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The Beagle Celebrates the Dog Days of Eating

On the origins of a new cocktail restaurant in the East Village

In The Voyage of the Beagle, Charles Darwin writes of a delightful liquid he encountered during his travels—the "cool pleasant fluid of the cocoa-nut." At the Beagle, a new restaurant-bar in the East Village run by Matthew Piacentini, the drinks are much, much stronger. Happily so.

You'll still find the spirit of the British naturalist here—his name marks the men's room door (the women's reads "Emma," his faithful wife). The space, too, evokes an old-fashioned Anglo sensibility, with blue-and-white wallpaper and framed turn-of-the-century book pages. These touches help signal a conscious coolness, catering to the well-coiffed, slickly dressed kids who don't mind shouting to converse or making dinner reservations by e-mail—or, alternatively, waiting two hours for a table during prime hours.

These dapper folks arrive thirsty, and for good reason. When a restaurant's menu designates whether your refreshment comes on the rocks, up, or in a highball glass, you know the place takes boozing seriously. The tipples ($12, save for a $14 barrel-aged, intense Aquavit-based libation called the Rosalind Russell) are decked out with cool metal straws, verdant herb garnishes, and the potential for a pounding headache the next morning. It's easy to order multiple rounds of the expertly made Airmail (a combo of light rum, lime juice, honey, and champagne) or the sherry-based Adonis, kissed with vermouth and orange bitters, only to realize that you haven't even perused the bill of fare yet.

In the galley on Avenue A.
Liz Barclay
In the galley on Avenue A.

And the imbibing continues, since the dinner menu features pairing boards ($15), combining an appetizer-sized bite with a small glass of hard stuff. While this might work with a cocktail (for example, matching a whiskey-and-vermouth-based Preakness with lamb neck), the subtle flavors of grilled romaine sink under the gentle burn of blanco tequila. A fatty pig head terrine goes OK with Calvados, but do you want to be consuming straight alcohol with your dinner? I'm not sure I do.

You can also, though, have a proper meal here. Chef Garrett Eagleton dabbles with international influences and plenty of Greenmarket hauls, to mostly impressive results. Start with the grilled quail ($14), stretched over a bed of gooey, creamy grits. The mussels and clams ($12) fell frightfully short on the clam part during a recent visit, but the rich, flinty broth and squares of chewy toasted bread for dunking nearly made up for the sole littleneck.

Among the entrées, you'd be wise to continue with the birds, this time a half chicken ($24), perfectly browned and crisp, flesh oozing with juice—succulent and downright delicious. What's that salty richness going on under the skin? Why, a bit of Cabot cheddar frottage action. A more delicate plate is the sturgeon ($22), which rests upon a bed of cucumber slices, festooned with a flowering lavender sprig. The flavors taste almost Nordic, and look it, too—both rustic and refined, a palette of greens and cream.

Less successful is the flat iron steak ($26), flanked by roasted Fushimi peppers, sliced cucumber, and chorizo nuggets. The bold-but-mismatched flavors spar, and it's a battle without survivors. The braised pork shoulder ($24) has the opposite problem. Even with a bounty of baby veggies upping the cute factor, its lack of flavor renders it unmemorable. Ditto desserts ($6). Best to order one of the sweeter drinks, instead (try the peachy Whiskey Smash). Call it survival of the fittest.

 

lshockey@villagevoice.com

For more restaurant coverage, check out our food blog, Fork in the Road, at voicefoodblog.com. Follow us on Twitter @ForkintheRoadVV.

 
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jenniferLy
jenniferLy

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