March 11, 2013 | BITE: My Journal
Battersby Brass and Bumps
Focaccia is everywhere now but rarely as fabulous as this rosemary round.
The table is tiny and bare at Battersby, rumored to be another bolt of Brooklyn brass. That’s why we’ve GPS’d forty minutes to get here. Just 28 seats, counting the bar. No reservations except for the “Spontaneous $65 Tasting.” At least we’re tucked into a tiny, bare table, unlike the pilgrims ahead of us who are told to come back at 10 pm.
Battersby Chef-Owners Joe Ogrodnek and Walker Stem in their Pullman-size kitchen.
A friend of the house made the date. I said he could mention he was bringing me. Not my usual M.O., but it’s Friday night. I feel like an adventure. And friends are accusing me of neglecting the upstart borough. “Not at all,” I say, “hooray for pork belly wherever it crops up.”
Under the curtain of radish: hamachi crudo marinated in white soy with yuzu and ginger.
The greeting is earnest, polite without irony, not at all typically Manhattan, almost Midwestern. Our coats disappear even though there’s no check room. But what is that ridiculous music? The chink-chink of reggae. Inane seventies surf. At one point I think I even caught the Andrew Sisters, or was that Patti Page? There’s a tin ceiling up above, full-house at the bar, and mostly bare walls. People and their plates are the décor.
Given just four main courses, chicken in likely; here in roulades on a savory rubble.
Never mind the pinch-penny ambiance, who cares? The Chinon, a generous pour, is surprisingly complex, full and smooth. And I’m already impressed inhaling and sipping the amuse -- yet another celery root soup, here tonight with chestnut -- well, it’s the drear of winter after all.
Vegetable “muesli” on a swatch of Greek yogurt is brilliant.
A stubbly mess, looking like a kindergarten art project, follows. “Homemade vegetable muesli on Greek yogurt,” says our waitress. Tilt, I think, suspecting some molecular fient. Oh my. It is amazing. Joseph Ogrodnek and Walker Stern, the two owner-chefs running relays in the narrow kitchen, do have a gift for crunch.
Chicken liver mousse to pile on fennel crackers hides under shards of white mushroom.
I’m scraping the creamy swath and the last of the so-called muesli from the plate with the edge of my fork when a couple of breads arrive, two little browned poufs of rosemary focaccia. Hmmm. Warm, just out of the oven. I’m first to break off a chunk, quickly dipping it, not just into its own whipped ricotta alongside, but also snatching more to scoop up the last of the yogurt crumble. Good so far for creative freebies. The roller coaster is primed for whatever amazement comes next.
Under petals of radish is raw hamachi, firm and cool from its bath in white soy, yuzu, and ginger. In yet another hide-and-seek presentation, three planks of fennel cracker and a pile of white mushroom thins hide chicken livers lightly bound in a mousse.
Crisp fried kale with kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts and peanuts conquers my kale suspicions.
I’ve been bewailing the kale fetish. I am convinced New Yorkers think they like it because it’s everywhere. As if to signal what a fool I am, both of our Brooklyn pals, Battersby regulars, are digging into platters of kale. Suddenly the blackened garden debris is directly below my nose. More crunch. How delicious. Not just nuts but the normally offending curliness too, crisply fried and served with kohlrabi and Brussels sprout leaves. I finish my share, even though I wish it didn’t end on a sweet note.
Ricotta cavatelli with beef ragù, Taggiasca olives and sprigs of greens.
The menu is divided into three courses and the portions are huge. Normally, I would choose two – possibly a middle course for my main, penny-pincher that I am. I suggest sharing starters ($12 to $16) and certainly splitting middle courses, mostly pasta ($13 to $20), some half portions allowed. My companions look at me as if I’m sabotaging their night out. I imagine sitting home alone next Saturday night. Of course they’re right. We’ve come this far to see what these two chef-owners, veterans of Blue Hill and Gramercy Tavern, are inventing.
A classic sweetbread is paired with savory, salty romaine in Caesar dressing.
It’s rare to find a sweetbread cooked in a whole lobe as carefully as this one is. The silken texture is bewitching, having nothing at all to do with the bright and salty appeal of accompanying long leaves of romaine stuffed a la Caesar. But why not? More crunch.
The irresistible spaghetti with sea urchin, chili and lemon is just too saucy for me.
I prefer my friend’s ricotta cavatelli with beef ragù and olives, showered with sprigs of green, to the over-sauced sea urchin spaghetti I could not resist because of my weakness for uni. I’d like more of the chile and lemon advertised on the menu. I feel the roller coaster flattening out.
Roasted lobster is served in cuts of the shell with potatoes and a masterly coral sauce.
Not that the lobster, served in chunks of shell and painted with an expert coral sauce, isn’t deftly roasted, even a triumph. But the breaded pork belly parmigiana strikes me as clunky and even the tenderest of boneless chicken, served in roulades, tastes lame unless you mix it up on the fork with the glorious bacon, mushroom, spaetzle rubble it sits in.
Pork belly parmigiana does not appeal to me but I’m finishing off the roasted broccoli.
How could I not swoon over short rib pastrami? It sounds like it was invented for an excessive gourmand like me. Perhaps a crunch of peppery caramelized edges to frame the fattiness would help. I’m scooping up the broccoli on the pork dish instead. Maybe the highs came too quickly and the middles got muddled. It could be a case of over-revved expectation.
Lime ice cream pie with marshmallow fluff needs more citric tang.
Something new in a macaron? Here, it’s olive oil. These almondy little sandwiches are fresh and delicate, deflating to squish when I try to break one in half. Three of them stand up to a powerful blood orange sorbet, so intense I suspect it has bee made to order. A small oval of Blue Bottle coffee ice cream rides in on triangles of black forest cake. It has such luscious coffee-ness, I want it all for myself. I would like more citric tang in the lime ice cream pie with marshmallow fluff and chocolate sauce.
The kitchen sends an extra from the tasting menu: white chocolate caramelized with long and slow cooking, then made into a mousse, topped with marcona almond roasted with salt and dried lavender.
Marcona almonds, roasted with salt and lavender, top a caramelized white chocolate mousse.
I want to say my night at Battersby was a miracle. I can’t wait to go back. But it wasn’t, and probably I won’t. Granted, that’s just a first impression. If the buzz becomes a roar, I might be persuaded to return. Of course if it were closer to my digs, where a few flubs barely sting, I’d be there once a month to see what genius is up to.
255 Smith Street. Between Degraw and Douglass, 718 852 8321. Monday through Saturday 5:30 to 11pm. Sunday till 10 pm.
Photos may not be used without permission from Gael Greene. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.
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