November 26, 2012 | BITE: My Journal
Clawhammer Farm pork chop with Satur Farms fingerlings and pickled peppers.
Chef Joe Isidori takes his craft very seriously. He picked up a couple of Michelin stars along the way to Southfork Kitchen near Bridgehampton on the Sag Harbor Turnpike. It shows in the confidence of his sophisticated dishes and the upscale, stylized service that contrasts to the rustic, dark cabin feel of the place. But his audience there is seasonal.
So far the chef saves the elegance of foam and salmon roe on char for Southfork Kitchen.
When he decided to stake the winter months on an homage to his father, he chose Carroll Gardens, an established restaurant scramble, because of its long history with Italian-American immigrants. He promised Arthur-on-Smith would filter the food of his father and grandmother – both professional restaurant cooks – through his own sensibility, discreetly, more accessible, still local and sustainable. Less formal.
Carbonara is what the chef makes of it and Isidori’s is exceptional.
It would be luscious spaghetti carbonara with guanciale, pecorino, crumbs and a whole farm egg to smash and blend in. The Rhode Island squid and bacon in tomato sauce on bucatini, rather than the summer’s Montauk Point sea scallop sashimi with sea urchin and Thai flavors. There would still be organic chicken liver mousse with dried cherries, but presented in a less-mannered way. From grandma to table.
Bucatini with squid, bacon and tomatgo has too much sauce in American-Italian style.
It would not be the classic Jean Georges service he learned in his years as executive chef for Donald Trump hotels, where his restaurants won those Michelin stars. It would be “warm, heartfelt and real” in his father’s style: “Make sure people are happy and don’t make such a fuss,” Arthur Joseph Isidori would say.
Good Brooklyn service is where you think the waitress really cares even if she doesn’t.
So the son, Joseph Arthur, preserved the bare brick in was once Po on Smith Street, and ripped up pallets he found in the parking lot at Home Depot for the rough-cut recycled paneling on the wall. A blackboard lists local wines on tap, Red Hook Winery, Gotham Project, Channing Daughters. And the servers bring a certain Brooklyn charm – blunt and bright, unruffled, casual – to the business at hand. Not always there, but certainly willing to be flagged down and supply a fork.
Bare brick and recycled pallets found in a parking lot add rustic warmth.
Isidori repeats his very personal bread service that launches the evening with such high expectations in Bridge: the long handmade wooden box that holds thick slices of toast, white bread and a mix of rye and whole wheat. Local butter sits in a puddle of honey with Hampton sea salt. (Southfork owner Bruce Buschel, an investor in Brooklyn, distills it himself from ocean water he gathers at Ocean Avenue in Bridgehampton.) Carbophobes may be able to resist most restaurant breads, but probably not this.
Pan-roasted cod combines the chef’s skill with taste memories of his father’s cooking.
I think you would agree that the Carroll Gardens kitchen is spiritually Italian. But the chef has definitely not time-traveled back to the kind of food his father did in a series of restaurants in the Bronx and lower Westchester, where the son first learned to cook at 15, or to Villanova East on 48th Street, where his grandmother Filomena (“Fanny”) trained his father to cook in the 50’s and 60’s. Joe was working full-time in his father’s kitchen at 17. Then Dad sent him to the CIA “where I discovered we’d been doing everything wrong,” Joe recalls.
Isidori senior did not welcome the news. “Up yours,” he said. “Did I pay $50,000 so you could tell me I don’t know what I’m doing?”
A rare lamb shoulder with organic black kale gets a salty dose of anchovy.
There is a tribute to family on the back of the Brooklyn menu. “This restaurant will be about two chefs with a simple bond,” Isidori writes. The bond is loose. It’s actually a lot about tomatoes and tomato paste. The bucatini is loaded with sauce, in the immigrant style. Pan roasted cod fragrant with sea urchin sits on chopped tomatoes and olives. The marvelous grass-fed New York-raised lamb shoulder chop is immersed in tomato paste with organic black kale and anchovy. Octopus for Dad, yes, but probably not octopus à la plancha with smoky romesco sauce, minced olive and cherry tomatoes. Regardless, the dish is very good.
Clams and pork sausage with broccoli rabe and preserved lemon in a fragrant broth.
The bond may not be specifically about semolina tagliatelle with gulf shrimp, Meyer lemon, cream and parmesan either, or about spelt pappardelle with house-ground lamb sausage. (Gluten issues seem to be a contemporary obsession.) I can almost see littleneck clams, with pork sausage and wild broccoli rabe, floating in broth in the 80’s Bronx, but not preserved lemons lending their citric tang. I’m not complaining. The dish is wonderful. (Pasta and entrees $17 to $27).
Spanish octopus a la plancha with smoky romesco and black olive.
The son’s passion for vegetables, mostly from Long Island’s Satur Farms, seems very New Age too. Escarole may belong to that earlier era, but I doubt the father would recognize escarole “Caesar style” with house-cured sardine, a farm egg and slivers of pecorino, or the roasted and raw fennel salad with garden mint and a chili-lime dressing.
If many of the dishes we’re tasting tonight seem very salty to me, it’s definitely about the emphasis on olive and anchovy and tomato paste. The lamb doesn’t really need to be that salty. I’m hoping the chef will taste again and consider adjusting.
A North Fork pear in whipped mascarpone on Court Street biscotti.
I love the biscuit from a bakery around the corner in whipped mascarpone, but poached pears didn’t work with it. Better by far, old fashioned affogato – in this case dulce de leche ice cream drowned in espresso and sprinkled with cookie crumbs. Pistachio ice cream is first-rate, especially topped with preserved Amarena cherries and hazelnuts.
The chef hopes you leave with a sense of something truly wonderful and honest.
Alas for people like me, Arthur-on-Smith, like so many Brooklyn restaurants, doesn’t take reservations. “Restaurants in Brooklyn are really for the locals,” Isidori explains. “Most people never leave their neighborhoods. If you happen to be near the “F” train, as I am, you might get someone from Manhattan. But you wouldn’t want to give away all your weekend tables to people who know you from the Hamptons.”
Of course if old friends call, he might hold a table or two, he said. To be honest, that’s how I got here, in a car with a driver hired by a friend whose wallet opens more easily than mine. We’re sharing a table with a Carroll Gardens regular. I’m planning to return.
276 Smith Street between Sackett and Degraw Streets. 718 360 2340. Dinner Sunday through Wednesday 5 to 10 pm.; Thursday through Saturday to 11 pm. Lunch and Brunch Saturday and Sunday from 11 am.
Photographs may not be used without permission from Gael Greene. Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.
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