More than 50 Park Slope eateries participated in the eighth annual Dine In Brooklyn promotion last month, with most charging $25 for a three-course dinner, and many offering lunch and brunch deals as well. It was a perfect opportunity to visit – and revisit – some neighborhood restaurants.
I suppose it’s not surprising that I beat a path to some of our most notable dining establishments – Applewood, Rose Water and Blue Ribbon.
Applewood, on 11th Street, was one of the highlights of the 10-day dining extravaganza. The ambience of the farm-to-table restaurant is casual but elegant, and the service thoughtful. (Years ago, a server corrected my perfectly acceptable pronunciation of “chamomile” – I was glad to make it through this meal uncorrected!) I started off with a cocktail of vodka and gin, surprisingly but subtly infused with cardamom. For starters, vegetable soup with lentils and greens was light but warming on a cold March evening; roasted beets were nicely highlighted by lemon aioli. The Atlantic hake entree was moist, and complemented well by black bean puree with cumin, and buttermilk vinaigrette. Orange bread pudding with butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice cream was divine; but caramelized Fuji apples with a disk of bland cream cheese pastry didn’t blow me away. Overall, the evening was lovely, save for the presence of a loud talker, who pushed the decibel level above 80.
Rose Water, on Union Street, does an amazing job of sourcing the best, market-fresh ingredients. Dinner was wonderful, and the wine pairings, with many from New York state, were inspired (an additional $14 each). We sat on the porch, wrapped in blankets and toasty-warm (until the adjacent, self-involved couple moved the heater closer to them – ah, Park Slope!). The appetizer of fried goat cheese with clementines, honey and prosciutto was exquisite, as was the creamy soup of late-winter turnips. Roast chicken with broccoli rabe was to-die-for, with crispy skin and tender flesh. Baked coarse-ground polenta was fine, with the highlight being the sweet, chewy currants on top. Desserts included a delectable chocolate-cardamom pot de creme, but the winner was Meyer lemon cake with pine nut brittle.
Next on the list was Blue Ribbon, on Fifth Avenue – there’s something bold, unapologetic and purely American about the experience. The service is attentive, the presentation impressive, and the food very straightforward and elegantly prepared. In addition to the prix fixe meal, we added oysters, hama hama from Washington state being the best of the lot – large, superfresh, and succulent. The green bean appetizer was crunchy and sweet, tasting like the first days of spring; the salmon was juicy; the bread pudding dense and decadent. The atmosphere was fun and lively – though the bass was too prominent at times (Full disclosure, in case you hadn’t already discerned this: I’m sensitive to my surroundings!)
On to Palo Santo, a pan-Latin restaurant on Union Street. Here, the ceviche appetizer disappointed a bit – despite the very authentic (Ecuadorean/Peruvian) popcorn garnish, the fish was overpowered by the spices’ heat. But the bluefish entree with red pepper and plantain was terrific, and I enjoyed guiso de platano, a sweet/tangy, hearty Trinidadian dish that married plantains with coconut milk, chiles, cumin and coriander. Dessert was delish – three sweet bites of key lime pie, flourless orange-pecan cake, and chocolate mousse. And the service was extraordinary, given that our very friendly waiter seemed to be alone in serving the entire restaurant.
I also tried for the first time Provini, on Eighth Avenue and 13th Street. The heavy marble tabletops and bar are impressive, as are the dark wood finishings. I’m sure Eighth Avenue appreciates a comfortable spot like this, if it is a bit lacking in polish. As for the food, it was good, though I won’t be writing home about it. Some quibbles: We were not told about Dine In Brooklyn until we asked to see that menu; we had to flag down the waitress a few times for requests, including water. The appetizers we tried – a salad, and a chickpea fritter – seemed entirely devoid of salt or seasoning. Everything else was respectable comfort food, including skirt steak with white beans and spinach; spinach-ricotta-sage gnudi (a sort of naked, pasta-less ravioli); and chocolate cake and ricotta cheesecake.
I would’ve tried more places for lunch, if I’d been up to a three-course midday meal. If I were in the mood for three courses, I certainly wouldn’t have had them at PSBklyn, the new kid-friendly sports bar/restaurant on Union Street: The Dine In Brooklyn lunch menu seemed to have been planned by a 7-year-old: pigs-in-blankets appetizer, burger entree, and ice cream sundae! Granted, there was a choice between beef or garden burger, but still.
As for brunch, the Dine In Brooklyn guide, which was available online, was a bit confusing. Some of the restaurants listed had B next to their name, signifying Brunch, but weren’t offering Dine In Brooklyn brunch deals. Next year, I’ll call ahead of time.
Then there was Al di La, which was offering a stealth Dine In Brooklyn dinner at its wine bar, Al di La Vino, every day but Friday and Saturday – and it wasn’t promoted in the guide. Wish I’d known!
And Franny’s, why, oh, why don’t you do take part in Dine In Brooklyn?
One last suggestion: The on-line guide wasn’t very printer-friendly, so it wasn’t very handy. Why not create an app, searchable by location, type of meal, and vegetarian options, and provide links to menus? The organizers could also put together a convenient on-line Google map of the participating restaurants.