Great things come in small packages.
Petit Oven in Bay Ridge is cozy, to say the least. A tight cluster of two- and four-top tables barely seats 30, with minimal wiggle room. A refined menu of classic French dishes is brief — it needs to be, considering there’s usually only one person working all the burners.
That would be chef/owner Katarzyna “Kat” Ploszaj, whose shock of white-blonde hair is easily identifiable from the dining area as she navigates her (petite) kitchen — alternately shucking oysters, rolling fresh pasta, reducing buerre blanc, slow baking salmon, searing free-range chicken, and dishing up wedges of her famous bread pudding with salted caramel.
It’s a game-changer for Bay Ridge’s Restaurant Row, which, despite being a long-time contender in Italian, Middle Eastern, and classic American cuisine was a bit behind on local and seasonal when Petit Oven opened four and a half years ago.
“I’ve lived in Bay Ridge for over 14 years, so I knew, when I finally opened my own restaurant, I wanted it to be here,” Ploszaj said.
“I was classically trained at the French Culinary Institute, I grew up on a farm in Poland, knowing where my food came from — I remember my grandfather butchering a whole pig to make kielbasa,” she continued.
“Although no one was doing this kind of food at the time in Bay Ridge — local, seasonal, changing the menu every day, I trusted that people in this neighborhood cared about where their food was coming from too.”
At Petit Oven, customers can count on DeBragga and D’artagnan meats, Amish chickens, Finger Lakes Farms dairy, and greenmarket vegetables — Ploszaj even has Swiss Chard and other goodies grown for her at the Narrows Botanical Gardens on Shore Road.
And although it’s difficult to predict what permutations those ingredients might take on Petit Oven’s ever-evolving menu (flash-smoked duck breast, roasted marrow bones and sweet potato gnocchi one week might become billi bi, coq au vin, and fettuccini with forest mushrooms the next), a growing number of regulars lie in wait for particular dishes — placing calls to Ploszaj for a hint of when they might again make the menu.
“I have a very big pork belly following,” laughs Ploszaj. “I have people contacting me about it from Staten Island. Especially our play on pork and beans — slow braised pork belly brined for 48 hours, Asian-influenced bean cassoulet, and some nice local sautéed kale.”
Not that you should revert to a can of Heinz if that pork belly is a Petit Oven no-show — this recipe is easy enough to make in your own little kitchen at home.
Pork belly and beans
Courtesy of Chef Kat Ploszaj
For the Pork belly:
1 cup sugar
1 cup salt
2 tblsp. whole peppercorns
Score the fat side of the pork belly. Rub in the sugar, salt, and peppercorns, and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Rinse the pork belly and pat dry. Season with a little salt, sugar and ground black pepper.
Put in a baking dish with 1/2 inch of water.
Bake at 300 degrees for three hours, or until the meat pulls away easily with a fork. Add more water if necessary.
Raise the temperature to 375, and bake until the pork belly is a deep golden brown.
For the Bean Cassoulet
1 bag dried white beans (soak overnight In water)
1 small onion
2 celery ribs
1 can of whole tomatoes
3 bay leaves
Cook the beans and vegetables in water until tender. Do not salt until the end.
1 stalk of celery, finely diced
1 shallot, finely diced
1 jalapeno, finely diced
1 tsp. sesame oil
2 tblsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. Nam Pla (fish sauce)
Combine with the beans right before serving.
Petit Oven [276 Bay Ridge Ave. at Third Avenue in Bay Ridge, (718) 833-3443].