June 23, 2014 | BITE: My Journal
Blossoms Unfurl at Take Root
Ethereal octopus with black lentils. Dido blends Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Without a car and loath to venture by subway if two or three transfers are involved, I may be a little slower than some to hit the Brooklyn restaurant heat trail. But like other serious and determined New York eaters -- I’m a professional after all -- I eventually get there. Take Root, with just 12 seats at one 8 o’clock seating three nights a week in a tiny storefront, is a challenge.
A bench outside and rosemary. Driftwood and straggly potted plants on white tile inside.
My friend Wilford agrees to handle the arduous reservation procedures. One morning a confirmation lands, then…oops, it’s recalled. A mistake. He’ll get the next vacancy. The summoning text reaches him in a cornfield in Pella, Iowa, demanding a prompt reply. (Don’t ask what he was doing there. I didn’t.)
A couple settle in at the bar where flea market pots hold herbs and plants.
For $59 including tip, Carmel delivers us to Sackett Street on a mostly residential block of Carroll Gardens. Take Root is sweet, modest as promised, with driftwood and straggly houseplants in the window and herbs in small flea market pots on the wall above a counter.
Under this savory crisp is a pleasant eggplant pudding.
A young blonde in a dark grey apron who never stops smiling sends us to a tiny two-top against the far wall. We’re early. Time to choose a water and a red. Both get poured into delicate stemless glasses. A statement of modesty, simplicity, poverty, I don’t know.
Chef Elise Kornack and her wife, Anna Hieronimus, do everything at Take Root without help.
Elise Kornack, a veteran of Aquavit and The Spotted Pig, is the chef. She and her wife, the smiling, race-walking Anna Hieronimus who greets, seats, serves, clears and decants, do everything themselves. It’s Norman Rockwell updated or the Dolly Sisters, performance art with dinner.
Caviar, even pale paddlefish roe in a slightly watery potato, is a sure-fire welcome for me.
The last two are seated. Caviar is a sure-fire welcome for me, even this pale grey paddlefish roe on a small, ever-so-slightly water-logged potato with its slap of malt vinegar. And a pleasantly salty free-form seeded crisp atop a savory pudding of eggplant is all very nice. I, for one, am not moved by crusted sweetbread tidbits wearing chic little chapeaux of black garlic. So what.
Homemade bread, just sliced, warm from the oven with the chef’s long-whipped brown butter.
My companion and I are excited by the small homemade bread, just-sliced, warm from the oven. The chef makes the brown butter herself, Anna notes, whipping it for hours. Is there something wrong with me? The delicate bread is warm, crusty, just baked, a little so what too.
Macadamia soup poured atop raw asparagus twigs -- a first for me and brilliantly beguiling.
But the macadamia soup! Now I know why we should be here. I can’t recall if it’s the chef herself describing the dish, then pouring a creamy emulsion from a pitcher over a tangle of raw asparagus. It’s completely beguiling, a new taste sensation. Both of us are sitting taller now. Conquered.
I’ve had more than enough too-tiny nubbins of sweetbread lost in artistic execution.
Hieronimus, delivering octopus chunks next, complete with wisps of smoke, lentils, a hen egg yolk and white pansies, assures us the creature was definitely not slammed against a rock to attain that remarkable tenderness. As if one could imagine these two corn-fed zealots abusing anything.
Why is spring so thrilling? Green garlic agnolotti with English peas and fresh mint in Parmesan broth.
We surrender anew to a concerto of spring next -- green garlic agnolotti with English peas and mint that gets splashed with Parmesan consommé as we watch. I am reminded that until the local corn ripens, this is my favorite time of the year.
My pal finds the duck salty. Not me. It’s rare and meaty, perfectly cooked in lobster essence.
I’m a fan of the duck too, a thick slice, rare and meaty, perfectly cooked. My pal finds it too salty, probably from its concentrated lobster broth bath -- reduced from 16 quarts to one, we are informed. There is a puddle of onion purée alongside a scatter of pea tendrils. The chef suggests a wine that goes with it and pours a few ounces for each of us. I’m getting that too-much feeling but I don’t stop chewing.
Ripe berries with yogurt foam and balls of cucumber provides salad and fruit before dessert.
Ripe strawberries in a cucumber yogurt foam with chrysanthemum leaves -- from the couple’s own garden -- is a salad and fruit course before the pretty dessert log of coffee, shaved coconut and sorrel. Except for the sorrel, it’s a dessert that we could have eaten in December. I find myself longing for stone fruit. Peaches are ripe now and plums have arrived. One sublime shortbread cookie is delivered under glass to each of us, stifling these curmudgeonly thoughts.
This fussed up log with coconut chips and sorrel is not my idea of a spring dessert.
We split the bill for the $85 nine-course tasting, $161.35 each with wine and tip. Even when the menu goes up to $105 in July, the tab will seem modest compared to Blanca ($195) in Bushwick and The Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare ($255). Of course it lacks the star chef imprimatur of The Little Elm ($255). Not that I was totally happy there either.
Take Root has taken off so quickly that Anna has closed her yoga studio to give Elise a better kitchen. “It’s one way to be with your mate,” she tells us. “Most women who are married to chefs never get to see them. This way I can spend evenings with my wife.”
I’ll give Take Root two stars for its romantic back-story and three brilliant dishes, plus a half star for our hosts’ graceful dance. The feeling you are wrapped in their fantasy, the sense of eating in someone’s home, is beyond stars. Maybe it outweighs the edible misses. Wilford for one is entranced. He wonders out loud if he can book the place for his wine cronies. Alas, I don’t have much patience any more for three-hour dinners and too many little nubbins and nibbles. Not that I intend to live on burgers, ribs and dim sum alone. Four dazzling courses by a chef with divine inspiration (and restraint), plus a seriously remarkable amuse and old-fashioned mignardises, is just right for me. The courage to be devoutly classic scores points with me too.
187 Sackett Street. Between Henry and Hicks. 347 227 7116 Thursday to Saturday for dinner at 8 pm. Sunday for brunch.
Photos may not be used without permission of Gael Greene. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.