St. Ann’s Warehouse is doing more for DUMBO
than providing great entertainment. The performance venue is
also filling its new neighbor at 5 Front St., the aptly named
Five Front restaurant, with celebrities and theatre lovers.
On a recent evening two members of the Kennedy clan sat with
friends at a corner table, and actor Diane Wiest flashed a smile
as she strolled past my window. While celebrity sightings in
Brooklyn are nothing new, finding quiet places in DUMBO to dine
on interesting, affordable food is.
Opened in early November, owner Patty Lowry follows the format
that has made her other restaurant, Park Slope’s 12th Street
Bar & Grill, so popular: employ the talents of 12th Street’s
chef, Paul Vicino – who designed Five Front’s creative American
cuisine and oversees the kitchen – and serve the elegant yet
homey desserts of 12th Street pastry chef Jodi Gordon (recently
joined by Tamara Ehlin). Add a warm, well-trained waitstaff,
an attractive room and a bar that already has a lively buzz and
it’s no wonder Five Front is a hit with the neighborhood.
The two dining areas and the bar make an unpretentious setting
for Vicino’s cooking. The decor is early 1980s SoHo with cream-colored
stamped tin ceilings, dark, smoky, green walls and earthy, light-colored
wood tables and bar. The casual setting is just right for an
area divided between artists who want to eat well without going
into hock, and those who can afford the renovated loft spaces
but want a good meal in a room that doesn’t include a pool table.
Vicino has brought some all-time favorites from his 12th Street
repertoire. The Prince Edward Island mussels in a light curry
broth have weathered the move; they are just as delicious and
heady with curry spices. Ditto for the short rib dumplings –
a rich pot roast filling encased in a thin pasta wrapper napped
with a concentrated veal demi-glace. His new sea scallops are
a successful pairing of the lush with the crisp. The scallops
are seared to a crisp crust on the outside and winy inside. The
velvety scallops and the brittle strands of fried potatoes that
the scallops are served with make an addictive combination.
Vicino’s entrees are hearty and big-flavored yet not heavy. Take
his San Vito Di Capo Stew with couscous, inspired by his recent
honeymoon in Sicily. The couscous has been cooked in the deepest,
richest shellfish stock with a hint of cayenne pepper that leaves
a lingering heat in the mouth. Slivers of almonds add textural
interest to the grain. Perfectly tender mussels, tiny clams,
pink shrimp, big scallops and chunks of monkfish sit atop the
couscous. The stew – with its mound of gorgeous pink and white
seafood over the golden couscous – is a heart stopper to look
at and a sensual delight to eat.
A special boeuf bourguignon played the homely sister to the arresting
couscous dish. I can describe the appearance of the dish in one
word – beige – but the flavor had plenty of personality. Fork-tender
chunks of beef cooked in a red wine sauce were sweetened with
slow-cooked onions. Thick ribbons of al dente pappardelle pasta
soaked up the winy sauce. I suppose this dish could be called
comfort food – it soothes and satisfies the way a well-made stew
should – but Vicino’s version is lighter than a traditional stew
and cooked with more finesse.
Although the lamb shank was butter soft, its sauce was timidly
flavored. The two sides served with the shank, a crisp square
of polenta and pleasantly bitter sauteed escarole, made an intriguing
threesome with the lamb.
If you crave a good burger, Five Front’s is plump and charbroiled
and its accompanying fries are the real thing.
Gordon’s beautifully plated desserts share Vicino’s homespun
yet elegant sensibility. Out of the oven comes a puffy, golden
square of pumpkin-bread pudding. The dessert has all the aromatic
spices that make pumpkin pie so delicious – allspice, cinnamon
and nutmeg – in a custardy, richly pumpkin flavored pudding.
A scoop of cinnamon ice cream melts over the top of the warm
pudding, and a drizzle of maple-laced caramel sauce adds one
more luscious element to the dessert.
I loved the chewiness of a pecan cookie-like tart shell softened
by a creamy splash of honey-sweetened mascarpone (a creamy Italian
cheese). Adding wedges of boozy, brandy-roasted pears to the
mix gave the dessert a fruity tang.
Five Front is already the kind of relaxed, hype-free place that
older restaurants aspire to. The service is friendly and accommodating,
and the rooms never get too noisy. It’s already something special,
with or without a Kennedy sighting.
Five Front (5 Front St. at Old Fulton
Street) accepts Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Diners Club
and Discover. Entrees: $12-$19. For reservations, call (718)