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Taste of 2006

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It’s been another good year of eating.

Yes, 2006 has brought a surfeit of culinary riches to Brooklyn - and with them, of course, a few trends. Nearly every chef I spoke to is "sourcing mostly organic ingredients from sustainable, small farms."

And more small-plate eateries opened - some that actually serve single portions on small plates.

This year also saw foie gras-topped designer burgers taking their place beside classic cheeseburgers; and pastry chefs are realizing just how good it is to pair something sweet with something salty.

Narrowing the group of great eateries that I reviewed for GO Brooklyn over the past 12 months down to 10 for this annual year-in-review roundup wasn’t easy, so I added an honorable mention section to acknowledge talented runner-ups.

But don’t assume anything by the order of the places listed. Like a good mother, I’m not picking favorites among the group. I’ll just say I admire each restaurant equally.

I fell for Baci & Abbracci, which is all "hip Williamsburg" on the inside yet reflects the soul of an Italian grandmother in the cooking. I sat in the restaurant’s roomy garden one balmy summer night, drank wine and shared the best pizza I’ve had all year. Pizzaiolo Frank Mastelione turned out an ethereal, char-crusted beauty with a crisp, flavorful crust and smoked mozzarella, pancetta and caramelized onion toppings.

Just thinking of that pie makes my heart thump.

Former chef Franco Migliorine (Stephano Scala is now behind the stove) turned out penne with a briny anchovy sauce that was as bracing as a dive into the drink.

People appreciate a good deed, especially if it means offering fine food to an underserved community. The locals of Ditmas Park let Allison McDowell and Gary Jonas know just how happy they were with The Farm on Adderley, by packing the place every evening since its launch in July.

Chef Tom Kearney’s summer menu featured a cauliflower soup with a plump oyster fritter that was all about the perfect harmonizing of the two ingredients. And he decided that enough was enough with banal desserts and put something on the menu that knocked diners off their mismatched wooden seats: A silky chocolate mousse with a dollop of truly salty, soft whipped cream. You can still order the dessert.

"Our customers would revolt if we ever got rid of it," says McDowell.

I like Japanese food as much as the next girl, but by last spring, I had consumed one too many ho-hum designer rolls. That’s the reason it took me a few months to get over to Nouvelle, a pan-Asian eatery that opened in September.

I was sorry I waited so long.

This modern, Bay Ridge restaurant and lounge serves as the showcase for chef Andy Yang’s dishes. Before joining the restaurant, Yang was the executive chef at Nobu in Los Angeles, owned by Nobu Matsuhisa.

I ordered the "Omikase," or chef’s choice, a tasting menu of what seemed like 200 dishes. (Reality brings the number down to a still-hefty six.)

There’s one dish that I doubt I’ll forget (and the way I eat, that’s saying a lot): The "Mission 06." The pieces of raw tuna, striped bass and Spanish mackerel resembled a flower and tasted as if it bloomed in the mouth. Iced with a thin layer of black caviar, a small mound of sweet lobster meat and a quail egg, it was pure decadence and pure pleasure.

(Yang is now a consultant to the restaurant. The new chef, Steve Ling, executes many of Yang’s recipes.)

There were sad faces on Smith Street when Adam Shepard pulled the plug on Taku, his well-respected but under-patronized Japanese restaurant. It turns out, he’s as good at bold Italian fare as he is at Asian cuisine. Lunetta, his small plate eatery, opened in the same Smith Street location in October. Like its predecessor, Lunetta possesses that distinctly Brooklyn, homey-yet-chic ambience. His artichokes, sliced into razor thin shards and perfumed with rosemary, are fried so crisp they crackle, then disappear, on the tongue.

And, once you’ve tasted his fried chicken with sweet and tart "agrodolce" sauce, you’ll never think of the bird as something to pair with biscuits and mashed potatoes again.

Not far from Lunetta on Smith Street is Porchetta, an amusing Italian eatery that opened in July. Inspired by the restaurant’s ingratiating mascot, chef Jason Neroni served an unctuous fried pork belly with a brittle crust, over nutty, "melted" cauliflower. He deepened the dish’s flavor with dried figs marinated in red wine.

Equally lush was a "raviolo," a single, loosely assembled ravioli filled with sauteed mushrooms. He topped the pasta square with a poached egg and a grating of sharp Parmesan cheese.

I’d almost forgotten about Cocotte in Park Slope when I heard owners Christine and Bill Snell hired a new executive chef, Adam Ross. My visit there last spring, followed by several more over the months, reminded me of why this place continues to be such a gem. Ross’s bowl of fresh, slightly chilled pea soup was like inhaling the scent of a dew-sparkled garden. He played up the sweetness of the vegetable with a strip of salty, brittle pancetta.

A location off of Fifth and Seventh avenues, Park Slope’s two restaurant rows, may be the reason that the American bistro, Melt, doesn’t get as much buzz as more conspicuously placed eateries. Chef Brian Bunger’s pan-seared shrimp with jalapeño-cucumber relish; his opulent, crisp, quail with foie gras; and fabulously crunchy frites with aioli made great eating. (The new executive chef, Kevin Milisauskas, started in November; his menu has similar American bistro-style dishes.)

Another Park Slope winner that opened in July is Palo Santo. At the helm of this eclectic Latin eatery and wine bar is chef-owner Jacques Gautier. His smoky tuna - seared just until the edges are charred, and partnered with lightly dressed string beans and radish slivers - is an example of the chef’s insouciant style of ingredient pairing.

Like Melt, Royal’s Downtown may be too hidden away for its own good. Situated on a shady, brownstone-lined street in Carroll Gardens, the elegant bistro is a bit too far from the area’s action to attract much foot traffic. Too bad for those who miss this spot. Once there, the service is pampering without being intrusive, and the food is thoughtfully prepared and creative. And inside, it’s like stumbling into a quirky, old countryside inn with a roaring fireplace.

Chef Alex McWilliams (who has since moved on and been replaced by his sous chef, Omar Clemente, formerly of Le Bernardin) prepared a risotto scattered with white truffles and dusted with Parmesan. It was rich, yet silky and light with an aroma both woodsy and sharp.

I loved it.

I also fell for McWilliams’s goat cheese cheesecake with a swirl of pomegranate and lavender syrup.

Sea bass, wrapped in thin potato slices then roasted, was an iconic dish in the 1980s. I’d almost forgotten about it, until this summer when I noticed the entree on the menu at Black Pearl, another excellent Park Slope restaurant that opened in November 2005. Chef Alfredo Duarte seared the filet to crisp the potato cloak, and then slow-roasted it until the center was like moist silk. Caramelized fennel and leeks served as a licorice-tinged bed for the fish. It’s still on the menu and worth a trip over.

That’s the Top 10 for 2006. Whether they made the list or were included in the honorable mention below, all the talented chefs who fed me so well this year receive my thanks.


Honorable mentions

Bay Ridge’s Amelia’s Ristorante because chef Ken Deiner is in the kitchen turning out exuberant, sophisticated Italian fare; Gribouille in Williamsburg for its hearty, French classics that include a robust hanger steak "au poivre" and lush potato gratin; Provence en Boite on Smith Street for the "Le Jean-Jacques burger," a pile of short ribs, black truffles and foie gras that’s worth every penny of its $25 tab; and Habana Outpost in Fort Greene for owner Sean Meenan, who puts his money where his mouth is and does good for the community in so many ways. (His solar-powered restaurant/flea market is equipped with a smoothie-making "bike blender" that you have to see to believe.)

I have to acknowledge Fairway, the mother of all supermarkets, for its fantastic, well-priced selection of everything, and a waterside cafe that offers an unparalleled view of Lady Liberty and the city beyond.

Baci & Abbracci (204 Grand St. between Driggs and Bedford avenues in Williamsburg) accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $14-$24. Lunch and dinner are served daily. Brunch is available on weekends, from noon to 4 pm. Subway: L to Bedford Avenue. For reservations and more information, call (718) 599-6599 or visit the Web site, www.baciabbracciny.com.

Black Pearl (833 Union St. between Sixth and Seventh avenues in Park Slope) accepts American Express, Diner’s Club, Discover, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $12-$28. The restaurant serves dinner daily. Brunch is available on weekends, from 11 am to 3:30 pm. Subway: R to Union Street. For reservations, call (718) 857-2004.

Cocotte (337 Fifth Ave. at Fourth Street in Park Slope) accepts MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $13-$23. The restaurant serves dinner Tuesday through Sunday. Brunch is available, from 11 am to 3 pm, on weekends. Closed Mondays. Subway: F to 9th Street; R, M to Fourth Avenue. For more information or reservations, call (718) 832-6848 or visit the Web site, www.cocotterestaurant.com.

Lunetta (116 Smith St. between Dean and Pacific streets in Boerum Hill) accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Dishes: $3-$16. Dinner is available Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Mondays. Subway: F or G to Bergen Street. For more information, call (718) 488-6269 or visit the Web site, www.lunetta-ny.com.

Melt (440 Bergen St. between Fifth and Sixth avenues in Park Slope) accepts MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $16-$23. The restaurant serves dinner daily and brunch on weekends, from 11 am to 4 pm. Subway: 2, 3 to Bergen Street. For reservations, call (718) 230-5925.

Nouvelle (8716 Third Ave. between 87th and 88th streets in Bay Ridge) accepts American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $12-$22. "Omikase" is $50 for five courses. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner daily. Subway: R to 86th Street. For more information or reservations, call (718) 238-8250 or visit the Web site www.nouvellerestaurant.com.

Palo Santo (652 Union St. between Fourth and Fifth avenues in Park Slope) accepts cash only. Entrees: $15-$25. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served daily. Brunch is available, from 10 am to 4 pm, on weekends. Subway: R to Union Street. For more information, call (718) 636-6311 or visit the Web site, www.palosanto.us.

Porchetta (241 Smith St. at Douglass Street in Boerum Hill) accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $17-$20. The restaurant serves dinner daily. Each evening, a three-course, $25 prix-fixe dinner is offered. Brunch is available on weekends, from 10 am to 4 pm. Subway: F, G to Bergen Street. For reservations, call (718) 237-9100.

Royal’s Downtown (215 Union St. between Clinton and Henry streets in Carroll Gardens) accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $18-$32. The restaurant serves dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Closed Sundays and Mondays. Subway: F, G to Carroll Street. For more information or reservations, call (718) 923-9866 or visit the Web site, www.royalsdowntown.com.

The Farm on Adderley (1108 Cortelyou Rd. between Stratford and Westminster roads in Ditmas Park) accepts American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $11-$16. The restaurant serves dinner daily. Brunch is available on weekends, from 11 am to 4 pm. Subway: Q to Cortelyou Road. For more information or reservations, call (718) 287-3101 or visit the Web site at www.thefarmonadderley.com.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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