Friday, June 08, 2007

Grocery - My New Favorite Restaurant

I always preface these restaurant reviews by saying something like "One visit does not a review make." And I suppose I should say that now, but I feel like throwing caution to the wind on this one. Grocery on Smith Street in Brooklyn is my new favorite restaurant, in the "fancy" category anyway. I would include a link but somehow they seem not to have a website. Update - they do in fact have a site - thanks Jack!

This place was really great - terrific food, and I mean terrific. Seasonal, fresh, uncluttered, vibrant flavors, balanced, interesting, and satisfying. Terrific. Professional service, lovely ambiance, this place has it all, except for the wine list, but we'll get to that.

BrooklynLady and I waited a LONG time to try this place. First of all, it got an incredibly high score in the Zagat guide a couple of years ago and the other places with such scores tend to be hugely overpriced and undergood (unless you are one of those people who has to have foam and/or gelee in every course). Secondly, it's on Smith street and I have yet to encounter a restaurant on Smith street that I genuinely enjoy. Actually, I think I'm realizing that I just don't like most restaurants, but that's another story. Lastly, we were turned off to Grocery about a year ago when I called for a reservation for a random Friday night and they insisted on taking my credit card information - if I canceled within 2 days of the reservation or didn't show, they were going to charge my card some amount. Well, they can get bent with that policy.

So why now, why Grocery? I'm desperate people! We live in NYC and cannot think of a place where we really want to go for a special dinner. So come our anniversary and our old standby 360 in Red Hook was closed for renovations, we needed a nice place on Saturday night. Let's give Grocery a shot. We joked around about how lame the place would be, about how low our expectations were. About how it was impossible to be disappointed because we already knew it would be all hype.

As soon as we walked in I felt a teeny bit annoyed because I had to bend over backwards to get a 9:30 table, yet the place was literally half empty. Half empty in the garden too. Maybe on that night a lot of people had their credit cards charged as no-shows...But anyway, our garden table was lovely, it was a gorgeous night, staff were really nice so far, so let's get to the important part - the food.

We ordered glasses of Charles de Fere Brut Blanc de Blanc Reserve. I've been developing quite a crush on Champagne lately. Blanc de Blanc indicates that the wine is made entirely from Chardonnay, and Brut refers to the level of sweetness in the wine. Although there is a classification that is drier, Brut is pretty much as dry as it's gonna get unless you're in a specialty shop. We loved this bubbly- great lemony and yeasty aromas, the mouth feel was full and light at the same time, flavors were bright, bubbles were fine. Even at $12 a glass, we were happy.

I now know that Charles de Fere is not technically Champagne, although some of the grapes do come from Champagne. I also know that an entire bottle should cost about $10, and that it's been called "the blue light special" of Champagne. Champagne lovers or Champagne snobs might even turn their noses at de Fere. Goes to show that regarding wine, you will always do better when you follow your own tastes, when you don't allow yourself to be turned onto or off of a wine because of reputations and reviews. If I find a place that sells this blue light special at $10, I'm buying a case! If I weren't sure of this, the following quote from the importer's website closed the deal:

The World of Charles de Fère. Where wine becomes something different, something special. Wine with a secret spirit so exciting that you can actually see it. Thoughts that last but a moment, the time required to float to the lip of your glass and attain freedom from earthly limits. A taste you can feel.

While we were perusing the menu, some one (one of the owners, I think) brought out a mouth amusement, or amuse-bouche if you understand only French. Chilled celery root puree with dill creme fraiche and small potato fritters. The celery root was served in those silver two-sided things that bartenders use to measure booze when making cocktails. Cool, smooth, and earthy, refreshing with celery and dill, this was yummy. The potato fritters were impossibly light and airy on the inside, yet fried crisp on the outside. I would have happily enjoyed this whimsical warm weather riff on Eastern-bloc cuisine with my blue light bubbly all night.

But then came our appetizers: BrooklynLady had roasted artichoke with a poached egg, I had a special salad of various micro-greens (mache, chervil, etc), radishes and smooth farmers cheese. Both were utterly delish. BrooklynLady wants to put a poached egg on everything now. At this point we understood that we were all wrong about Grocery. There was serious skill going on here, and within an eating framework that I appreciate - everything was available at the farmers market that morning.

Service was so good that you never really noticed them, which for me is the true test. They appeared before you realized that you needed them, they never rushed us or cleared one plate while the other was still eating, they poured wine without overfilling the glasses, they replaced cutlery and brought more water - these things might be obvious, so why do they almost never happen, even at "good" restaurants?

BrooklynLady ordered roast pork loin with spring vegetables and bacon, and I had a vaguely wintery duck with mushrooms and red wine reduction. The wine list, and here is the only problem I can think of with Grocery, offered few bottles under $50, and the whole list seemed a bit off to me. How could there be so many Mourvedres and not one Loire red wine? Not one Pinot for less than $70? Nothing on the white side excited us and paired well with our dishes, so we went with a 2005 Christophe Pacalet Julienas for $47. Hard to swallow - $47 for a Beaujolais! And when it turned out to be so-so at best, thin and dilute like sour cherry juice, we were sad.

I may be finished with wine in restaurants. Deetrane has said for a while now, just pay the corkage and bring your own wine. Another debate for another time...

Entrees were superb. BrooklynLady's pork looked like a TV dinner - there were carrot cubes and peas scattered about and the sauce was clear and glossy. Another whimsical move on the chef's part, because there exists no TV dinner that begins to approach what was happening with this dish. SO GOOD. And my duck was thinly sliced, a generous portion, the flavors of the mushrooms and the red wine complimented perfectly.

We didn't have time for dessert, but we saw such lovely looking confections going by that we had to try something. Our waiter told us that the steamed ginger pudding (!) would take a while, so we ordered instead the chocolate and fig cake with passion fruit sorbet and coconut ice cream. Ridiculously good, and I'm not even a chocolate person.

A word of caution - the check was a hefty one (even though they forgot to charge us for the glasses of bubbly, an omission we did not have time to go over with them, but we will straighten that out next time).

So that's it - our new favorite place for a special meal - Grocery. Live in or visiting Brooklyn? Like great food and excellent service? Check it out...


Anonymous said...

I remember when this place got the big Zagat score. Glad they lived up to their food reputation.

I, too, hate it when the pinots/red burgs start at $70 (or more).

One thing, I don't fault restaurants for taking a credit card. There are these people who think it's okay to book and then not show...some even book several restaurants and then at the last moment decide What they feel like eating and go to that one. Small places with not that much walk-in traffic get screwed big time; hence the May I have your Credit Card, please?

Brooklynguy said...

Hiya Jack,
There is one, I see now, at $63. They seem to have interesting wines but I find it hard to shell out over $50 for something when I have no idea at all if I like it. Good point about no shows, but still kind of a turn off.

RougeAndBlanc said...

The Charles de Fere Brut Blanc de Blanc Reserve is $8.45 a bottle.
See it here:

Brooklyn restaurant at Manhattan price is still something I can't get over with. Sigh!


Brooklynguy said...

Hey Andrew - do you know where to find it retail? Have you had it? It's really good, especially at that price.

RougeAndBlanc said...

I did some more searching and found that Astor Wine carries it.
Is this it?
Price is $9

Brooklynguy said...

You are my savior Andrew. I will soon be the proud owner of a case of this bubby. thanks for letting me know!

Anonymous said...

Hey Neil, it's worth trying Capital Wines too, I find them pretty good value and the shipping is cheap and fast.

Glad you liked Grocery. We've had some good meals there - and some indifferent ones too. Sitting in the garden is definitely best. That room is a bit dismal.

RougeAndBlanc said...

Glad I can help.
Maybe I should now team up with you to get 1 or 2 bottles to check it out.

Brooklynguy said...

Hi Tony - I will look at Capital Wines - never heard of them but I'll take a look. I heard that about Grocery too, that not every meal is a dream. Too bad. I have to give it another chance though based on our first experience.

And Andrew - sounds good to me.

Anonymous said...

I don't work for Capital by the way. But inspired by Asimov's case exercise (and your counter-case!) I began idly googling wines and came upon the store via YMMV but I'd be interested in your experience.

Brooklynguy said...

hey Tony - what does YMMV mean? I'm a cyber idiot...

Glad you you dug my counter-case, as you call it. thanks so much for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

YMMV = Your Mileage May Vary. *)

Anonymous said...

Yay Grocery!
We've always great meals there.. and a few that went beyond that. I usually get their rack of lamb which has consistently been delicious.

I'll agree with you on Smith Street though. There is sure a bunch of junk on our street - not counting Zaytoons. Or Ki Sushi.
Although I assume we should be happy that it's not still the 90's when had... er, nothing :)

Brooklynguy said...

Thanks for translating Huevos - I am way behind on my e-lingo.

Hi - interesting picture you link to. Are there any more recent photos? There sure was a whole lotta nothing back then, true true. You know what I liked that all of the sudden is gone? That Lebanese place right off Atlantic, on the west side of Smith - I really liked their lamb shank. Cheap too. Ever go there?