I've been following this chef, literally, for over five years. My first encounter with him was thanks to his pastry chef at the time, my friend Bill Yosses, who has since gone on to the lofty position of White House pastry chef. Yes, he makes Barack's apple pie. Those were the days when grocery chain Citarella was also a restaurant, which then was renamed Josephs, from which the chef, Brian Bistrong, has now gone on to open his own place, Braeburn. Just a stone's throw from the painfully trendy meatpacking district (also of yore), its aesthetic is anything but. A bucolic charm is hidden inside windows obfuscated by real trunks of slender, stripy, peely-barked birch trees and sheer white chiffon drapery. Solid wooden planks deck the walls above soft leather banquettes, the warm lighting reflected by mirrored strips,
and an enormous painting of a soft-hued farmhouse stretches across the entire north wall. Braeburn takes local seasonality seriously, and Chef Bistrong know his way around it.
I didn't detect any foams or "pearls" on the menu, but that doesn't mean Braeburn is want for innovation. The menu hints towards "comfort food", but is much more refined and sophisticated than to be constrained by that overused nomenclature (I mean, honestly, what good food isn't comforting?) It starts of with h'ors d'oeuvres, which span from an open-faced corned beef short rib mini-wich, with a juicy slab of the tenderest meat piqued with saucy little cornichons on a quaint square of rye, to a warm, juicy, tempura-battered cherry tomato that literally bursts out from its crisp golden crust, gently smudged with a creamy basil aioli. These are tiny bites, and well worth sharing. Appetizers top out with the warm Rhode Island squid salad. It's a warm, messy tumble of frisee and grilled squid, flecked with chunks of piquillo pepper and meaty grilled ham, gently flavored with green olives and lemon, flawed only by a slightly heavy hand pouring the oil (which can be overlooked). It's quite a salad, rustic and elemental, in a somehow complex and sexy way. Chilled zucchini soup (hot salad, cold soup) is a sumptuos, velvety emerald puree of local zukes, heaped with sweet lumps of crabmeat and dusted with a toasty, curry-like spice. The flavor is sensuous yet verdant, rich yet delicate, almost fluffy in texture, with a luxurious mouthfeel. A supremely good soup.
Skate was on offer, and as my go-to fish, it got to-ed. Lightly crusted and perfectly cooked, the wing did suffer from that unfortunate fate of being served in a broth, thus sogging up the whole ordeal within moments. The fish is perched high enough
atop the mound of vegetables upon serving, but eventually succumbs to the dampness below. The flavors are excellent, though: a vinegary salad of crunchy cucumbers and breakfast radishes spiked with mustard and chili oil for pep make a superb counter for the mild fish... had it the bowl been drained of it juicy liquid. (Am I the only person that notices this all-too-common occurrence?) A robust concoction of roasted lobster shells, chorizo and spring onions make for the hearty broth with roasted seabass, however, and without a crisp crust to maintain, the two complement one another without issue. In that I often order fish, an assertive preparation is most heartily appreciated from time to time. In fact, maybe I AM the only one who notices the broth debacle, because my dining companion preferred my skate (in fact, quite raved about it long after the fact), and I his bass, in the rare instance of a mutually gratifying plate-swap. The best entree, however, you might have to plan a little bit for. Wednesday's special (Braeburn offers daily specials with seasonal availability, but this one should hold strong through winter) of buttermilk fried chicken is a negamaki-style thigh bundled around a spring onion, and bound in its shatterably crisp skin. The meat is so tender and juicy it virtually melts, and the skin fried so crisp it practically follows suit. Beneath this masterpiece lies a savory little nest of collards and black eyed peas, a southern nod, perfectly executed. Too bad, in fact, that this isn't offered as side dish, because the Chinese broccoli we ordered was less successful: slightly acrid tasting which was helped not at all by lemon and chili, a texture a bit gristly and fibrous. It tasted much like scorned health food.
Desserts, on the other hand, are brilliant, and tend toward decadence, if anything. A humble peach cobbler might be the best one I've ever had (you might recall how it saved the day after an abysmal meal at Yerba Buena Perry?), akin to that of Vandaag, but with gently floral nudge to the crumbed topping and a more traditional, but equally delicious buttermilk ice cream swathed atop. Similarly homey is the Southern banana pudding, a luxurious custard with slices of fresh banana topped with a thick, creamy chantilly, and swirled throughout with a ribbon of rich caramel. This is no Jello pudding cup. Depending on your tastes, the "Almond Joy" is another riff on a classic, but while inarguably two-bite bliss, cleaning up the whole thing might require enlisting the entire dining room. It is, how would you say it... substantial. And by that I mean a bit leaden, but if chocolate and coconut is your thing, it'll knock your socks off.... it is a zenith of the two.
Upon departing, the charming waitress doles out a small plastic pouch of two little chocolate cookies. I always love the party favor, and although these biscuits aren't particularly memorable in and of themselves (Well, maybe you're supposed to eat them on the way home, but given how Braeburn puts out, it's more likely than not that you're gastro-pacity will pretty much be maxed out. At any rate, as I consumed them a day later, my position stands.), but I also doubt that you'll need much badgering to conjure of up fond recollections of your repast at Braeburn.
117 Perry Street 1.212.255.0696