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Against the current: Chef Sterling Smith of La Bouchee, pictured with his Nova Scotia salmon entree, has brought French cuisine to Montague Street.
The Brooklyn Papers / Greg Mango

Restaurateur Bruce Mendez has changed the
name of his Tin Room Cafe, the second-floor Brooklyn Heights
eatery at 136 Montague St., to La Bouchee (the mouthful) to reflect
the new French menu unveiled this week. After sampling the generous
portions and adventurous flavors of the dinner offerings, I think
Mendez could have easily called it ventree (bellyful).

The brunch, lunch and dinner menus now
reflect the French leanings of Mendez’s new chef, Sterling Smith.
(The original Tin Room location, in the old bank building on
Front Street will keep its name and is used exclusively for banquets
and large parties.)

The brunch menu offers Grand Marnier French
toast with pecans and caramelized bananas, cinnamon spice pancakes
and, for the more daring, potato leek and crab omelet with hollandaise
sauce.

The scrambled eggs vert, (Smith’s tribute
to green eggs and ham) with fresh herbs, basil, parsley, tarragon
and chives, demonstrate his penchant for leaning towards over-seasoning
foods – rather than letting their natural flavors speak for themselves.
To be fair, I do not want to discourage this veteran of Lespinasse,
Tocqueville and 1 CPS from pioneering a new path away from the
French provencal steak frite recipe for success of Patois on
Smith Street.

For dinner, La Bouchee offers a menu that
is 50 percent seafood and 50 percent a mix of steaks, vegetable
dishes and duck.

While Smith’s adventurous seasoning is
sometimes successful – the slow-cooked fennel-crusted Nova Scotia
salmon with braised savoy cabbage, apples, celery root and warm
hazelnut vinaigrette is spectacular! – the hearty creamless potato
and leek soup with bacon was indistinguishable from my Grandma
Chaplis’ split pea soup.

While she uses chunks of ham in her pea
soup, Smith uses squares of bacon. His result was so salty, and
his claim to use the part of the leek – the top – that other
chefs throw out, gave the potato soup a green hue. If it’s pea
soup you’re aiming to order, this appetizer works; if it’s a
subtle, smooth potato soup loaded with butter and the sweet onion
flavor of leeks – it’s a disaster.

For the most part, the rest of La Bouchee’s
innovations are successful, like the spicy pesto sauce served
with fresh bread, which had neighboring diners murmuring with
delight. The staff is attentive and knowledgeable. The wine list
is moderately priced and includes many American offerings.

The long restaurant is divided into two
rooms, lending an air of intimacy to each section. There are
gilt-framed mirrors, oriental vases and a large pastoral oil
painting of women with parasols. Most impressive is the front
room which has a winning, bird’s-eye view of bustling Montague
Street below.

Among the appetizers, the hearty, fresh
shrimp risotto with shitake mushrooms and a lightly spiced, creamy
tomato-based sauce was a success – though my dining partner felt
the grated lemon occasionally overwhelmed the other seasonings.

The Jonah crab cakes with ratatouille and
yellow pepper vinaigrette were perfectly crisp. Though served
on a flavorful bed of chopped vegetables, the wonderful meld
of opposing flavors – sweet and acidic – couldn’t mask the fact
that there weren’t any chunks of fresh crab in the heavily breaded
cakes.

Among the entrees, the trendy coffee-glazed
Long Island duck with sweet potato gratin, haricots vert and
coffee duck jus was a winner. The dish is almost as gorgeous
as it is delicious. The duck’s sauce was robust yet sweet, served
in a generous portion with rich sweet potatoes. (For my dining
partner the coffee flavor and syrup-like sauce evoked the best
of breakfast.)

The bay sea scallops were fresh, and also
generously portioned. This is a lighter dish with a pale-green
broth of less butter and more lemon, with shavings of shitake
and chunks of potato and bacon.

Again, the slow-cooked fresh salmon, with
its sugary sauce and mix of apples, dill and celery root was
a buttery triumph. Also, the two versions of filet mignon on
the menu are very popular dishes, according to Smith.

After those portions, the desserts are
all mercifully light, and also prepared by Smith. Choose from
tiramisu, raspberry creme or molten chocolate mousse served in
a martini glass.

Smith says he does all the butchering himself
and is "very particular" about the fish. His commitment
to quality – he insists on seeing every dish as it comes back
to the kitchen to see what the diners left behind – and presentation
pays off.

Smith says he is continually working the
kinks out of his menu.With warmer weather on the horizon you
can look forward to his addition of Asian-influenced dishes to
the lunch menu and sampling his concoctions in La Bouchee’s outdoor
garden.

With chefs migrating from some of the best
restaurants in the world to Montague Street, it’s safe to say
things are looking up in Brooklyn Heights. Bon appetit!

 

La Bouchee is located at 136 Montague
St. For reservations, call (718) 222-3550. La Bouchee accepts
all major credit cards, and is open seven days a week, including
brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.


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