NYC – What happened on Gwynnett St.?

I’ve taken to crowd sourcing lots of things, especially recommendations for good food and places to visit.  I know, there’s always Yelp, but it’s impersonal and lacks the connection and interactivity of Twitter.  At the recommendation of a journalist friend of mine named Will, I coaxed Wife to round out our day in Brooklyn (read previous daytime post here) with a dining adventure. This time, that adventure came in the form of a tasting menu at a little place called Gwynnett St. Here’s how it all happened.We were going out on a bit of a limb, as I don’t usually try places based on a solo recommendation.  But NYC is so vast–according to this site it has over 4,200 restaurants–a strong voice of support is almost the only way to separate quality from, well, everything else. Gwynnett Street gets its name as a sign of reverence for the history of the community in which it sits.  I find this charming, and it seems to fall in line with the spirit of the dishes we sampled.  While we waited for our tasting menu courses to begin, the server brought out a bit of whiskey bread.

The whiskey bread that put yeast aside. Not sure how this works, but it was good

Whiskey bread is a little treat that uses actual whiskey, instead of yeast, to make the bread rise.  It seems like this should be some basic chemistry that I could reason my way through, but it’s not coming to me.  Apparently whiskey, similar to Early Money, is like yeast – it makes the dough rise.  The bread was better than I expected and according to Wife its basically the same way you make banana or pumpkin bread.  A couple slices into the bread the first course arrived.

Autumn root salad with beets, turnips and other veggies

With the arrival of the shopping season, I’m happy to report that blurry pictures like this one are soon to be a thing of the past.  I shall soon be rid of my wretched Evo and its poor camera in favor of a legit phone that does what I want it to, even in questionable light.  Rant aside, this earthy little nugget was a simple first course that stayed true to the season not just in the name but in the nutty root vegetables involved.  I wouldn’t say I’m in love with beets, but after dating them for several years they have grown on me.  Wife is a big fan of the roasted beet, so they do seem to work their way into many of the things we order.  Still, a nice start and lead in to a real bit of adventure, this

Never thought I’d eat a Blood Dumpling, but after the pig brain mix in D.C. last week I figured how bad could it be. Wasn’t bad, actually

The second course was a blood dumpling.  Don’t be alarmed by the title, though it is exactly what it sounds like.  Pig’s blood is something, no matter how many other products and seasonings you include, I would not have believed I’d ever try.  As much as the rest of the pig is a magical thing to behold, there’s something unsettling about cooking up the blood and turning it into the centerpiece of a dish–even a small dish.  Still, they did ask if we had any allergies or aversions and since we didn’t specify “blood” as something we might choose to skip, I didn’t think it appropriate to wrinkle my nose and ask for the other tasting menu, the one for sane people.  I can’t pretend this was a particularly tasty part of the offering.  But it wasn’t bad, either.  It kind of mushed around in my mouth and tasted like, well, not much of anything that I can remember.  Maybe the slightest background of traditional dumpling, but even that is a stretch.  Having conquered this dish and secured my ability to contend for The Amazing Race, I was ready for whatever came out next.  And right on time we switched to a very strong flavor, this

The sturgeon course – smoked and flavorful. Very strong but not overpowering

The smoky sturgeon dish was a welcome shift in flavor profile.  I’m writing this portion of the post a week after eating this and I can still taste the sturgeon – in a good way.  Eating this dish at this point in the tasting was a very good transition from the starter type items into the heartier focal points.  Actually, before we got to hearty, the server brought out something I was surprised to enjoy as much as I did.  Tofu.

A tofu based dish that worked surprisingly well

It’s hard to explain why I was pleasantly surprised by the tofu.  Maybe it is because even as I type the word tofu I don’t expect it to ever taste appealing.  Yet somehow this one did.  That green thing sticking out of the tofu was a pistachio leaf, which just seems cool.  I can’t dress up a piece of tofu too much, though kudos to the chef for working this in nicely.  Having completed a string of interesting and unexpected courses, I was ready when the server arrived with a little sea bass.  Nothing particularly inventive here, right?

Sea bass, mustard seed and kohlrabi course

The sea bass was simple and well-prepared, yet the chef found a way to add some unique elements to it.  For example, one of the more interesting parts of this dish was the kohlrabi.  Yes, I had to look it up, which is part of the fun of eating in places that will experiment with food.  Not to be outdone, the chef also threw in sunchokes for good measure.  Again, I wasn’t really sure what these were, but they added depth to the dish and turned out to be extremely healthy.  It was right about this point in the night that I felt like we were on an episode of Chopped.  Truth be told, it may not be experimenting at all and I’m just more sheltered when it comes to food than I thought.  Either way, it was a solid course and got us well prepared for the last savory item, the famous “ash chicken.”

Final savory course – famous “ash” chicken

Since I don’t write for a living, explaining the ‘ash’ in ash chicken (my title, not theirs) would be best left to a professional.  I found this NY Times writer named Pete Wells who described his experience–and the ash-brined chicken.  What I can tell you, however, is that I don’t usually equate ash with juicy and flavorful, yet somehow that’s exactly what happened here.  I’d like to understand the process that makes basically soot turn an easy-to-mess-up hunk of chicken breast into a perfectly moist main dish.  Good for Chef Justin Hilbert, this was just as good as the Yelp reviews Wife had investigated when I told her I wanted to come here.

With dinner in the rearview, it was time for our other favorite part of a meal–dessert.   For dessert, we lucked out into two very interesting treats.  First there was this

Honey and pistachio dessert

I’m running out of time, and truth be told I don’t have a strong memory of this one.  Fortunately, if it looks appetizing you can drop in and try it yourself.  The final item of the night was a chocolate and rose creation worthy of one of our favorite chocolatiers in San Diego, Eclipse Chocolat in North Park.

Exploded on our plate and the dark chocolate and rose were lovely

The dark chocolate and rose hips were pleasant, and had strong contrast with the deep sweet of the chocolate and a bit of bitter coming from the rose.  This was one of my favorite items of the night.  A couple practical points.  First, they offered a wine pairing, though we opted for a bottle of a red blend that I can’t remember, but Wife took a picture because she liked it so much she took a photo of the label.  Another thing, this place worked well for our early eating.  It’s strange to eat dinner in New York at 6:30, yet there we were.  And the place had not yet seen the 7:30-8:00 spike, so it felt intimate for most of the meal.  A plus for the end of a daylong date.  The only suggestion I’d have is to try to work the beef into your tasting menu.  I can’t explain it, but the foursome next to us got the beef dish and although I didn’t reach over onto their plate with my fork, it looked amazing.  And they all made that face people make when savoring something exceptional.  Yes, I was looking way.too.hard. at their plate, but I’d like to think I was gawking subtly.  The point is, ask them to work the beef in.  One last point.  I feel like usually when we sit down to chef’s tastings while the courses may use some of the ingredients on hand, there is substantial variation from the main menu items.  This one seemed to be several smaller versions of what was on the menu.  The upside is that I got to try several things the chef puts out.  The downside is that it felt a little less special than I’d hoped.  Anyone have a read on how chefs decide what ends up on your tasting plate?

All in all, I have very good things to say about Williamsburg in general and Gwynnett St. specifically.  It was a solid, above-average experience that came with its own bit of adventure.  If you are looking for something good on a night out in New York and feel like getting away from the bright lights of the city, a trip across the river to Williamsburg ain’t a bad way to go.  Thanks Will.

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