Where the Wild Thing Is: Sauvage Plays Fast and Loose With Bistro Aesthetics


By and large, ordering cocktails in restaurants can be something of a crapshoot unless you’re in skilled hands. Luckily for Sauvage’s customers, few bitters-stained mitts are more trustworthy than those of Will Elliott. On the heels of a James Beard Award win for his team’s work at absinthe-soaked Maison Premiere, the fastidiously dressed bar director has recently lent his talents to this sibling bistro, which partners Krystof Zizka, Joshua Boissy, and chef Lisa Giffen opened across from McCarren Park in Greenpoint at the end of May.

Sauvage’s brief but noteworthy list comprises a total of eleven drinks, four of which are original aperitifs. (One uses peach-flavored pisco and Loire Valley sparkling wine to cleverly evoke a bellini.) They’re easy to spot around the porcelain-tiled dining room, poured into tall glasses full of crushed ice and topped with flower petals and citrus zest. To make them, mixologists stationed at the restaurant’s curved walnut and marble bar get creative, tempering Italian alpine pastis with chamomile and adding Austrian sloe gin to fizzy framboise.

Classic formulas get tweaks of their own: A negroni swaps out Campari for the sweeter, lesser-known Contratto. Sauvage also stirs up one of the most unique martinis in town: Mahón gin from the Spanish island of Minorca that gets an herbal splash of Luli Moscato Chinato, a fortified Italian white wine, and is garnished with aromatics (juniper leaves, caper berries, and nasturtium flowers).

Sauvage’s drink offerings — which include carefully considered European wines, craft beer, and cider — complement Giffen’s Francophilic New American menu. The raw bar here is comparatively pared down, but be thankful for whatever’s in stock: This kitchen knows its way around shellfish. Red prawns are paired with saffron aioli, and queen crab (served on a bed of ice and seaweed, its legs pre-cracked) is accompanied by a wonderfully sludgy “crab butter” prepared with tomalley and served in an inverted shell. A lobster entrée takes surf and turf to a dark place: Roasted crustacean halves come with herbed potatoes and a satisfying pig’s-blood sauce suffused with lobster stock, oranges, and red wine.

Bread will cost you, but not much. The house roll with yogurt butter is sold as an appetizer for $2.50, but you should throw down the extra Lincoln for Malakoff instead. The specialty of Vinzel, Switzerland, is made by piling alpine-style cheese onto rounds of bread and deep-frying them into crusty, molten domes. Lighter starters, like a fluke crudo served with whey and chilled corn soup, are nuanced: The latter is poured tableside over smoked corn kernels and a brunoise of chanterelles and peaches. Vegetable-focused small plates function like snapshots of the greenmarket, particularly the dramatically presented crudités, their chilled, crisp produce standing straight up in a yellow enamel pot. Sunchokes, meanwhile, are cooked soft, tossed with croutons, and splashed with a vinaigrette that contains ‘nduja, Italy’s spreadable spicy sausage.

With a menu that changes every few weeks, there are occasional stumbles. Peas and fava beans had us searching for seasoning, and an arctic char clashed with the same fiddlehead ferns and sour-beer sabayon that had previously elevated Finger Lakes pike. But the missteps are rare, and most of Giffen’s cooking achieves a kind of stylish straightforwardness. A deeply flavored pot-au-feu showcases heritage chicken from Kansas, the breast turned into sausage and the dark meat crisped up and laid over cabbage and some jus; strip steak arrives next to dauphine potatoes rather than frites. High rollers can upgrade their beef to a $135 52-day-aged rib eye for two or split a confited pig’s head with grilled summer fruit and runner beans for $65.

Sauvage (French for “wild”) operates a takeout window that sells pastries during the day, though sadly you can’t score any airy ginger-lemongrass doughnuts at night. But the restaurant’s neckerchief-wearing staff will drop financiers and cherries with the check. For proper desserts, try an île flottante, or “floating island,” a tuft of meringue sitting in lychee crème anglaise. And while there’s no chocolate in sight, Giffen’s stone fruit tart — a jumble of citrus curd, plums, peaches, and chartreuse meringue — is plenty decadent, with uninhibited seasonal flavors and a look that is indeed wild.

905 Lorimer Street, Brooklyn; 718-486-6816