My great-grandfather was known, on occasion, to eat an entire raw onion in one sitting. It was supposedly for his health, but I like to imagine that it occurred at the behest of my great-grandmother, as a way of making sure no other woman wanted to be around him for too long. At Glasserie in Greenpoint, my allium-obsessed, Eastern European expat Canadian relative came to mind the moment I spotted “Brown Bag, Onion Bounty” on the menu.
“It’s literally a bag of onions,” affirmed our cheerful, bushy-bearded waiter at the former glassworks turned sprawling restaurant and events space. And so I did a very bad, bad Brooklyn thing and ordered a paper sack of vegetables for $12. You should follow suit: The warm bundle of charred onions and scallions arrives slicked in melting sour cream, a messy, earthily sweet free-for-all that eats like a primordial onion dip. Doing Great-Grandpa proud, I left only the inedible skins and scraped the inside of the bag cleaner than a resourceful cocaine enthusiast.
Poking around the satchel of grilled plants served as a fitting introduction to chef Eldad Shem Tov’s waggish style of Mediterranean cooking, which he’s honed during time spent in modernist kitchens like Wylie Dufresne’s pioneering wd~50 and from running an ambitious project of his own, Shakuf, in Jaffa, Israel. After the latter’s closure, Shem Tov returned to New York City and found common purpose with Glasserie’s owner, Sara Conklin, who needed to replace her L.A.-bound opening chef. In the two years since taking over, Shem Tov has settled in to this isolated neck of north Kings County, inflecting Glasserie’s modern Mediterranean mission with his artistic yet elemental approach. Last spring, the chef and erstwhile photographer filled his brown bags with potato “husks” (definitely not “skins”) and long beans in place of onions.
Unabashed in his seasoning and often delightfully unhinged in his recipe development, Shem Tov grinds wild snapper to form oblong fish meatballs around cinnamon stick “skewers” and folds ground lamb, winter squash, sage, and poppy seeds into decadent and dense savory babka for a Friday-night special that easily qualifies as some of the best bread service around. Cleverly, he suspends the snapper kebab over a shallow bowl, balancing the cinnamon stick across its edges. Both ends of the spice baton arrive ablaze and smoking like incense, and the bowl holds confit vegetables, which spill forth from a split toasted challah roll. Bulky rounds of crisp-skinned lamb roulade share the plate with stalks of tender smoked salsify; bone-in short ribs swim in verdant leek purée. It’s a far cry from the light and breezy Mediterranean cooking of decades past. There’s Big Apple gumption in this food.
But as often happens when tangling with a constantly changing menu and a kitchen unafraid of taking risks, there are occasional falters. Shem Tov’s airy but decadently flavored chicken liver flan ingeniously sits along a bank of torn parsley and mint that bolsters the organ meat spread, but an accompanying roll lacked sufficient textural contrast, in need of the same toasting as the bread served with the snapper entrée. Likewise, in a nod to a dish from Westchester’s sustainability-minded Blue Hill Stone Barns, Shem Tov offers rabbit-kohlrabi “tacos” — but on the night we tried them, the shredded, harissa-spiced bunny had wilted the raw shavings of root vegetable acting as tortillas enough that they split apart after a few bites. For a restaurant previously known for its large-format rabbit feasts, a bone shard or two didn’t exactly help matters either.
Still, Shem Tov manages to keep these missteps to a minimum. An overwhelming number of dishes, like deep-fried chicken kibbe set against slivers of blood orange and a lamb soup dotted with sunchokes and fortified with basmati rice, are unquestionably worth the trek. So are Glasserie’s cocktails, which employ spices (saffron), herbs (sage), and Middle Eastern spirits (arak) with nuance. Were The Big Lebowski set in the present day, the Dude would most certainly abide a White Russian mixed with house-made nut milk (silky cashew, in this case). Less subtle is a clunky but oddly charming dessert of lavender chocolate mousse and whipped cream that the kitchen serves in an unfurled wax paper cone. Alternately, the rose-flavored custard, a favorite of progressive Israeli chefs, is a looker, and plenty complex, its magenta surface scattered with crumbled pistachios and slices of raw and cooked pear.
95 Commercial Street, Brooklyn