TURN UP THE HEAT • Brooklyn Paper


Rug-B's mixed seafood "run-down" is a perfect mix of mussels, shrimp, spiny lobster, salmon, sweet potato, Caribbean spinach, coconut milk, curry, ginger, lemongrass and basil.
The Brooklyn Papers / Greg

A new cafe has opened in Flatbush giving
residents a much-needed break in a neighborhood abundant with
salons bearing Z-heavy names like "Cutz ’N Curlz" and
"Nailz R Uz," but with limited dining choices.

Rug-B, a Caribbean-inspired cafe, opened in August on Cortelyou
Road. Co-owner Paul Simeon, who has created menus for restaurants
such as Manhattan’s Negril and Local, and until recently manned
the stove at Madiba, a South African restaurant in Fort Greene,
designed the cuisine, which he describes as "upscale peasant.
A fusion of Caribbean, Thai and continental."

Simeon, with partner Phil Dazis, roams the room, stopping at
each table to chat, or on a Saturday evening, join in an impromptu
sing-along with the lone musician and his band-in-a-box setup.

Simeon and Dazis made over the former salon space, removing barber
chairs and wall-to-wall mirrors. Their transformation has yielded
a comfortable, unpretentious cafe. In place of the salon mirrors
are sunny, yellow walls that are used as an exhibition space
of sorts for the work of local artists. Comfortable tables and
chairs seat 40. Large, plant-hung windows in front fill the room
with light, and on warm days, the windows open onto small, outdoor

The dishes at Rug-B are evolving.

"We’re still working on things. Still seeing what pleases
our neighbors," said Simeon. The neighbors, tired of trips
into nearby areas for a decent meal, want a cafe to call their
own, and are willing to overlook this promising eatery’s wobbly
beginning. While some of the dishes I tried had all the complexity
one would expect from this cuisine, others seemed timid. Until
the liquor license is established (it’s expected by winter),
patrons are happy to down refreshing glasses of mango juice or
carry in their own wine.

There are four appetizers offered each evening. Salmon cakes
topped with a tangy, dill mayonnaise, although tasty, seemed
made of canned salmon and much like the kind of amateurish thing
I throw together in my own kitchen.

The other two appetizers I tried suffered from a problem that
was consistent throughout the meal: a heavy hand with sugar.
Big, beer-battered shrimp, tender with a crisp, almost tempura-like
coating, were doused in a candy-sweet mango citrus puree better
suited to a dish of vanilla ice cream.

A chili-and-lemongrass dressing on the corn and avocado salad
– while a touch too sweet – made for a pleasant topping on fresh
greens, crisp corn kernels and slices of ripe avocado. However,
crisp Chinese noodles that topped the salad, were one ingredient
too many.

There is a compelling entree on the menu. Take the lid off an
earthenware bowl and the perfume of coconut milk and lemongrass
warms your face. Inside that rustic bowl (its lid is used for
shells) is the mixed seafood "run-down," a Thai-like
seafood stew, heady with ginger, curry and thyme. The stew’s
thin, coconut milk broth, with its layers of spices, holds a
generous fillet of buttery, silken salmon. When touched with
a fork, the fish fell into moist wedges – each piece having absorbed
the flavor of the broth and a sneak-up-on-you heat from the hot
Thai curry. The fish sits center stage, surrounded by tender
mussels in their shells; big, flavorful shrimp; and chunks of
lemon-flavored, cream-colored sweet potatoes. ("The real
thing," said Simeon. "Not the yams you find in American

Customers will return for this memorable entree, the cafe’s signature
dish. You might think that a cafe with a dish like that "run-down"
– such a tour de force of technique and flavor – could pull off
a basic Caribbean dish like Jerk chicken. (Jerk chicken being
to Caribbean restaurants what a good burger is to the American
diner.) You’d be wrong. While moist and tangy, this white-bread
version of the dish lacks the fiery, gulp-the-water heat that
makes authentic renditions such a painful pleasure.

Non-meat eaters will be happy to note that Rug-B offers two vegetarian
roti (a stew flavored with curry and Scotch bonnet peppers served
over a deep-fried bread called puri): one with smoked tofu, tomato
and baby greens and the other with tofu and bok choy.

There are two desserts offered each evening: a banana bread pudding
and an ice cream "trilogy" with guava caramel. I love
bread pudding – especially when it’s gently warmed in the oven.
Rug-B’s dense, damp rectangle studded with banana seemed promising.
Heating the pudding to 1,000 degrees in the microwave was a mistake;
serving the pudding with a sticky, sweet, mango caramel sauce
was death-by-sugar.

I feared that the trilogy of ice creams would be another odyssey
down Too-sweet Lane so I passed on it. More desserts will be
added to the menu in the near future: "konkies," an
African sweet potato and cornmeal pudding, will be served with
vanilla ice cream and caramel-guava sauce.

Rug-B has the makings of a fine cafe. It has a chef that can
concoct a dream like that seafood "run-down," and partners
who know how to charm their clientele. The future of this cafe
will be ensured once Simeon turns up the heat and keeps his spoon
out of the sugar bowl.

The neighborhood is counting on it.

Rug-B (1310 Cortelyou Road between Rugby
and Argyle roads) accepts Visa, MasterCard, and American Express.
Entrees: $8-$15. For reservations, call (718) 284-0024.

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