Rowdy With a Chance of Meatballs: Carroll Gardens' Sunken Hundred
The kitchen had just closed when Illtyd Barrett burst into song, sandwiched between two patrons at the end of Sunken Hundred's long hemlock bar. Earlier in the evening he'd been chatting up tables, walking off with people's plates — according to our server, he'd clearly had a few. "We'd kick him out, but he owns the place," the young waiter joked, tilting his head toward the friendly, blond-haired Welshman now crooning in unison with a group of young women.
The rowdy Rod Stewart lookalike and his brother Dominic unveiled this boisterous ode to their homeland at the end of August. It's a victory for expat Illtyd, an artist from the Welsh town of Milford Haven who's lived in New York City for over two decades. Sunken Hundred takes its name from a mythical underwater kingdom, essentially the Welsh Atlantis, but for all of the backstory, the place thankfully keeps its décor tasteful instead of tacky. The blue-and-white storefront feels appropriately littoral, two inviting alcoves framed by hinged windows flanking the black-and-yellow flag of Saint David that hangs above the entranceway. Inside, red-bottle light fixtures cast a pale crimson blush over the long room, the walls hung with Illtyd's artwork and a photograph of the once submerged prehistoric forest that appeared off the Welsh coast in 2014, fueling the Sunken Hundred legend.
Tables stretch the length of the exposed-brick wall opposite the bar, where merrymakers consume gratis Cheeto-like seaweed puffs and swig Welsh whisky. There are also cheekily titled cocktails, the strangest and most apropos of which is the Seithennin, a concoction named for a legendarily drunken Welshman that looks and tastes like a bog in a glass. The mix of British Sipsmith gin, Chartreuse, and homemade kelp bitters arrives in a martini glass rimmed with dark-green seaweed powder, its surface dotted with seaweed oil. What's that lurking below in the murky depths of the glass? Pickled seaweed, which pops with briny savor when chewed. And, like with martinis, more than one may have you joining Illtyd when he starts singing. Even during the lulls when there are no impromptu live performances, Sunken Hundred cultivates a contagious jovial vibe thanks to the kindhearted staff. If Spongebob had appeared on Adult Swim instead of Nickelodeon, this is where he would've come to get shitfaced.
Stave off any hangover with tastes from the dishes listed under "bites," like creamy $8 leek-and-Welsh-cheddar croquettes or a ground-lamb pasty encased in golden-brown shortcrust dough meant to dip in mild tomato chutney. The best of these may be the $10 fish "churros," which were so popular at brunch that they're now available at night, too. The deep-fried doughnuts are made with salted hake and served as squiggly batons next to a dynamite tartar sauce that gets some oomph from charred leeks. They're a next-level drinking snack.
The brothers Barrett have entrusted their kitchen to executive chef Tom Coughlan, a veteran of Txikito, La Vara, and Seamstress who's peppered his seafood-heavy menu here with seasonal surprises, including an "autumnal gratin" layering acorn and butternut squashes in a zippy orange gastrique. In Coughlan's hands, ffagodau ($14), or lamb meatballs with soft mashed minty peas and onion gravy, get a brilliant crowning dollop of yogurt. He's also something of a seaweed whisperer: Besides the free puffs, Coughlan sprinkles herbs on moist hunks of hake in a robust tomato-butter sauce ($18) enriched with laver seaweed, and channels bouillabaisse with his seafood cawl ($19) — a shrimp, cockles, and monkfish stew that comes with rouille-spread toast and a dark smudge of laver paste.
Sunken Hundred's more pan-European "share" section is where you'll find beautifully seared octopus and squid, the former sitting in tangerine-butter sauce, the latter jumbled with apricots and almonds on a slick of peppery romesco sauce. Some of these small plates, like a warm wild-mushroom salad that's practically psychedelic from its heady mix of toasted hazelnuts and crispy jamón, are always available. Others are charmingly dependent on nature. "We don't have them right now," our waiter said disappointedly one evening after we'd enthusiastically ordered the razor clams with charred lemon and lamb jus, before adding: "Our supplier apparently only harvests them on full moons. So wait until the next full moon."
Both of Sunken Hundred's desserts embrace simplicity. Spoonfuls of clotted cream and berry jam perk up spiced and currant-studded Welsh cakes ($8), while bara brith ($9) is the real star. The tea-infused fruit cake takes a browning from the griddle, offered as a hearty slab with a scoop of thick and custardy walnut-and-black-rum ice cream. The frozen treat may not get you sloshed, but hope it gives you the extra courage you'll need if Illtyd starts up his antics near your table.
276 Smith Street, Brooklyn; 718-722-1069
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