The Brooklyn Papers / Greg Mango

The logical sequel to Biscuit, a successful,
southern-style barbecue restaurant in Prospect Heights that serves
biscuits, fried chicken and ribs, would be a spin-off of the
first, with, perhaps the addition of a wood-lined pit for slow

Owners Maio Martinez and Josh Cohen see it differently.

Instead of another down-home eatery, they opened Sample on Smith
Street in October, a restaurant without a kitchen (there’s a
microwave oven behind the bar for reheating) and without cooking.

Using as a prototype Quimet, a long-standing restaurant and bar
in Madrid that specializes in conservas (conserved foods either
canned, smoked, jarred or in some way preserved, Martinez and
Cohen offer a menu of savory small bites – call it antipasti,
tapas or meze – sourced worldwide. The "cooking" consists
of slicing, simple plating, the sprinkling of sea salt and occasionally
warming something in the microwave.

"This is the way Josh and I love to eat; a bit of this and
that, all delicious," says Martinez.

Sure, you say, you can open a can in your own kitchen.

But it’s doubtful you’ll find the kind of global treats that
Martinez and Cohen have tracked down, or the eclectic wines –
20 by the glass, a sublime sake, exquisite port and dessert liquors
– selected by master sommelier Roger Dagorn, of Manhattan’s Chanterelle

The room is long and narrow with a tiled floor and stools along
the bar. Painted a soft cocoa with neutral accents, the decor
makes an attractive, unobtrusive backdrop to the vivid flavors
of the food.

The menu is divided into five categories: meat, fish, vegetables,
cheese and a small selection of desserts. A couple sharing four
different meat dishes, without wine, can expect to enjoy a light
feast and be set back no more than $24; less if they opt for
other selections. (Dishes range $4-$6.)

Sample will surprise anyone who disdains canned goods. The freshness
and richness of flavor that I enjoyed while visiting the cafe
surprised me, and I’m not averse to serving a meal that begins
with a can opener.

"Most of the canned foods are very good as is," says
Martinez. "Sometimes I’ll sprinkle on a little salt or add
lemon juice or vinegar for acid. That’s all it needs."

A few coarse grains of sea salt enlivened smoky, grilled red
peppers filled with a puree of codfish. Sixteen-year-old sherry
vinegar mellowed tender baby squid stuffed with tentacles and
their own ink. Both dishes are imported from Spain where they
obviously know what to put in a can.

Giant white beans from Greece in a rich olive oil and tomato
sauce were firm, creamy-centered and surprisingly beefy tasting.
Thickly sliced, fried Turkish baby eggplant were a bit drab without
adornment. With a squirt of lemon juice: perfect.

Octopus from Japan, called wasabi tako, is delivered vacuum-sealed
in plastic. Visually, it’s no beauty; resembling rice pudding
tinted an unearthly pale green. Order it anyway. The wasabi (the
root of an Asian plant with a flavor similar to horseradish)
ignites the mouth like a firecracker, and then dies down to a
soft heat. The squid is firm yet tender; its bland taste transformed
by the intensity of the root.

With a glass of cold, smooth Wakatake sake (labeled daiginjo,
the highest grade of distilled sake), it’s an unforgettable dish.

A meal can consist of simple nibbles like tangy goat butter on
sweet, nutty, fig bread (the tiny fig seeds adding a pleasant
graininess) from the Royal Crown Pastry Shop in Bensonhurst,
topped with thin, crisp crescents of radishes that taste faintly
of peanuts, or a saucer of big, green Spanish olives, black olives
and a few fava beans.

You can’t go wrong with any of the imported meat. The thinly
sliced, sweet, jamon serrano (aged, air-dried ham) from Spain,
scattered with a few crisp almonds, had a slightly smoky flavor,
almost like tobacco.

Pass on the overly damp St. James almond cake from Spain, (although
I liked the pears steeped in Muscatel wine that sat beside it)
for the plate of cow milk cheese from Basque, France, a pungent
bleu Fourme d’ Ambert, or a delectably nutty chaorce, a triple
creme that is only occasionally on the menu.

With a glass of Australian port, which has just a hint of cherries,
you’ll enjoy dessert.

And there’s so much more: sweet, grilled onions and artichoke
hearts perfumed with oregano from Italy; a shredded squid salad
seasoned with ginger and cucumber pickle from Japan; chewy, salted,
aged beef called bresaola, from Italy; and, in addition to French
cheese there are fabulous examples from Italy, Switzerland and

There’s very little to whine about at Sample. I didn’t love the
overly rich, crumbly zampone, a highly seasoned pork pate from
Italy, or the fishy New Zealand mussels with plum compote, a
case of opposites not attracting.

Most of the dishes were so good, however, that you may be tempted
to order four (or more) instead of the well mannered two.

As Brooklyn’s own Mae West would say, "Too much of a good
thing is wonderful."


Sample (152 Smith St. between Bergen
and Wyckoff streets in Boerum Hill) accepts Visa and MasterCard.
Dishes: $4-$6. The restaurant is open for dinner seven days a
week. For information, call (718) 643-6622.