Monday, January 08, 2007

Rose Water

Maybe I'm too picky, but there just aren't that many high-end restaurants that appeal to me these days. High-end to me, by the way, means more than $100 for two people with appetizers and wine, maybe a dessert. Often the food is too fussy and sacrifices flavor and aroma for presentation and length of ingredient list. Or the food is too bland, too salty, or improperly cooked. We have been a bit disappointed by meals at several well-regarded and pricey restaurants in the past few months (Grammercy Tavern, The Tasting Room, Stone Park, to name a few). In fact, I am at a loss for high-end places to go out to eat - there are literally only three high-end places right now that I think of when craving a nice dinner out. So yes - I need your help and your recommendations, if you're willing to share.

Rose Water in Park Slope is one my three favorites. The owner, although a young guy, is clearly a veteran in this line of work. He makes the whole experience smooth, from waiting for a table (which even without a reservation, you usually have a shot at getting, even on a weekend night), to ordering, to choosing wine. He also seems to have a hand in the kitchen, as I have overheard him on several occasions telling them how to present something or what to put on a plate.

The narrow entry way passes right by the kitchen, so you are compelled to look in as you go to your table. You will see people carefully composing plates, but none of the insanity, none of the yelling that is common in so many restaurant kitchens. Everyone who works there, it seems, just came from yoga class. The dining room is small and tastefully decorated. One wall is brick with cute candle fixtures placed unevenly across it, creating a homey-elegant look. Others are decorated with vases of woody branches or a narrow band of tapestry/painting. Lighting is perfect: you can read the menu easily and see your companions, but it's dim enough to feel sexy.

The menu changes often and emphasizes seasonal produce and free range organically raised meats. A year or so ago I noticed a distinct North-African influence, with cous-cous or harissa making an appearance, and once there was a dish called Braised Short Ribs with North African spices (I think). I haven't seen this in a while though, and that might be because Rose Water lost its chef a few months ago. It has not lost its step at all - we have eaten there twice since the new chef, both meals were excellent.

The crowd is probably mostly local, but there are folks of all ages and types. I have seen groups of 6 enjoying a tasting menu with wine pairings, young couples at dinner with the parents, people on dates. This is just a comfortable place to eat. One issue - the tables in the center of the dining room are very close together - no privacy there.

The wine list also changes regularly, and is always excellent. There are well chosen wines from the Loire Valley, Burgundy, the Rhone, Bordeaux, Italy, Spain, New Zealand, Australia, and of course America. At reasonable prices too. These are interesting wines, made from many different grapes. There are several nice wines by the glass too, and this is important when your wife is pregnant.

During recent visits we enjoyed appetizers of rutabaga soup with beets and goat cheese creme fraiche, the goaty and creamy creme a perfect pairing with the earthy rutabaga puree. We had the best mixed green salad you're going to find - really. This one takes "mixed green salad" seriously, does not offer it as a throwaway for those who will not order a "real" appetizer. This salad had pear slices and pumpkin seeds once, and apple slices, what I think was alfalfa sprouts, and chestnuts the other night. The vinaigrette changes with the salad ingredients, and are always bright and appetizing.

This past Saturday night there was a special appetizer of fois gras with persimmon chutney. We did not order it (so no need to yell at us, OBGYN, if you're reading this), but our neighbors did, and since we sat at a center table right next to them, I could practically taste it. It looked beautiful, smelled great, and the guy eating it wasn't paying attention to his girlfriend at all. He made a show of listening to her, but he was far more focused on his fois gras.

BrooklynLady had an amazing dish Saturday night, one that is typical of Rose Water in its homey and elegant simplicity. Roast pork loin with baked red kidney beans, collard greens and pickled jalepenos. The baked beans were tender with warm flavors of mustard, ginger, and brown sugar, and they were somehow light - not gloppy with sauce. The greens were a tiny bit spicy and well prepared, avoiding that waterlogged syndrome that seems to plague collard greens in most restaurants. This is one of the special things about Rose Water - the side dishes are excellent - not afterthoughts that sounds better in writing than they taste on your plate.

A month or so ago I ordered braised pork that was served with white beans, Dijon mustard, mustard greens and cipollini onions. I was really impressed by the pairing of fresh farmer's market mustard greens with Dijon mustard - so creative (I since discovered that this is actually a classic pairing, but what do I know). This time I went with roast cod with braised savoy cabbage. The cod was cooked perfectly, but this is the first time I've tasted a dish at Rose Water that was pretty bland. Duck is a reliable choice at Rose Water, always flavorful and interestingly paired. BrooklynLady had duck last time, served withwild mushrooms - delicious.

It's easy to have interesting wine at Rose Water. This Saturday night I had a glass of white Granache from the Languedoc - I cannot remember the producer. It was a lively match with the Rutabaga soup. I then had a glass of red with the cod - that's right, RED WITH COD. Sue me. I ordered it because it was a certain red, a light and fruity red with hardly any tannic feel. A Domaine de la Pepiere red. Well known for producing excellent Muscadet, the unusually briny white that pairs famously with the oysters from the nearby coast of Normandy, wine maker Marc Ollivier also makes three inexpensive reds. The Cabernet Franc is my favorite, there is also the Cot (known elsewhere as Malbec), and the Cuvee Granit, a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, I think. I had the Cab Franc with the cod, served slightly chilled as it should be. Juicy, dusty, and delicious, and about $10 a bottle in the store.

We have tasted only a few of the desserts, and I don't know why, because what we have had is so delicious. Apple fritters are addictive, served with whatever home made ice cream is on tap that night. Cardamom hot chocolate is exactly as it should be: creamy, chocolaty, and heady with the scent of cardamom. I want one right now, and another for breakfast.

Rose Water does what is reputed to be a great brunch, and in the warm weather months the tarp comes off the tables on the sidewalk - a lovely place to eat on a warm Park Slope night. I feel lucky to have this place close by, but I would travel if I had to - it definitely qualifies as a destination restaurant. Not that I want you crowding up the place or anything, but I'm trying in honor of the coming of our first child, to learn to share.


Marcus said...

Hey Brooklyn Guy,

I ventured into your borough for the time ever a little over a week ago. We had a nice bite in Greenpoint (Thai Café) before continuing down to Williamsburg for dinner. There on Roebling & Hope we ate at La Gribouille, which means "The Scribble" in French. It would be your definition of high-end except you're not adding wine to the bill because it's BYO and entirely corkage-fee. I hope you try it and like it as much as we did. We came down from Montreal and found it a authentic, market-free and cozy. Hope to return to Brooklyn again soon!


Brooklynguy said...

Hi Marcus,

May I say what an honor it is that Dok. Weingolb visited these pages? I'm so glad you stopped by.

I must confess, the wife and I have not eaten in the Williamsburg area for a while now. Sometimes we just don't feel stylish enough. We need to get over that though because I hear that there are some interesting places to eat, and La Gribouille sounds like one such place. And corkage free...I will absolutely check it out. What wine did you bring?

Next time you're coming to Brooklyn drop a line - maybe I can send you some other restaurant recs or invite you to a tasting. I loved Montreal the one time I was there 3 years ago. Excellent food.

Take it easy, see you again,

Marcus said...

Hey, Brooklyn dining and tastings? The honour would be all mine!

I can't believe it took five visits to New York before I set foot in Brooklyn (though never got to close to Park Slope, which is where you are?)...

At Gribouille we had a Perrin Reserve and a Solera dry sherry to start. That's unusual for us but it was fun for a change. I don't know if I enjoy it as much as I should if I am not eating salted and roasted almonds.