Captain Lawrence’s Seasonal Sour Collaboration with Stone Barns

To the craft beer enthusiast, sour ale is the source of obsession. But its pungent tonalities can be off-putting to the casual consumer. With their newest release, Captain Lawrence Brewing has bottled a sour capable of pleasing both camps. Hudson Valley Harvest Sour Raspberry is an ale aged in oak barrels, fermented with fruit sourced entirely from Stone Barns in northern Westchester County. This weekend, the Elmsford-based brewery unleashes a supremely limited supply of the beer for $15 a bottle.

Sour ales are often bottle conditioned, meaning they are packaged with active yeast, allowing them to develop with time as they sit on the shelf. But Sour Raspberry actually hit the bottle almost a year ago. The beer sat patiently in the brewery awaiting elegant, updated labeling. Now it is rearing to go, ready to please palates with all its glorious complexities.

“This is far and away one of the best sours we have produced to date,” says Scott Tobin, brewhouse manager. “It’s got this crisp mouthfeel that lets the freshness of the fruit shine through every sip.” And those raspberries really do assume centerstage, delivering a tartness only slightly subdued by faint traces of wood in the finish. Never overwhelming on the tongue, its an optimal gateway sour to share with the uninitiated.

“With the current demand for sours at the brewery, this one’s going to be fetched up fast,” warns Tobin. So if you’re hoping to secure Sour Raspberry as a stocking stuffer this Christmas, steer your sleigh towards the brewery post haste. Enjoy a few classic Captain Lawrence offerings on tap while you’re there.

The tasting room is open from noon until 6 p.m. on Saturday, and noon – 5 p.m. every Sunday. Click here for details and directions.


Best Chef

Just because farm-to-table has become an overused buzzword doesn’t mean our work in that arena is done. Far from it, says Dan Barber, whose visionary 14-year-old West Village restaurant Blue Hill propelled him to a leadership role within the locavore movement. Barber later opened Blue Hill Stone Barns, which exists on and is supplied by a Hudson Valley farm. For the lifespan of each of his restaurants, he has been exploring the relationship between land and cuisine, a quest that has had some profound effects on his menus and outlook. That’s not what earns him the Best Chef mantle this year, though; nor is it a reinvention, a new restaurant, or a pioneering new technique. Rather, we bestow this honor upon Barber for what he has contributed to the restaurant industry’s thought capital with his book The Third Plate, a provocative blueprint for a new American cuisine that is optimistic in answering one of the biggest questions of our time: How will we continue to feed people when we’ve set up a system that’s unsustainable? The book makes his restaurants look underrated, and it serves as a rallying call to a higher purpose for all chefs of this generation — and it locks Barber into a role as one of the most influential culinary thinkers, and chefs, of our time.


The 10 Best Greenmarket Restaurants in NYC

Nothing makes us happier than traipsing through a Greenmarket in full swing (we’ve been known to skip as well) checking out the rhubarb, fresh lettuces, asparagus, and, of course, ramps peppering vendors’ tented tables. And while our frolicking inevitably leads to some great purchases, we’d much prefer to leave it to the professionals when it comes to fully expressing the flavors of a fiddlehead fern. Here are the 10 best Greenmarket restaurants in NYC, our favorite restaurants for celebrating the bounty of a fruitful harvest.

10. Back Forty West, 70 Prince Street, 212-219-8570
In 2011, Greenmarket godfather Peter Hoffman closed Savoy, his downtown fine-dining destination for seasonal American cuisine, after an impressive 20-year run. Citing a dining culture that had moved toward championing a more casual experience, he chose to open a second branch of sibling restaurant Back Forty in its place (this one with a decked-out smoker). And while Hoffman underling Shanna Pacifico — who had been the chef since Back Forty West opened — departed recently, the restaurant continues the market-driven aesthetic with luscious smoked pumpkin hummus, lamb schnitzel, and Norwegian skrei cod served in a lemon broth.

9. Martha, 184 Dekalb Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-596-4147
Andres Valbuena and Melissa Gorman have created an Asian-inflected Fort Greene restaurant whose roots as a supper club lend the space a cozy, infinitely charming atmosphere. The kitchen’s use of herbs to brighten dishes is especially beguiling, as in a salad of shaved celery accented with sesame oil, pungent yuzu, and the rarely seen rice paddy herb, which tastes of spiced citrus.

8. Brucie, 234 Court Street, Brooklyn, 347-987-4961
Italian cuisine gets the greenmarket treatment at this Cobble Hill trattoria with a daily-changing menu from chef Zahra Tangorra. Brussels sprouts are thrown for a loop with chickpeas, bacon, tuna conserve, and marcona almonds, and a porchetta is anointed with luxardo cherries and duck sausage. Every Wednesday is “breakfast for dinner,” with weekly specials like cheddar waffles with chicken liver butter.

7. Northern Spy Food Co., 511 East 12th Street, 212-228-5100
Local, sustainable ingredients provide the foundation for chef Hadley Schmitt’s menu at this East Village nook, where whimsical twists abound in dishes like chewy beet jerky with grapes and yogurt or sticky rolls speckled with pulled pork and covered in sweet parsnip glaze. Show up for lunch and you’ll be treated to one of the best lamb burgers the city has to offer, covered in tangy and dense Landaff cheese and served with french fries cooked in duck fat.

6. Union Square Cafe, 21 East 16th Street, 212-243-4020
For 29 years, Danny Meyer’s flagship has championed the Union Square Greenmarket, helping to make it the gastronomic utopia that it is today. From the beginning, the restaurant’s California and Mediterranean-inspired cuisine has translated perfectly with the Greenmarket’s seasonal schedule. Now, a trip to the stalwart yields inspired plates like chef Carmen Quagliata’s sugar snap peas with guanciale, mint, and Pecorino Romano, and spring onion cornbread served alongside a hefty roasted veal chop.

5. Riverpark, 450 East 29th Street, 212-729-9790
Sisha Ortuzar runs the show at Tom Colicchio’s farm-to-table restaurant overlooking the East River. Hidden behind a deeply-recessed courtyard, the restaurant’s outdoor patios look onto a sizable garden that provides much of the produce used in the kitchen. The chef doesn’t shy away from spices and fruits — loosely rolled spaccatelli pasta is imbued with cocoa to offset a rich pork ragu with apples and sage, and lamb receives a flowery punch from hibiscus.

4. Tocqueville, 1 East 15th Street, 212-647-1515
Steps from the Union Square Greenmarket, this elegant, stoic French-inflected American restaurant — Marco Moreira and Jo-Ann Makovitzky’s flagship — has long held a close relationship to the incredible products available to them, having featured a prix fixe Greenmarket menu for years. If barnyards were used to host debutante balls, the chickens might produce the farm eggs topping Tocqueville’s luscious Parmesan grits covered in shaved truffles. A mainstay on the menu, the Cato Farm cheddar salad pairs the cheese with roasted bosc pears from market superstar Migliorelli Farms.

3. Joo Mak Gol, 3526 Farrington Street, Queens, 718-460-0042
This Korean tavern is beloved by locals for its above-average banchan, bubbling tofu soups and massive platters of sliced pork belly meant for wrapping with lettuce, kimchi, and oysters. But its most impressive feature may be the market-fresh produce it provides alongside to many of its dishes. The vegetables vary, but chances are you’ll find plenty of herbs, radishes, lettuce, and cabbage. Roasted fish seasoned with sesame makes a particularly good accompaniment to the verdant array.

2. Blue Hill, 75 Washington Place, 212-539-1776
Dan Barber’s subterranean soap box for sustainability doesn’t get muddled in its own message, instead excelling on an innately satisfying level. The lion’s share of the ingredients come from Barber’s Westchester farm that he runs with his brother, an idyllic culinary wonderland where Thanksgiving turkeys roam free on hilly pastures. Berkshire hogs donate their livers to a silky terrine that’s paired with pickled vegetables, cocoa nibs, and greens from the farm’s greenhouse. Whatever you do, don’t leave without sampling one of the restaurant’s “farm snacks,” including the now-signature vegetables on a fence, which is exactly what it sounds like.

1. Telepan Local, 329 Greenwich Street, 212-966-9255
Bill Telepan’s casual downtown follow-up to his eponymous Upper West Side classic puts a keen focus on vegetables. The food here is unabashedly fun, from a bundle of fried watercress tossed with cashews and chili oil to cheeky plates like Buffalo quail with celery root and the chef’s beloved ‘foie gras jammers’ — miniature apricot jam-glazed biscuit sandwiches holding rounds of duck liver torchon. In his off-time, the chef puts his considerable skills and vegetable knowledge to use for his charity Wellness in the Schools, which aims to educate children on the benefits of eating healthy.


StilltheOne: A Journey from Hedge Fund to Honey Vodka

Blue Hill at Stone Barns is well known in the New York food world as the emblem of fine food and quality ingredient cooking, and the empire’s reach is about to expand into custom spirits, distilled with the help of StilltheOne Distillery. StilltheOne opened the doors to its vodka and gin distillery in August 2010; since then, proprietor Ed Tiedge has been on the forefront of developing several award-winning products, and local establishments have started to take notice.

Tiedge began his distilling career after being laid off from his second job in two months at a hedge fund. “In Wall Street, you get two swings at bat, but you usually don’t get a third one,” Tiedge says. “I didn’t want to be a security salesman because I didn’t want to take people’s money to sell them crappy products, so I decided I was going to make something.” After some experimentation and brainstorming, he opted to move forward with opening a distillery.

“We came up with the idea of making vodka from honey,” he says, referring to himself and his wife. “I’d done some wine-making. And then I made some mead — and it didn’t taste terrible — and then I ran it through the still and it tasted really interesting,” he explains. Vodka, unlike all other alcohols, is determined by the process, not the ingredients. All that is needed to qualify a vodka is a proof of 190. What you make it from is entirely up to you.

His wife insisted he take the business one step at a time. Step one: Can you come up with something that tastes good? Step two: How do you make it even better? “Picking the best honey and yeast combination took dozens of trials,” he explains.

With the career shift came a lifestyle shift, for better and for worse. “Naturally, I had to sell off some of my toys,” he says. “There are weeks when my bills are due that I miss the paycheck, but I do not miss the job at all. My wife doesn’t miss that job even though there was more money in our checking account. She describes me as a much nicer person, and I’m probably the happiest I’ve been in awhile. My kids seem to like me a lot more. I’m not grumpy or mad at the universe for a trade not going my way. If you make something of quality, you can feel good that you’ve made something of quality.”

After a few years spent perfecting the honeyed Comb Vodka and Comb 9 Gin, Tiedge turned to whiskey and brandy. “We just released a malt whiskey that we did with Captain Lawrence Brewing Company that’s made from their malted barley beer,” he explains. “I had an epiphany a few years ago that if you’re making whiskey from beer, you’re making a malt whiskey, so we took about 10,000 gallons of Scott [Vaccaro]’s Freshchester Pale Ale and ran it through the still. We’ve been aging it in New American oak barrels and we’ve just released the first 75 cases in November. It’s an incredibly different product. It’s awesome. It’s probably the best thing we’ve made.”

Tiedge loves the fact that he can push the envelope and create something no one else has done. The Captain Lawrence whiskey project is called 287 Whiskey, named after the highway that connects the brewery to the distillery. Tiedge expects the whiskey to start outselling their staple Comb vodka.

As for that collaboration with Blue Hill at Stone Barns, the restaurant is releasing its own gin and grappa, distilled by StilltheOne. Already a customer, the team approached Tiedge to make something special for the restaurant. “We started out talking about things they’d like,” the distiller recalls. “Sometimes they want things that are grown on the farm in Westchester to be incorporated, so they give me a bunch of herbs, I take my ingredients, and then I make a couple of different versions. They taste them and see what they like and narrow it down. And then we have a finished recipe.”

In the coming months, both the gin and grappa will be released under the name Barbers, and Tiedge hopes the collaboration will continue. “We’ll probably do a whiskey as well,” he tells us.

287 Whiskey is currently available at DrinkUpNY, Ninth Avenue Vitner, Park Avenue Liquor Shop, and around Westchester County.



Chef Ignacio Mattos Flexes His Creativity at Estela

‘It’s been building steam . . . . We get a lot of industry,” our waitress cooed, once we took our seats and asked how long the restaurant had been packed like this. Before settling in, we’d squeezed into the doorway and were placed on the wait list by an affable, iPad-wielding hostess, who offered no definitive timeframe or instructions other than gesturing toward the marble-topped bar that radiated under warm light, a thick ring of well-dressed patrons undulating like cilia around the bartenders.

Forty-five minutes later we found ourselves seated next to a power trio of celebrity chef and food-brand reps rollicking over the remains of a slightly tannic 1999 Sassella Rocce Rosse Nebbiolo. Industry or not, Estela seems to be attracting a knowledgeable clientele. A group of leather-clad flâneurs hovered by the front of the brick-walled space discussing the merits of meals at Northern California’s best restaurants.

“Saison is excellent, but it doesn’t reach the level of Meadowood,” one remarked.

“Sure, but have you been to Benu? Corey Lee is the man.”

This is the kind of barroom gossip you overhear when your chef is known for serving sardine skeletons and Jerusalem artichoke desserts. The chef in question, Ignacio Mattos, was last seen cooking at Isa in Williamsburg. Under his command, the original incarnation of that restaurant was a far-out nature walk of weirdness that proved incredibly engaging but was ultimately unsustainable. His unceremonious exodus at the behest of restaurateur Taavo Somer led to concern that the borough wouldn’t be able to sustain venues with progressive ambitions. Now in a narrow, elevated space on Houston Street, Mattos is unencumbered; you can taste it in his food.

Isa served an austere beef tartare with flax seed and smoked sunchokes. Here, the heap of tender meat bursts with brittle shards of the starchy tuber, capitalizing on the ingredients’ contrasting textures. There’s almost no need for the thick slices of Bien Cuit bread on the side, as good as they may be. In another dish, discs of lemon-marinated kohlrabi glisten under their blanket of Capra Sarda shavings. The Sardinian sheep’s milk cheese has a slight hay funkiness that complements the citrus that laces the snappy vegetable. Toasted hazelnuts and mint add depth and texture.

Perhaps the Uruguayan-born chef has an affinity for sheep. Fiore Sardo, another Sardinian sheep’s milk cheese, shows up again in a modest portion of ethereal ricotta dumplings in an onion-rich sauce shielded by slivers of raw white mushrooms. Fanned out like scales around the plate, the mushroom’s muted earthiness blossoms and tempers the sharp onions and salty, tangy cheese. Mattos’s signature rusticity is in full effect, though sometimes things get a bit too rough. Fingers of pork as pink as duck breast come topped with verdant claws of bitter dandelion greens, but the carrots are crunchy in a way that feels unfinished despite their buttery coating. Up front, the atmosphere can also suffer. Co-owner Mark Connell also owns Estela’s downstairs neighbor, the hipster bar Botanica, and one night when we ate dinner the smell of burning tobacco seeped in through the windows.

Estela has banked on the dynamic duo of a well-respected Williamsburg chef paired with an equally esteemed sommelier. Before Thomas Carter joined forces with Mattos, he ran the beverage program at Blue Hill Stone Barns. Channeling that rural background, the book—separated by subregion—emphasizes terroir and provides a frame of reference for how variations in climate, even within the same region, contribute to differences in taste. Bottle prices start in the $30 range and top off just shy of $1,000. Thankfully, some finds are to be had on the lower end of the spectrum, like a $45 bottle of Domaine Puzelat-Bonhomme “In Cot We Trust,” a naturally produced, cherry-heavy Malbec from the Loire Valley that typically retails for around $24.

Desserts feel tame in comparison to the rest of the menu, but what’s on offer is excellent. The seemingly simple panna cotta astonishes. The gelatin-based dessert exhibits the right amount of jiggle and a pure vanilla flavor, but ex–Blue Hill pastry chef Alex Grunert, who consulted on the sweets menu, improves the humble pudding with a sticky pool of honey, a splash of sweet Muscat vinegar, flecks of bee pollen, and a dusting of salt. A symbiotic relationship is formed between the creamy dessert and its sweet, sour, and savory accoutrements—familiar flavors through an unfamiliar lens.

More than anything, a sense of freedom pervades at Estela. Mattos and Carter are stretching their legs creatively while embracing an experience with a decidedly broader appeal. If only more small plates could pack such big flavors.


Q&A: Blue Hill’s Katie Bell on How to Create a Stellar Beer List

After securing a finalist spot for several years running, Blue Hill picked up a James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurant earlier this week, putting it in the company of Eleven Madison Park (2011), Daniel (2010), Jean Georges (2009), and Gramercy Tavern (2008). For those who have followed the restaurant (or, rather, pair of restaurants — one in the West Village and one upstate at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills), the accolade may seem a long time coming: Chef and co-owner Dan Barber is one of the defining chefs of this generation. A pioneer in the locavore movement, he championed the virtues of farm-to-table cooking long, long before farm-to-table became so ingrained in requirements for new restaurant openings that calling it out as a mantra seemed cliché (in fact, he was instrumental in that shift in our food culture).

Blue Hill embodies that spirit of forward thinking in all aspects of the restaurant. Case in point: While trumpeted for its wine program for years, over the past year, under the eye of beer buyer Katie Bell, the tiny West Village restaurant has vigilantly created a well-edited and concise beer menu to delight everyone from geeks to novices. When we bellied up to the bar of the subterranean spot recently, she talked about personal favorites and poured an unforgettable lineup while we nibbled vegetables-on-a-fence and other snacks.

How did you get into beer?
My first restaurant job in Colorado was in a building that housed Bristol Brewing. Those guys really took me under their wing. I was in college, so the head brewers built me a kegerator. It was my first realization that beer was really made somewhere. After college, I moved out to SoCal, where I took over the bar program at Ford’s Filling Station and made it all local. It was a cool time in California beer. Brewers were coming in to sell me their beers personally.

How did the beer come to be a focus at Blue Hill?
Dan’s really gotten into beer in this last year, and as with any department, if the kitchen is into it, it’s better. He started saying, “Bring me something cool.” I saw that as a challenge!

How did you create the program from there?
We started by highlighting cool local stuff. There are a lot more funky small-batch European breweries in New York. And there’s a lot of great grain in this state. But as with the kitchen, we’re also okay supporting people from around the world who are doing really cool things. I started working with the distributor 12 Percent, and I absolutely adore them — the people there really love beer. They introduced me to European brewers taking inspiration from American craft brewers and doing things that were more experimental. They were using wild yeast. I started bringing in some funky things.

What do you think about when you’re deciding whether a beer belongs on your list?
We generally have a six-beer list, and we keep an additional six off-the-list choices for beer pairings and people who are really excited about beer. Because our space is so small, we really value every spot on the list. I look for things that are food-approachable, so I stay away from really hoppy and high-alcohol beers, though beers with some hop are good because that goes nicely with food. The benefit in fine dining is that we get to talk people through beers, so we can bring in strange stuff for a small list. It’s not like someone is coming in and looking at the chalkboard and ordering something random.

How is your beer program different than Stone Barns?
We work together, so we have the same philosophy. But they have more space, so they don’t have to edit as much.

What are your favorite beers on the list right now?
The Gueuze Tilquin, because sour beers pair perfectly with food and are often a great way to introduce people to something they haven’t tried. The Westbrook Bearded Farmer Saison from Charleston. It’s made with white, green, and pink peppercorns. And the Perfect Crime Smoking Gun, a collaboration between Stillwater and Evil Twin, which recently moved to New York and opened Tørst [a beer bar in Greenpoint].

What local brewers are you most excited about?
Bronx Brewery, Pretty Things, Sixpoint, Kelso, and Stillwater out of Baltimore.

Where do you drink when you’re not drinking at work?
Tørst for fancy beers. Skinny Dennis [in Williamsburg] for cheap beers. And my all-time favorite, Bar Great Harry [in Carroll Gardens] for great beers. The bartenders there are so great. They just effortlessly know about beer. When I’m drinking at home, I buy almost exclusively from Bierkraft in Park Slope, though sometimes I go to the Whole Foods on Houston Street. I’m sad that Whole Foods shut down its homebrew store.

What beer did the staff celebrate your Beard Award with?
I bought a bunch of Sixpoint!



What starts the day after Thanksgiving? Why holiday shopping, of course. But don’t get your relatives in the ’burbs something they can already buy themselves at the mall. The Brooklyn Night Bazaar is a shopping party that brings together dozens of creative indie artisans as well as food (Asia Dog, Luke’s Lobster, DUB Pies), drinks, and music. Find artsy skateboards from A Little Beast, contemporary pieces for the home from AMINIMAL Studio, lacy tights from PeekBrooklyn, handcrafted veils and cocktail hats from Dollsville NYC, and fragrant candles from BondToo. Starting Saturday, the Brooklyn Flea takes it indoors for their Gifted Holiday Market, three floors of more than a hundred vendors, including Blue Hill Market and Big Sur Bakery, over the next five weekends. You’re welcome! Brooklyn Night Bazaar runs Fridays and Saturdays from 6 to midnight, through December 22, 45 North 5th Street, Brooklyn,

Saturdays, Sundays, 11 p.m. Starts: Nov. 24. Continues through Dec. 23, 2012


Leonard Lopate Talks Veggies With Blue Hill’s Dan Barber and the Franks

Last night at the Greene Space, Leonard Lopate took a break from hosting his eponymous radio show on WNYC to grill some of New York’s biggest locavore icons on the growing popularity of vegetables in restaurant kitchens. If you hadn’t noticed, vegetables are hot now as the city recovers from collective heartburn after its decade-long pork-belly binge. The night was divided into three parts: a talk with Blue Hill chef Dan Barber and his main farmer, Jack Algiere; a cooking demonstration by Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli of the growing Frankies empire (including the new West Village location); and a pickling demonstration from Michaela Hayes of Crock & Jar. The first topic? Heirloom heresy.

“We think of farmers’ ideal as being the heirloom tomato varieties, but what Jack does is talk to breeders who want to focus on flavor and it’s drastically changed the way I cook,” said Barber. OK, so it’s not that controversial to use newly developed breeds of tomatoes, with an emphasis on flavor rather than longevity or color, instead of traditional heirloom varieties. But it did provide food for thought on just what this locavore movement is all about — is it about nutrients, taste, and the environment, or is it about nostalgia for an imagined past when everybody would sit around the stove with their grandmother in an idyllic Italian farmhouse?

I also learned that the Stone Barns Center grows 600 varieties of vegetables on only 5 acres of land, which is surrounded by pasture and forest, from which they harvest flowers for eating and displays. Also, adding kelp to your compost will help imbue your soil with much-needed nutrients. Who knew?

The topic then turned to winter and eating at an intensely seasonal restaurant when it’s snowing outside. Barber pointed out that dining in winter isn’t just beet soup and boiled potatoes. “The most glorious time to eat at Blue Hill Stone Barns is winter because, while the variety is much less, the flavors are much more intense. When vegetables don’t freeze, they don’t get that additional sweetness, because the starches haven’t turned to sugar.”

Then out came the Franks, who taught everybody how to cook sweet potato ravioli with wonton wrappers. Fact of the night: Frank Castronovo doesn’t know how to use a microwave. I guess that pretty much guarantees your food is going to be fresh. The pair was lovably rough around the edges and, um, as smiley as always, which is only more reason somebody should give the pair their own trippy cooking show at 2 a.m. on the Cooking Channel.

Last up was the chipper Michaela Hayes. Her pickles will soon be sold in the Lower East Side (at the Heritage Meat Shop), which is like an actor finally making it to Broadway or a baby making it to Park Slope. The point is, she’s made it.

Next up to bask in Leonard Lopate’s warm, avuncular glow: Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery, Mark Bello of Pizza a Casa Pizza School, and Jessamyn Waldman of Hot Bread Kitchen, on October 5, same time, same place.


What’s Happening This Week: Drinking Italian, Pondering Vegetables

Our weekly dining and drinking newsletter features all the hottest epicurean events in the city.

Tour of Italy Wine Tasting
I Trulli Ristorante and Vino Wine & Spirits
Monday, September 26, 6:30 p.m.

Taste Italy’s indigenous wine varieties at this walk-around tasting of about 100 wines. Tickets are $35, which includes 10 percent off a meal at the restaurant and the same discount on any wine purchase at the shop.

Lopate and Locavores: Master Chefs Think Vegetables
The Greene Space at WNYC
Tuesday, September 27, 7 p.m.

Host Leonard Lopate will be joined by Dan Barber of Blue Hill; Jack Algiere, who grows the produce for the restaurant; and the Franks of Frankies Spuntino to talk veggies and their increasingly central role in fine dining.

Autumn Pasta Five Ways
Wednesday, September 28, 6 and 8:30 p.m.

Celebrate the new season with this five-course fall pasta menu, priced at $125, including wine pairings. Shea Gallante sources local ingredients for rustic Italian dishes, while sommelier John Slover selects potable accompaniments.


Braeburn’s Funny Farm

The far end of the dining room is dominated by a wall-size painting only half-finished, as if the artist had been called away to dinner and never returned. It shows a New England farm with a white saltbox house, a white barn, and a small flock of off-white sheep inside a white picket fence. In one corner, a spindly grove of cedars has been done in the high style of the Italian Renaissance, while in the foreground stands a smeary willow that might have been limned by Francis Bacon. The painting’s sheep, scaled way too small, seem copied from a 19th-century seed catalog.

As I was eating my last meal at Braeburn, it struck me that the defects in the painting reflect the defects in the restaurant.

Located at the bucolic corner of Greenwich and Perry streets, Braeburn seems to espouse the farmstead principles pioneered by places like Applewood and Blue Hill. (Some of the produce served at Braeburn is said to come from chef Brian Bistrong’s family farm.) The restaurant’s look is self-consciously rustic, beginning with the birch stems lined up in the windows, making it feel as if you’re gazing through a stand of trees. Squint and you might not notice the decrepit parking garage across the street. Even though the name comes from a variety of apple native to New Zealand and not New York, be assured that at Braeburn, you can have apples with every course.

Served warm, the “smoked local brook trout” ($10) arrives accompanied by apple purée flavored with horseradish, and the lightly breaded skate ($24) fans out on a bed of Swiss chard awash in a Fuji apple jus. A shotglass of apple syrup adorns an excellent dessert of freshly fried doughnut holes rolled in granulated sugar. And you can wash everything down with a selection of hard apple ciders, which form a novel and desirable beverage choice next to the usual beers and wines. The French cider from Normandy (Duché de Longueville, $7) is a little too sweet, with an underlying taste that recalls chemical fertilizers, while the cider from New Hampshire’s Farnum Hill ($7) is more like dry champagne.

So, here we have a farmstead-themed restaurant with locavore overtones. It’s a simple enough formula, and you’d expect big, aggressive plates of plainish food from farmers’-market sources. But that’s often not the case at Braeburn. The lessons of cooking school have been vigorously applied, complete with delicate servings, fussy platings, and incongruous ingredients that seem to fly out of nowhere. And why, given the farmstead theme, does the menu emphasize unsustainable ocean fish?

Don’t get me wrong. There’s much to like about Braeburn. The fist-sized and strangely boneless “all-natural rib eye” ($32) is as fine a hunk of beef as I’ve had in a month of Sundays, though the word “natural” in this context is meaningless. While the roasted “Pennsylvania chicken” is splendid in its chanterelle stew, its origin in the Keystone State is no guarantee that the chicken was humanely raised or organically fed. The single pork chop ($26) is juicy and savory, though the menu’s description—”rack of pork”—suggests more than the dish can deliver. It sits at a jaunty angle on a slurry of bacon and savoy cabbage, with a puck of potato-prune gratin on the side, accompaniments that are too sweet by a country mile. So is the citrusy fluid that soaks the otherwise good appetizer of peekytoe crab mounted on a gravel of ripe avocado. (Why do chefs like peekytoe crab so much? Because they like to say “peekytoe.”)

From there, the menu gets lost in the cornfield, like the wandering, frightened adults in Children of the Corn. The minced-shrimp crust on the “line-caught” cod—you could catch the cod with a Popeil Pocket Fisherman and it still wouldn’t be sustainable—languishes in a bonito broth with bok choy. Clearly, we’ve been teleported to a local farm in Japan. The Bibb lettuce salad, garnished with pumpkin seeds, is unsatisfyingly austere and barely dressed, a mistake no farmwife would make. Fresh as a sea breeze, the sea scallop appetizer didn’t really need to be cut in half, partially crusted with panko, and served with braised endive and walnut purée. Like the dishes on Top Chef, many of Bistrong’s compositions suffer from the “one ingredient too many” syndrome.

And, like the unfinished painting, the restaurant launches itself on a farmstead theme that it can’t quite deliver on. The shrunken sheep looking quizzically out of the painting seem to bleat: “Why no lamb on the menu?”