Tuesday, May 29, 2012

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Colonie -- Brooklyn Heights, NY

It took me way too long to finally get to Colonie. For one, I know one of the owners, Elise, whom I met through a mutual friend from my Rome days, Matt. Elise was the wine director at Public, which happens to be one of my favorite spots in the city since it opened almost a decade ago, so I had a hunch the new place was going to be good. Second, Colonie is right down the street from my Brooklyn Heights-dwelling friends, who frequent the spot and have been telling me I have to get my culo over to their neck of the woods. For dinner.And so finally, and recently, I made it there. 

Colonie opened in February 2011 and was the first restaurant project in New York City to be helped along by donations collected through kickstarter.com -- an innovative fundraising vehicle, and an even more clever marketing tool for these first-time restaurateurs. The locale uses the Dutch spelling of colony, and even Brooklyn ('Bruijkleen'), and is a celebration of New York: the menu is a collection of American dishes with a wink to NYC's history as New Amsterdam. As with most any restaurant that opens in New York City, the owners went through their trials and tribulations, but Elise, Emelie, and Tamer (they all met working together on the management team at Public) have managed to pull off a cozy restaurant and bar that's new for the neighborhood, where there was a dearth of great dining spots. But it also feels like it belongs, like it's been there for years. 

So, let's get to the food, the creations of chef Brad McDonald.
The menu focuses on locally-grown produce and proteins where it can. It's seasonal, in step with local culinary trends. And it's certainly casual, what with an open kitchen that offers bar stool seating where you can converse with the line cook plating your dish, and get recommendations on the chef's favorites, on specials of the day, whatever. It's laid back and interactive and low-key. Of course, there's also more traditional table seating in the dining room, chunky natural wood tables and benches that encourages casual interaction among diners. The food that arrives in front of you, however, is accomplished -- and delicious.

Yes, waiting time here can be an issue. But the time passes quickly when you're sipping refreshing cocktails and a delicious, springy fried baby artichoke appetizer with an herb-laden aioli for dipping. A cheese plate also helped to curb our appetites (and create a food base for our second cocktails...). Once seated at the rear bar, overlooking the operations of the kitchen, we started with the rabbit and foie gras terrine with a port reduction, which felt both suited to the rustic-farmhouse/industrial-chic dining room, and just right with a bit of nip still in the air.
I also couldn't resist ordering the beet salad. Does every American and French restaurant in the five boroughs of New York City feature some form of beet appetizer or salad? Indeed. And while this beet salad -- here served with horseradish syrup, violet mustard, and sorrel -- was not the most memorable I've had, it was tasty and tangy and earthy, and certainly looked beautiful on the plate, painterly strokes of gorgeous magenta covering the bottom of the bowl.
I also indulged in a delicious bowl of salsify soup, here given the Middle Eastern treatment with a 'shmear' of tahini, crispy fried eggplant balls, and the added zip of meyer lemon. It was truly lick-your-bowl-clean scrumptious. We then moved on to a couple of main courses.

This included a new arrival. The latest fish dish was a sea bass, I believe, the night we were there, which has since been replaced by tilefish. The preparation remains the same, however, as it is on the current menu: the fillet is seared and served over roasted potatoes and dressed with an herb-walnut pesto. This was flavorful and light, beautifully executed fish cooking at work. 
The pork chop was a heavier undertaking, with caramelized onions and turnips still representing the comfort food of an admittedly mild winter. The sauce was sweet and savory with a touch of mustard and wine -- perfect for sopping up with a bit of bread.

To close out the meal, my friends decided on the doughnuts with a salty caramel custard. I, however, took a slightly more savory route, and went for a final cheese course, a nicely veined blue cheese with fig marmalade and sliced green apple, accompanied by a glass of ruby port. How very European of me, no? And not a bad way to end a thoroughly enjoyable meal. We stepped out into the night and breathed in the air of this once-Dutch colony by the water. I peered inside and viewed the patrons still tippling at the bar. This, I thought, this is what it means to be a neighborhood spot. I'll be back again, with the hopes of colonizing a bar stool, for many languorous hours.
127 Atlantic Avenue (Bklyn Heights)
Brooklyn, NY  11201 
(718) 855.7500

Sunday, May 13, 2012

RECIPE: Festa della Mamma & Veggie Frittata

Auguri, mamme! Yes, it's Mother's Day in America, as well as many other countries around the globe. And while mothers are revered the world over, Italy is known for having huge ties to, and love for, its mothers. Perhaps it all started with the Madonna? A quick pondering of the Italian vernacular reveals that sayings like "mamma mia!" and "Madonna!" are still very much in everyday use, and that "mammone" are a very real Italian phenomenon -- "mamma's boys" who live at home well into their forties while their mothers continue to cook their meals and do their laundry. I'll hold my tongue on the culture of men and their mothers in Italy, and simply offer up the recipe below...

It's a vegetable frittata, one of many simple-but-satisfying meals that's vegetarian-friendly, and can be prepared for a brunch just as easily as it could for dinner (which is actually when most Italians eat frittate)

And what could go more perfectly with this easy meal than a "Mammosa": a mother's day version of a mimosa, here made with prosecco instead of champagne, and orange juice (try blood orange juice for a Sicilian twist).

Auguri, mamma!

Vegetable Frittata
(for 6 people)

Feel free to use any seasonal vegetables you have on hand in this recipe. It's nice to have a variety so the end result is colorful.
Pat of butter
10 eggs
½ cup whole milk
¼ cup parmigiano cheese
2 cups broccoli florets
1 red pepper, cut into strips
2 small onions, thinly sliced
1 TBSP olive oil
Salt and white pepper, to taste

-Par boil the broccoli and red pepper strips and shock in ice water.
-Saute the onions in a pan with a little olive oil, until translucent and lightly browned. Set aside.
-In a bowl, whisk the eggs with the milk, parmigiano cheese,  and a touch of salt and pepper.
-Grease a glass pyrex rectangular pan with the butter, or melt butter in a round frittata pan or cast iron pan.
-Put the vegetables into the pan, and pour the egg mixture on top of them. Mix to get the vegetables evenly spread throughout.
-If cooking in a pan, fluff the eggs over low heat as they cook (like scrambled eggs) and then let them set .
-Place into a 350 degree oven for about 25-35 minutes, until the eggs are set on top and the whole frittata has puffed up a bit.
-Remove from oven and let cool; cut into slices or squares or portion as you like.