Monday, March 2, 2009
Dinner at Chestnut
Another weekend, another lovely meal with friends, AKA The Not Timid Eaters Club (TNTE). Again, staying close to (my) home, we hit up a boite on Smith Street called Chestnut. Originally, we were supposed to go to Buttermilk Channel, buuuuut things didn't work out quite as planned for our group of six - the earliest reservation we could get was at 10:30PM! So we decided to put chicken & waffles on hold, and choose another place.
I came up with Chestnut because it came up when I did a Google search for "Smith Street Brooklyn restaurants." It popped up as one on a long list, but I thought it sounded vaguely familiar. Ah, yes, it is a recipient of the Snail of Approval from Slow Food NYC.
What's Slow Food, you ask? Slow Food is a national non-profit organization that "counteracts fast food and fast life," and it "stand[s] against the disappearance of local food traditions and people's dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world." The Snail of Approval is bestowed upon a restaurant/bar/food store if it deemed that their food is "good, clean, and fair," or "contribute to the quality, authenticity, and sustainability of the food we eat and beverages we drink in the City of New York."
Okay, so back to Chestnut.
Chestnut was able to seat us after the manager called me back and said, "I was able to move a few things around." Steve and I arrived first and we enjoyed the warmth and ambiance of the cozy front bar. Chestnut has a luxury that most restaurants along Smith do not have - they have a double storefront instead of a single shotgun space. The bar is completely separated from the dining room which greatly helps reduce dining room noise and crowding. The bar was decked out in exposed brink, reclaimed timber, a counter to ceiling wall of booze (complete with a library-style track ladder so bartenders can reach the upper shelves), and topped off with a punched tin ceiling. The highlight of the room is the chandelier, which appeared to be sculpted in a free form out of thin copper tubing. The light bulbs were cradled in flea-market punch bowl set cups. We had a glass of Brother Thelonious beer and nibbled on complimentary homemade caramel kettle corn. So far, things were off to a good start.
Compared to the bar area, the dining room is very plain, but still warm. One wall had a large wooden sideboard and hutch, which was used as the waiters' station. Closed kitchen in the back. Creamy walls, exposed beams along the width of the ceiling (surely reclaimed from somewhere), and bright green water bottles on the tables. There are no booths, only two-top tables that can be maneuvered to make larger tables, and a few round table that looked to seat up to four. The sconces along the wall were made out of epoxy and chicken wire in the wave pattern of corrugated metal.
After we were seated, we spent a long time making menu choices. Our waiter interrupted us once to go over the menu and tell us about a few changes. Since the kitchen depends on fresh, seasonal ingredients, I wasn't surprised that some menu items were slightly altered to accommodate what food could be purchased that day. For instance, one of the fish choices was different. Here is what the group settled on:
Foie gras torchon, brioche & port sour cherries
Duck confit rolls
Roasted Brussels sprouts
Striped bass, white beans (not sure what kind they were), wilted greens
Grouper with saffron
Hangar steak, fingerling potatoes, valdeon & red wine
Braised short rib with puree of rutabaga
Chicken breast, sausage filling & potato gallette
Squash ravioli with ricotta salata
House made mint chocolate chip ice cream
Chocolate & peanut butter something (anyone from the crew remember what the name was?)
Churros with Mexican hot chocolate
Chai tea something with cardamon and pistachio ice cream (again, what was this called exactly?)
There were six of us. We shared most of the appetizers, sides, and desserts. The entrees were our own but we shared tastes with everyone. I think it was an almost unanimous decision that Donna's entree - the braised short rib - was the best dish of the night. I had the ravioli, which was also wonderful and so different from other raviolis I've had. I don't think I've ever had ricotta salata and it was interesting. By itself, I didn't like it very much. But mixed with the ravioli, it was quite tasty and the flavors mingled nicely. I managed a dark photo of my ravioli, but my phone isn't sending out photos for some reason, so I'll get it added to this post when my phone calms down. The only thing I didn't get a taste of was the grouper. But from the clean plates all around the table, I'd say it was probably good.
We did notice a few things that might have been a little overcooked - the chicken, the bass, the soda bread that was brought out before our food arrived. But the meats, pasta, greens, and desserts were all cooked/prepared to perfection.
In addition to the braised short rib, another highlight of the meal was the foie gras. At least the four of us who adore foie gras thought so. The portion of foie gras was very generous for the price ($16) and the presentation beautiful and simple. We actually had two orders of the foie gras. I loved eating it with my hands on the crispy brioche. The foie gras was buttery, velvety, and complemented with the sour cherry topping. I don't even like cherries.
The other appetizer we tried, the duck confit rolls, was also very good. Essentially, they were a duck confit spring roll. The cabbage in the roll actually had flavor and the duck was moist, shredded, and duck-y tasting. I love the duck balanced with the light Asian flavor. The sauce was also divine as it was a sweet plum sauce with sesame. Yum!
My last top pick for the meal was the mint chocolate chip ice cream. Wow. Infused with fresh mint - no extract here! - it was the perfect palate cleanser for this oily (I had a lot of olive oil during the meal), flavorful, rich meal. Two other ice creams were offered that night - chocolate and chocolate hazelnut -, but all six of us only wanted to taste the mint. The chocolate chips were hand chipped from good quality chocolate and the base ice cream was smooth and sweet. I said it was a sweet mint. Two people though the fresh mint tasted too grassy but the rest of us thought it was to die for. I loved it and I'll try making my own with fresh mint. I just wonder how much mint was used to get that flavor. I'll have to experiment, oh darn.
Everything was quite good. Steve and I definitely want to return. Our waiter told us that on Tuesday and Thursday nights, you can order three courses for $30-35. The most expensive entree item was $27, so if you can have that, an app, and a dessert for $35, it's a bargain. There is also a chef's tasting menu for $60, which might be interesting to try sometime. They also have a brunch menu that looks just as good as the dinner menu.
I was glad things worked out the way they did and we found ourselves at Chestnut for a thoroughly enjoyable and scrumptious meal.