When a restaurant serves gravy- drenched mashed potatoes as a main course, you wouldn’t expect to pair them with a $16 glass of cabernet franc, any more than you’d expect Iranian caviar on your pancakes at IHOP.
And yet that’s what you get at Brooklyn’s Battersby, where a large plate of spuds (“pommes puree,” per the menu) will set you back $20.
People who say “pommes puree” might call this tiny Carroll Gardens spot “tres cher.” Waiters are keen to suggest $65-$85 tasting menus. Glasses of entry-level riesling are $15. Champagne starts at $88 the bottle. And a four-course a la carte meal can total over $100 per person.
The new Brooklyn is quickly outgrowing its grunge stage and pricing itself like Manhattan. It’s not all that surprising, since good food costs good money and rents aren’t exactly going down.
Does Battersby merit the high tab? First, you have to actually get in the door. Hostesses quote 2-hour waits at 5:45 p.m. I suppose that’s what happens when a national magazine declares a 28-seat neighborhood joint to be one of the country’s best new restaurants.
Which Battersby isn’t.
It’s a fine, if uneven, local spot, not consistently good enough to justify riding the F train from distant precincts to Bergen Street.
American Express, the currency of choice for client dinners everywhere, isn’t accepted here. That’s Battersby’s way of saying: Leave your business at the office; maybe get a martini at The Four Seasons instead.
Once you get in, order chaud-froid salad ($12). Kale and Brussels sprouts sizzle and pop as they’re dropped in the frying pan. It’s the loudest thing you’ll hear in this subdued place. The perfume of wilted leaves and springy sprouts, musky and inviting, fills the dimly-lit room.
They arrive crisp and warm atop a cool julienne of kohlrabi, soaked in a tart mix of fish sauce, mint, palm sugar, chili and lime. Every flavor is clean and transparent. The result is salad made sublime.
It’s all par for the course from chefs Walker Stern and Joseph Ogrodnek, alumni of Alain Ducasse at the Essex House, once one of New York’s most expensive restaurant.
Chairs here, even the bar stools, have lumbar support. Meals begin with amuses (rare in Kings County), perhaps a shot of hot chestnut soup. Then a disc of warm rosemary focaccia appears, reminding us that bread used to be not only free, but actually an exciting start to the meal.
Sweet Nantucket bay scallops ($15) sit in a tangy broth of lemon and fish sauce. You might cleanse your palate with a steely Alsatian pinot blanc ($11), or you might opt for the house gin and tonic ($12), a common drink made uncommon with the addition of kaffir and mint.
You’ve got an excellent buzz going. Then you’re hit with a culinary beanball that is fettuccine Bolognese, an arid mess peppered with gravelly bits of beef.
This is when you realize that Battersby isn’t quite the destination that is Roberta’s, La Vara, or Gwynnett St.
The menu, with just 13 savory items, has too many misses for such a concise list. Garganelli ($14/$19) sit in a sour pecorino-laced broth. Cod ($27), poached in duck fat to a baby food-like mush, is a disaster. Duck ($28), medium rare with jus, is a bore, a preparation that tastes cribbed from a culinary school textbook.
And sweetbreads ($16), dripping with veal jus, are excellent until mixed with the accompanying Caesar dressing, a pairing I’m certain was concocted by the same folks who put Dennis Miller on Monday Night Football.
Order carefully and you will eat well. Plump mussels soak up a lovely Thai coconut broth. Fregola with tripe plays the starchy, chewy foil to a perfectly balanced tomato sauce. Any pork dish is perfect, whether fried and topped with mozzarella, parmesan-style, or braised ($27) into a meltingly tender bliss over cocoa beans.
And those creamy mashed potatoes, topped with oxtail, bone marrow and braising liquid, are the right rib-sticking dish for human hibernation. I’d pay $25.
Getting full? Skip the forgettable panna cotta and hit up the Clover Club for cocktails. They take Amex there.
The Bloomberg Questions
Price: About $100 per person after wine, tax, tip.
Sound Level: Charmingly bustling. Around 70 decibels.
Date Place: Inviting in the winter; too hot in the summer.
Special Feature: Well-chosen wine list courtesy of Erika DaSilva; no glasses over $18.
Inside Tip: Reservations only taken if you’re springing for one of the tasting menus.
Back on My Own Dime: If I’m in Carroll Gardens.
Battersby is at 255 Smith Street. Information: +1-718-852- 8321 or http://battersbybrooklyn.com.
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience. *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor
Sound-Level (in decibels): 51 to 55: Quiet enough to converse. 56 to 60: Speak up. 61 to 65: Lean in if you want to hear your date. 66 to 70: You’re reading one another’s lips. 71 to 75: You’re yelling. 76 to 85: Ear-splitting din.
(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include New York Scene and hot art.
To contact the writer of this column: Ryan Sutton in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org or qualityrye on http://twitter.com/qualityrye
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at email@example.com.