Sunday, October 9, 2011

Diversion: Bklyn/DUMONT

The summer weekend MTA schedules threw our transportation options a pretty giant curve by eliminating L train service, so the half-mile trek from the F to DuMont might have contributed somewhat to my experience.  My #'s 2 and 3 of dining companions arrived 45 minutes post-reservation, which (opposed to myself) the accommodating staff had nary an issue with.  When they finally got there, we were whisked off through a tiny white-washed barroom, on into a tented, heated garden with picnic tables and overgrown ivy creating a magical, unexpected treasure of a dining "room".  I almost expected to see fireflies gadding about, despite the onset of early fall.  There's nothing frou-frou here at DuMont: any frivolity is probably handed off to its sister restaurant, the formal, prix-fixe Dressler nearby.  Instead, the vibe, the food, and the service here is neighborhood-friendly, and as undemanding of your palate as it is on your wallet.

I can't remember why none of us ordered the corn soup... it smelled ethereal, smoky and spiked with jalapeno, and was recommended by the charming couple who babysat me at the bar while I waited for my guests.  But instead two of us ordered the beet salad, which was a decent starter I suppose: the beets were prime specimens for their own sake, but a cold, hard puck of pointless goat cheese rolled in chopped walnuts quite overwhelmed the little dears.  They would've been just fine on their own, buried underneath a nest of arugula and sided with juicy, mild sections of grapefruit atop a thick smear of unctuous yogurt.  Kick that crottin by the wayside (or wrap it in a napkin and filch it for a breakfast omelette tomorrow- it might perk up warmed) and enjoy the rest of the salad on its own.  Memorably better, in an I-wish-I-would've-ordered-this-but-at-least-he-let-me-try-a-bite fashion, were the fried artichokes.  Meaty at the heart and crisp at the edges, and earthy and vegetal as a good artichoke should be.  They're cribbed on a luscious bed of garlicky, lemony cream, perfectly complementing the salty, oily  thistle.  Ahh, to have ordered the artichokes....

Alas, I was somewhat redressed (on paper) with the entrees, which proffered up that favorite skate of mine, and brussels sprouts on the list of sides, to boot.  And the skate was ace, tender in its ropey way and crispy golden on the edges- not so different from those exquisite artichokes.  The dumptruck of mashed potatoes underneath, however, was not only disturbing in proportion, but garnished with a handful of misfit olives and two juicy chunks of warmed tomatoes- delicious in their own right but poorly matched with the spuds.  And the brussels sprouts "roasted with pancetta" not only weren't roasted, they had been steamed to just-crisp emerald green...  ideal if you are a haricot-verts, perhaps  (and even this is ebbing out of fashion: see Ned Ludd), but insufficient if you are a crucifer.  Instead, the oily sprouts were just short of tender, hinting of a sulfuric bitterness and riddled with morsels of bacon which, while abundant, were insufficient to mask the inadequate cooking.  They were what I might accidentally cook at home if I was short on time, whisking them off the stove prematurely, but deeming them edible in a sort of feed-focused adequacy, all the time wishing I had left 'em another minute and a half on the heat. Unsatisfactory at home, but unacceptable at any reputable restaurant. And not roasted.  At all.  You will not, however, be disappointed with the portion sizes:  the kitchen dishes out generously.  I made off with a good cup and a half of potato puree from my skate, which sauteed up nicely into little pancakes the next day.  Too bad I didn't hang onto that chevre: I could've had two meals from one.

We also received a special-of-the-day gnocchi with porcinis... that we didn't order.  Instead of graciously leaving the dish for the three of us to nibble as a mid-course, our waiter snatched it away and there was that awkward wait while our two correctly delivered dishes chilled and stagnated, and we were haunted by the heavenly perfume of the absconded porcini dish.  In the interim, we nibbled at the exceptional fries that accompanied a good, solid no-frills burger.  Big juicy patty just barely pinkish in the middle atop a toasted brioche bun, there wasn't much to complain about.  In time, entree #3 arrived, which was a special of the day: hake, baked tasty, but the appetite that had spawned awaiting its arrival obfuscated my intent to photograph it and my memory of its accoutrements.  We think it had roasted squash and broccoli romanesco, piled again atop a heap of pommes purees (don't get me wrong, they do them well enough, but doubled-up with both fishes and the sheer excess of quantity might raise a brow or two).

Now at this point, dessert was in no way necessary.  And  the food up until this point hadn't really whipped me into a frenzy of desire for what else the chef could proffer, but at the same time, my friends were from out of town, and we WERE all the way out in Brooklyn, for Heaven's sake.  We might as well see as much as it had to offer as possible, right?  And a warm berry buckle seemed fitting on an unusually cool and drizzle-threatening late summer evening.  And it was lovely, this little treasure, ripe with jammy fruit and a buttery crumb topping, lubed up by a nice scoop of traditional vanilla.  The chef amusingly adorned the ice cream with two sugary roasted pecans, giving it a somewhat fly-like animation, but none the less tasty for it.   So underneath the strings of party lights and protective tent, surrounded by a convivial din of laughter and clinking forks, DuMont really is a pretty good little neighborhood bistro.  But if you don't live in the neighborhood (regardless of the MTA's track work schedule), it's not much worth the hike out there, for food as good as you can find at a number of similar places, probably just blocks from Wherever You Live, NYC.

432 Union Avenue

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