Williamsburg’s All Hands Takes Inspiration From the Sea and Runs With It


Straight out of a high school theater production of South Pacific or The Pirates of Penzance, a row of hand-painted crested waves rises up from the alcove window across from All Hands’ raw bar. The three-dimensional set piece is a nod to the boisterous double-decker seafood den’s métier. It’s also a charmingly crafty departure, design-wise, for co-owner Craig Shillitto, the Brooklyn-based architect responsible for the crisp aesthetics of high-profile spots like Loring Place and Lilia.

Standing in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge, All Hands is housed in a low-slung, graffiti-tagged standalone structure where Shillitto once lived and grew rooftop herbs, grapes, and heirloom tomatoes. Returning to the nineteenth-century stable and carriage house last December, he and partners Gideon Klein and Jay Lehman have carved out a pair of distinct dining rooms connected by a narrow stairwell and the palpable energy emanating from a broad spectrum of snazzily dressed Brooklynites. With its distressed-wood floors, plush, blue-gray banquettes on the ground level, and clubby, cherry-red booths huddled by a second cocktail bar downstairs, the interior is as sophisticatedly attractive as any of Shillitto’s other projects. You can even snag glimpses of the bridge from a few choice tables upstairs while sipping on one of beverage director Anna-Lisa Campos’s highly inventive concoctions, which come garnished with things like chamomile buds and dehydrated pineapple “umbrellas.” Those painted waves, however, feel like more of a sly wink — a signal that for all its decorative rigor, the restaurant doesn’t take itself too seriously.

When the place gets crowded, the crew will stow you below deck, possibly at one of the communal tables in the back of the room, which, rather than feeling like Siberia, exudes a convivial coziness and offers peeks into the semi-open kitchen. Playful mischief manifests in there, too, under the direction of Pete Lipson. The thirty-year-old executive chef worked for Alex Stupak at Empellón Cocina and ran the show at farm-to-table trailblazer Northern Spy Food Co. until its unfortunate closing last year. Here in Brooklyn, he steers the ship — and navigates the frequently changing menu — with a steady hand.

Unlike similar pescatarian endeavors around town, All Hands doesn’t go overboard with the raw seafood options. You can get East and West Coast oysters on the half-shell and douse them with caper-lime mignonette or tangy, peppery yuzu kosho cocktail sauce, the latter of which also works wonders on occasional specials like ultra-sweet Gulf pink shrimp ($18). And, while somewhat expected because of their ubiquity, the crudos do a fine job of standing out. Fish sauce sasses up cubes of sake-cured Spanish mackerel and grapefruit ($12) in one menu mainstay, while a recent addition submerged slivers of black bass ($14) in zingier-than-usual buttermilk bearing a faint trace of horseradish and fortified with pumpernickel crumbs, which lent a needed malty crunch. Just as effortlessly devoured is the coho salmon smoked with applewood and turned into creamy rillettes ($9), served not with toasts but as quenelles atop whole shiso leaves. A trio of them show up on a bed of crushed ice, the combination of creamy, smoky seafood, pickled jalapeño, fried onion, and licorice-y herb striking all the requisite highs of a solid drinking snack.

Smoked salmon is great and all, but boy do I hope fish charcuterie in general becomes more of a thing. At All Hands, Lipson soaks albacore tuna in brine “for four to five days” before cold-smoking, camouflaging in a heavy coating of spices teeming with coriander, and roasting off enough that the result retains some tenderness. During brunch, the faux-pastrami is sliced thick for a wackily enticing $16 reuben sandwich decked out with Russian dressing, pickled cabbage, and provolone that somehow works better than you’d fear. At night, slabs of the cured fish fare especially well over garlic aioli–slicked buckwheat blini ($15), the tony hors d’oeuvres crowned with pickled red onion, mustard seeds, and trout roe. With nods to old-school New York flavors, this kind of New American cooking achieves a thrilling sense of place.

The bulk of the menu breaks down into small and large plates, with the former providing the most enthralling moments. Not that hunks of piccata-sauced swordfish towering over leeks and carrots, or skate wing seared golden-brown with marble potatoes and asparagus, aren’t well composed. But I won’t soon forget Lipson’s $10 sourdough toast of steamed mussels with beef fat béarnaise, unctuous in the extreme beneath a green cloak of garlicky carrot top–parsley salad. Same goes for the way Calabrian chile snakes its spicy way through a plate of littleneck clam–studded passatelli ($24), the northern Italian pasta made from eggs, breadcrumbs, and cheese. There’s also the harmonious pairing of firm monkfish with seasoned pork belly for salsa verde–squirted skewers ($14), which hit the table lightly charred and set beside gangly, gently sour pickled Basque guindilla peppers for a further hit of acid. And generously, the kitchen will load up puff pastry with a heady, murky mess of sautéed snails and artichokes, apples, and garlic butter for $13. Snuck underneath the escargot tart is a sweet, fatty marmalade lush with bacon, red wine, and brown sugar. That bacon — cured by Lipson and mightily smoky — also shows up in one of the kitchen’s few misfires: a confounding $27 lobster roll that would be great if not for the erratic sploosh of celery seed mayo across the outside of the bun, which makes it unwieldy for no good reason. Keep your condiments inside the bread at all times, please.

Dessert arrives with an announcement from your server. Hope for the almond financier with dense cheesecake ice cream. If they’re out of doughnut holes — coated in cinnamon sugar, as light and puffy as marshmallows, and dipped into citrusy chocolate sauce — however, you should consider channeling some angry sailors and mutinying.

All Hands
29 Dunham Place, Brooklyn