VAUX POPULI - Brooklyn Paper


Out of this world: Vaux Bistro waitress Kate Cortland brings out the entrees - steak and roast chicken with garlic mashed potatoes.
The Brooklyn Papers / Greg Mango

When I moved to Brooklyn, a year and a
half ago, I set out in search of the best Brooklyn eateries.
I found myself exploring the Park Slope area first. I dined at
the higher end places that friends directed me to and came away,
well, unimpressed. Then I found Vaux Bistro.

Vaux Bistro’s upscale facade with its clean,
red awnings and multi-paned windows stands out on this otherwise
not-yet-gentrified section of Fifth Avenue near Garfield. And
the interior keeps up the high standard. The entrance is sectioned
off from the dining room by a thick curtain that serves the dual
purpose of keeping out the cold breezes and making the first
experience of the restaurant special, like stepping onto a stage.

The room, colored in red, gold and black
is the signature of a masterful artist. I was not surprised when
chef-owner Robert Willis, who designed the room, told me his
list of past occupations included architect and photographer.
Banquettes, plumply upholstered in bright red, line three of
the walls, and the upholstery is repeated on matching wooden
chairs around the freestanding tables.

A central table is adorned with a lavish
mixed spring flower arrangement. The whole dining room has a
gentle golden glow emanating from subtle overhead lights as well
as from candles on each white linen-draped table. The ambience
is as pleasant as that of any restaurant I’ve ever experienced,
as elegant as any of the top Manhattan restaurants without any
of the over-the-top snob appeal.

Now add to that, swift, efficient service
and out-of-this-world French food. I sampled six of the nine
starters and each was better than the last. Among the most memorable
were the fried mussels remoulade – very lightly battered (using
semolina and cayenne in the batter) and delicately fried to retain
the mussel juices. The spicy remoulade of mayonnaise, fresh capers,
Tobasco and fresh herbs proved to be heavenly.

House terrine de canard was a thick, country-style,
chunky pate, sweet with the rich flavor of duck liver. Served
with a cranberry relish and a tasty, crunchy country mustard,
the combination of smooth, sweet, sour and dense was intense.
Top of the charts were roasted garlic and fennel flan in a carrot
broth with candied fennel – aside from being a highly imaginative
dish, the end result was a harmonious and subtle layering of
flavors and textures.

My highest recommendation is the house
grilled seafood sausage – a subtle coming together of many different
tastes of the sea (scallops, lobster and scrod) in a compact
sausage, with a light, uncomplicated overall flavor and a satisfyingly
dense texture.

It was hard to stop tasting the starters,
so consistently delicious and inventive were they, but I pressed
on. The selection of entrees was no less pleasing though slightly
less innovative. They ranged from the very simple, like roast
chicken with natural jus and garlic mashed potatoes, to the more
complex – filet of monkfish with lobster bordelaise and garlic
mashed potatoes, and roast duck breast with grilled duck sausage
and pomegranate molasses.

Four of the entrees were served with garlic
mashed potatoes, which were the ideal consistency – creamy but
not too rich, with enough garlic to grab your attention without
overpowering the flavors of the rest of the entree.

The monkfish with lobster bordelaise was
one of the most notable dishes – the fish-on-fish effect being
subtle while leaving the individual flavors of the lobster and
monkfish still distinguishable. A very tender filet of monkfish
was sauteed just until flaky and slightly crisp on the outside,
then topped with a sauce of red wine, shallots, bone marrow and
little bits of lobster. Again, the spicy taste of garlic in the
mashed potatoes beautifully complemented the sweetness of the
fish combination.

The roast duck breast was a perfect, very
tender slice with a spicy, dense sausage made with duck liver.
The pomegranate molasses was an intriguing touch of sweet and
sour and lent the fruit’s beautiful pink color to the dish.

Also of note were the creamy steamed mussels
with frites. The mussels were delectably tender and fresh, cooked
to perfection in a classic mixture of wine, garlic, onion and
cream, a lovely dipping sauce for the frites.

And, yes, the desserts were wonderful too!
Three were French classics: chocolate mousse, pear clafouti with
creme anglaise and creme brulee. Chocolate and caramel bread
pudding with whipped cream, and assorted homemade ice creams,
sorbets and cookies complete the list.

The desserts were all up to the same high
standard as the rest of the meal – smooth creme brulee, not too
sweet, with a thin crunchy sugar coating; thick, rich bread pudding
that beautifully married the flavors of caramel and chocolate;
and a clafouti (a French country dessert made from a batter mixed
with fresh fruit and baked) to die for – warm and soft, lusciously
melding the flavors of the pears and the vanilla creme anglaise.

Vaux’s wine list is substantial, offering
three white wines, three red wines and one Champagne by the glass.
The rest of the list is divided into full-bodied, medium to full-bodied
and light to medium reds and whites with special listings of
select Beaujolais, Champagnes and sparkling wines, as well as
ports and dessert wines.

If you’re still looking for a reason to
go to Vaux Bistro, consider the prices – $6 to $8 for appetizers,
$10 to $21 for entrees, and $6 for desserts. For one of the best
meals in Park Slope, in the most elegant dining room, these prices
are more than reasonable.

Robert Willis, who has been the sole owner
of Vaux since December 1999, is an enthusiastic and devoted chef
who clearly puts a lot of himself into his work. Future plans
include a prix fixe menu in addition to the current daily specials
for $16.

When asked what his goals for the future
are, Willis said, "I’d like to do more interesting cooking."
Watch out, Brooklyn, there’s even better yet to come!


Vaux Bistro [278B Fifth Ave. between
Garfield and First Place (718) 499-1433] is open Sunday through
Thursday, 5 to 10 pm, Fridays and Saturdays 5 to 11 pm and Sunday
brunch from 11 am to 3 pm. Vaux accepts all major credit cards.

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