Brooklyn at dusk. The sky stretched out like a neon T-shirt. Beautiful women in red lips and men in vintage eyeglasses lounge in a converted waterfront factory and nibble on pastured meat. They drink artisanal liquor until they fall into bunk beds built from the guts of an old barrel yard. The Wythe Hotel, which opened in April, might have been conceived by a writer, setting up a parody of Williamsburg circa 2012.
But it’s the latest project from Andrew Tarlow, the Brooklyn restaurateur, and it rises quite earnestly from the expensive, postindustrial shores of the East River. It was more than a decade ago that Tarlow rehabbed an old diner in Williamsburg that charmed the city with scrappy, effortless locavorism. Tarlow followed Diner with Marlow & Sons, Marlow & Daughters, and Roman’s. Of course, the new hotel has put a lot of thought into the food. It has even done away with room service in favor of a farm-to-table restaurant, named for an anthropomorphic fox, no less: Reynards.
If you check in to a hotel to lay naked in bed and eat cheeseburgers, the absence of room service will of course come as a disappointment. Otherwise, you’re likely to enjoy sitting in the stunning dining hall—the tiled floor, the beamed ceiling, the room impossibly full of light—and watching the bicycles zoom past. Sean Rembold of Marlow & Sons is in the kitchen, so along with a fine hamburger ($14), classic duck rillettes are available on the all-day menu. They are smooth and not too salty, sealed with half-melted duck fat in a simple white ramekin, and served with sliced bread, grain mustard, and perfectly sharp cornichons ($14). The rillettes are a welcome anytime snack, suitable at breakfast to counter jet lag, enjoyed alone as an extravagant lunch, or shared over cocktails.
But listen for the specials. A dish of whole fried sardines, layered like the petals of some awesome flower, came one afternoon with roasted potatoes, yogurt, and a generous toss of fresh mint and parsley ($15). This was a simple, stand-up kind of dish and done just right. A smoky pulled lamb in brioche with a salad of see-through radishes and fresh herbs also made for a good lunch ($14). The salad special one evening, a bowlful of half-wilted, stemmy greens with lardons and croutons, was the kind of dish to have seduced you at Diner in the early days—a dish that offers the illusion of being thrown together carelessly, which as anyone who styles his or her hair will know, requires a certain amount of attention to detail.
In other cases, the carelessness was not a trick of the eye. Food occasionally comes from the wood-fired grill and oven tasting as if it were recovered from a burning building. Instead of the sweet, mellow flavor of wood smoke, it bears a slip of burned grease. On a recent night, the guinea hen was served on the bone, encased in a yellow fat that had not been crisped in a pan or by ambient heat. It was unpleasantly slick and soft. A basil oil, which accompanied an interesting pavlova of chewy meringue, cherries, and a little sweet pea ice cream, was too aggressive and scorched the tongue. On the same plate, a dollop of cream had been beaten quite mercilessly, until it went grainy, then served anyway.
Looking around, no one at Reynards seemed to mind. Late in the evening, the restaurant is packed with diners chatting in a handful of languages over the noisy clanking of cutlery and glasses. There is a long, elegant bar with no seats but plenty of bespectacled leaners, resting their elbows, sipping cocktails, and sharing warm, roasted olives ($3). Everyone just seemed happy to be there.
And you might be, too, if you settle in by a window for a bite in the afternoon, when it’s less hectic, or head upstairs to the rooftop bar, the Ides, to admire the gleaming lines of Manhattan with an Aperol spritz ($10) or two. The city and the promise of a good hamburger downstairs appear suddenly beautiful.
For more restaurant coverage, check out our food blog, Fork in the Road, at voicefoodblog.com. Follow us on Twitter @ForkintheRoadVV.