of Red Hook.
Instead of finding a stylish spot in the West Village to follow up his hit Williamsburg breakfast joint, Egg, George Weld opened Parish Hall down the block, on North 3rd Street, where it’s a pleasure, on a brisk winter’s evening, to sit at the spare, Ikea-style bar with assorted artisanal hemp-weavers and chocolatiers from the neighborhood and dine on Slow Food specialties like grass-fed-lamb tartare, steamy bowls of Cayuga-flour dumplings threaded with turnips and Swiss chard, and wedges of a classic French pear tart for dessert, which the kitchen tops with scoops of vanilla ice cream flavored with the faintest hint of blue cheese. Justin Hilbert trained at Mugaritz in Spain and wd-50 in Manhattan, among other grand international kitchens. To sample this young chef’s polished brand of cooking today, travel out to Gwynnett St., in the eastern stretches of Williamsburg, where the specialties on the sophisticated, modestly priced menu include fresh-baked blocks of whiskey bread, sweet strips of lamb’s breast dabbed with yogurt and caraway seeds, and a delicious house Amish chicken, which Hilbert cooks to a notable tenderness using the latest molecular-gastronomy techniques, then flavors, in elevated farm-to-table style, with a whiff of burned hay.
Kings County now boasts its own Manhattan-style hotel-scene restaurant called Reynard, in the new Wythe Hotel, where the McNally-esque bistro menu features eggs mayonnaise; tubs of rustic, properly grainy duck rillettes; and a surprisingly excellent grass-fed-beef burger, righteously ground by the hotel’s butcher in-house. Even my rabidly anti-Brooklyn friend the Steak Loon concedes that the excellent Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue, on Third Avenue in Gowanus, “is as good a new barbecue restaurant as we’ve seen in New York.” And if you’re looking for a Manhattan-size selection of briny fresh oysters to go with your carefully stirred absinthe cocktail, Maison Premiere, on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, offers 33 varieties, along with an impressive new small-plates menu featuring suckling pig garnished with black trumpet mushrooms and $21 helpings of roast pigeon served by bustling waiters wearing white bistro aprons and bow ties. The $34 top-loin Wagyu-beef coulotte steak on the menu at Roberta’s veteran Angelo Romano’s new restaurant, The Pines, is undoubtedly the grandest cut of beef ever served in the vicinity of the Gowanus Canal, and if you don’t feel like hopping a plane to Norway to experience the great Scandinavian culinary revolution, the next best thing may be to book a seat at Aska, where the former Frej chef, Fredrik Berselius, serves seasonal, sparely constructed dishes of smoked fish, edible seaweed, and tuber root in a Williamsburg design space called Kinfolk Studios. For the ultimate in New Brooklyn dining, however, this critic’s choice is Battersby, which the former Blue Hill and Gramercy Tavern chefs Joseph Ogrodnek and Walker Stern opened a little more than a year ago in a Lilliputian storefront space on Smith Street. The tiny, brick-walled room looks like a parody of the kind of scruffy, self-important restaurant the borough used to be famous for, but don’t let that fool you. Ogrodnek and Stern are equally at home with Asian fusion (the crispy kale salad), elevated comfort cooking (the pork belly Parmesan), and the old-fashioned glories of classic French technique (if you see anything to do with sweetbreads on the menu, order it). At $85 per person, their seven-course “spontaneous” tasting menu is one of the best deals in this entire tasting-menu-saturated town.