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Battersby: Food Talks, Mouths Listen

A fine spin on Brooklyn fare in Cobble Hill

On first glance, Battersby looks like every other twee Smith Street eatery. The narrow, brick-walled space can hold no more than 30 diners—a young neighborhood crowd who enjoys gabbing and knocking back bourbon-based cocktails under flickering candlelight. Overlooking what's quite possibly Cobble Hill's tiniest restaurant kitchen, a long mahogany bar anchors the flow. Plates of artfully rustic food grace the tightly clustered wooden tables.

But something's different. A peek at the menu reveals none of the holier-than-thou artifice that often mars the Brooklyn dining experience. Bucolic-sounding farm names and heirloom vegetable varietals aren't advertised. Nothing is described as being "foraged" or "rooftop-grown." Sure, some of it might be—but the mentality here doesn't force-feed you the dogma. The food speaks for itself.

Or serenades, rather. Chef-owners Walker Stern and Joseph Ogrodnek (also buddies, having attended the Culinary Institute of America and worked together at Alain Ducasse at the Essex House) put out a constantly evolving menu that's elegant and refined (without pretension), not to mention spunky and inventive.

Your laboratory for the spunky
Liz Barclay
Your laboratory for the spunky

Yes, the bill of fare is confusingly divided into "first," "second," and "third" courses, with most in the middle category available as either half or full portions, but the personable waitstaff will help steer your order, be it for grazing or feasting.

While the chefs primarily focus on American and Mediterranean cuisines, they use Asian flavors in supporting roles, particularly with the appetizers. After chomping down on the complimentary chicken-liver toasts and crusty flatbread with whipped ricotta (best freebie I've sampled recently), dive into the excellent kale salad ($10), featuring both raw and pan-fried crispy leaves under a spell of Thai basil and fish sauce. Or the colorful discs of marinated radishes and satsumas entangled with shiso leaves ($10), refreshing and herbal. If you're not sticking to your post–New Year's diet, lap up the tête de cochon ($12). The shredded pig meat is unctuous, and the brussels sprouts offer a nice crunch. You can skip the cauliflower soup ($11), slightly watery and devoid of the promised curry notes.

OK, now time for round two. Your order: pommes puree with braised oxtail ($12/$17). It's meat-and-potatoes comfort done right, rich and decadent, accented with fried shallots and an herb salad dressed in a bracing sherry vinaigrette. Also getting top marks are the veal sweetbreads à la meunière, served over romaine and tossed with a Caesar vinaigrette ($14). Pastas have a snappy bite and are often slicked with cheese. I enjoyed a chewy pici showered with earthy chanterelles and grana padano ($14/$19), though it has since been replaced by a fine-but-not-quite-as-delicious ricotta ravioli with market veggies ($13/$18).

The third set of dishes is protein heavy. Tender as can be, duck breast arrives flanked by radishes and turnips ($25). A hunk of Berkshire pork ($26) lords over a bed of kidney beans and greens. Scallops swim in a vegetable broth and cozy up against mounds of Swiss chard ($25). All good, yet, as usual these days, the more interesting plates are found at the meal's beginning.

Dinner ends on a simple note: a slice of olive-oil cake ($6), a light clafoutis topped with spiced pear ($6), a miniature chocolate-caramel tart ($6). They tread safe waters, but I have no real complaints. After all, they're about the only predictable thing that comes out of Battersby's kitchen.

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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