The stretchy bassline of Isaac Hayes’s “Hung Up on My Baby” cut through the din during a recent weeknight meal at BarGlory, the modish new restaurant attached to Greenpoint’s handsomely designed Franklin Guesthouse hotel. As more vintage tunes permeated the zigzagging, multilevel space, cocktail shakers rattled away along with the excited chatter of a young crowd waiting to consume their contents.
My own ungainly contribution to the evening’s social chorus was an indistinct, primal croak of surprise and delight, an all-but-involuntary reaction uttered in conjunction with my first bite of plump manti ($4 each), thin-skinned dumplings with a history rooted along the Silk Road. Both of BarGlory’s versions are spectacular. One is stuffed with sweet mashed pumpkin in a spicy, cumin-scented sauce made from braised apricots and orange lentils, then dotted with cooling dollops of ricotta. The other contains lamb and might be even better, paired with yogurt and a pistachio chutney bolstered by a rush of chopped mint, fenugreek, tarragon, and parsley. Their sealed tops are twirled to look like roses, and after trying them, the consensus at my table was clear: The two we’d ordered were wholly insufficient. We wanted an entire bouquet.
Open since August, BarGlory is restaurateur Sara Conklin’s sophomore venture, the younger sibling of Glasserie, her four-year-old modern Israeli funhouse set in a former glassworks factory nearby that has become something of a neighborhood mainstay. Against an equally airy and industrial-chic backdrop, she’s again teamed up with chefs Eldad Shem Tov and Jeff Kouba, though here the Levantine flavors that made their first place such a hit take a back seat, getting woven into recipes from East, Southeast, and, compellingly, Central Asia (Shem Tov, who grew up in Israel, has familial ties to Uzbekistan). What emerges from the kitchen, overseen by chef de cuisine Eddie Amnuaypanich, amounts to an often-thrilling gustatory tapestry blending old-world and new, one that showcases familiar tastes in new lights.
As at the many Uzbek restaurants scattered throughout Queens and south Brooklyn, and peppered throughout the rest of the city, lamb is front and center. Of course, this being north Brooklyn, portion sizes — save for a shareable, pitch-perfect whole fried fish ($39) — aren’t nearly as copious. No unwieldy platters of chargrilled kebabs or towering mounds of plov here. Instead, find dainty Vietnamese-style summer rolls ($13) of velvety raw lamb bundled with herbs, and a duo of lamb ribs ($11) coated in cumin and multicolored sesame seeds, which wobble free from the bone thanks to a braise in lamb stock simmered with ginger, lemongrass, garlic, and makrut lime. The ribs, extra fatty and double-cut, sit in a tamarind-saffron sauce and arrive anointed with mint, basil, and sliced chiles. It sounds like it could be overbearing, but everything’s in sync, pure barnyard-y unctuousness complemented by a parade of sweet, sour, and heat.
The larger lamb entrees ($16) are alone worth a trip. Shallots and baby squash join Azerbaijani chuchvara — tiny lamb dumplings that recall Polish uszka or Russian pelmeni — in a pool of garlic yogurt speckled with pine nuts, raisins, and crunchy slivers of fried garlic. Across the top, rivulets of chile oil run every which way, lending most bites a mounting then lingering heat. Kudos to Shem Tov and his crew for taking these straightforward dough pockets to unexpected new heights without it feeling overwrought or insincere. Then there’s kuksu, a Korean soup that wound up in Uzbekistan after Russia’s forced deportation of its Korean immigrant population in the 1930s. Though it’s commonly served cold, BarGlory opts for a hot preparation that starts with tangy, pho-like lamb stock spiked with vinegar, tender shreds of lamb shoulder, and rosy slabs of smoky, fat-rimmed grilled lamb loin. To this the kitchen adds a marbled tea-brined egg and a tangle of ragged, hand-cut semolina noodles, like the kind typically accompanying another Uzbek soup called lagman. It’s immediately one of the most interesting bowls in Brooklyn.
If lamb’s not your bag, don’t despair. Wavy millennial-pink shrimp chips winningly crown tuna tartare ($15), the rosy cubes zapped with sharply sour yuzu kosho. An artsy wreath of raw scallops ($13), cream-toned and fleshy against a layer of black rice vinegar, highlights the bivalve’s sweetness under a flurry of chiles, micro-cilantro, and puffed rice. Leafy greens ($9) pick up a bit of character on the grill, though nowhere near as much as charred baby octopi ($12) topped with snappy strips of fennel. Especially curious are Shem Tov’s onion jam bao ($10), a nod to his time living in Provence eating onion-olive rolls. The steamed-then-griddle-crisped Chinese buns are first folded with caramelized onions, then glazed in hoisin butter, and finally garnished with poppy seeds. Served in a bamboo steamer alongside a yogurt dip swirled with olive oil, black olive caramel sauce, and more poppy seeds, they do the most figurative traveling and have a distinctly New York edge in their merging of cuisines.
Dessert ($8), of which there are only two choices, takes a turn for the experimental — and not always for the better. A shallow mound of rice pudding with nuts, fruit, and an unwieldy scoop of chocolate ganache never really coheres, even after mixing in the sprinkling of seaweed powder that gives the whole thing a greenish tint. Personally, I’m holding out hope for an eventual take on chak chak, the Uzbek dessert of fried dough cemented together with honey syrup like a less flamboyant croquembouche. Until then, there’s cherry pit ice cream, which tastes of marzipan and wears an architectural shard of orange blossom meringue like a beret. Full of floral accoutrements like lychees, longans, chewy basil seeds, and jiggly cubes of jasmine tea jelly, it’s the kind of sweet ending that encourages endless investigation, each spoonful unearthing a new combination of tastes. Keep going. There’s glory enough in reaching the bottom of the bowl.
214 Franklin Street, Brooklyn
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 6, 2017