Chef Neil Ganic’s second incarnation of popular Bouillabaisse offers more choices, more seats

for The Brooklyn Paper
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The problem with sequels is that they follow a successful first act. People arrive at the new venture hoping that whatever they loved about the original will be cloned and whatever they didn’t will be miraculously improved upon. Inevitably, some expectations are met along with a few disappointments.

Fans of Neil Ganic’s now-defunct La Bouillabaisse who follow him to his new Bouillabaisse 126 may need a few minutes and a glass of wine to adjust to his latest cafe’s streamlined digs.

The original cafe was an anomaly when it opened on Atlantic Avenue in 1993. At that time, the street was known for its antique shops, not dining. Patrons who entered Ganic’s French bistro, with its one dark, narrow dining room decorated with French flea market clutter, felt like they had discovered a secret bistro-salon where conversation was lively and the food, well, that was an experience.

Bouillabaisse 126, which opened in December in the Columbia Street Waterfront District, has two largish rooms. The front dining area (with one brick wall and another painted in golden swirls) has brightly striped banquettes and a noisy open kitchen. On a lower level is an airier room with the bar and tables covered in blue-and-white checked tablecloths. Beyond that is a lovely garden that makes an ideal setting for Ganic’s dishes which his loyal followers will find basically unchanged.

Also unchanged, to some diners’ delight and others’ frustration, is the super-sized blackboard carried from table to table, on which each day’s menu is written.

On that blackboard, you’ll find the sweet, wine-poached pear with its wedge of Gorgonzola cheese and his super-sized, crusty crab cake among the original appetizers, and of course, his signature saffron-tinged bouillabaisse is on the menu, still as lusty as I remembered. What will please carnivores is the addition of more meat entrees that are just as homey and expertly prepared as his seafood.

Ganic has always had a way with light, beautifully balanced salads. On a recent warm evening he served lightly steamed asparagus, grilled red peppers and slices of slightly bitter endive sprinkled with chunks of Roquefort and served with a ring of basil-laced dressing. This salad was salty, sweet and nutty. What could be more appropriate on a spring evening?

His crab cake is thick and dense with sweet crabmeat, and I enjoyed the three petite dots of creamy aioli (mayonnaise flavored with garlic and red pepper), hot mustard and ripe tomato salsa that partner the cake.

And that bouillabaisse. Whether it’s the real McCoy is open to debate, as bouillabaisse is one of those dishes that varies from region to region. Here, great bowls of the fish stew are placed on the kitchen’s counter every few minutes, waiting to be whisked to a nearby table where diners say, “Wow.” In a deep bowl is half of an entire lobster, big sea scallops, plump shell-on shrimp, plenty of mussels and a chunk of cod fish in a delectable saffron-scented broth. Each morsel of seafood is cooked perfectly and that lobster meat is as sweet as any you’d find in a lobster shack in Maine.

But what makes the stew really sing are the slices of crisp country bread smeared with rouille. A bite of that garlicky toast, soaked with the briny broth, is sigh inducing.

In a cafe known for great seafood, why order meat? Because at Bouillabaisse 126, it’s just as good. The filet mignon, usually a bland piece of beef, was rich in flavor, crusty on the outside and really rare (as ordered). It arrived with simple mashed potatoes and leeks julienned and sauteed in butter. Lovely.

Desserts are standard bistro fare: creme brulee, fruit tarts, a chocolate souffle and bread pudding. The bread pudding is studded with moist yellow raisins and the texture is light, but it’s too dull to eat more than a few bites — even with the stingy spoonful of blueberry sauce and the big puff of unsweetened whipped cream.

The cafe’s thin sliver of lemon tart, served without adornment, is as rich as a bake sale lemon square. It’s very good, but its solo presentation looked forlorn. A couple of ripe berries or a dollop of fresh whipped cream would enhance its taste and give its appearance some needed oomph.

Ganic and his cafe are truly New York stories. Where else would you find a Yugoslavian-born chef cooking French food in what was once a mostly Italian enclave? What else can you say but “merci”

Bouillabaisse 126 (126 Union St. at Columbia Street in the Columbia Street Waterfront District) accepts Visa and MasterCard. Entrees: $10-$19. The restaurant is open daily for dinner and serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 am to 3 pm. For reservations, call (718) 855-4405.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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Reasonable discourse

Cunha from Edingurgh - Scotland says:
Hi Neil...How are you? My name is Walter, I used to work in your restaurant on 1994 as a dish washer, I remember that time was working there: Ramos, you and other staff from Mexican Today I am living in Scotland and working in Restaurant(The Dome) as chef of grill and hatcher. a lot of things made to remember about your restaurant and you,
and I found you by internet. Good luck. You are a great person and has been working hard for long time!

Sept. 15, 2008, 9:04 am

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