Friday, November 6, 2015


The transformation from SD26 to Black Barn is absolutely astounding.  What was once a vacuous, beige rectangle with the feel of a corporate cafeteria is now a sexy, rustic haven.  Big wooden beams criss-cross the ceiling, casting provocative shadows from bright, suspended Edison bulbs.   The only vestiges of the prior incarnation are the chef and owner, Matteo Bergamini and John Doherty respectively, but they have swapped out Tony May's Italian for American creative, farm-to-tabling it
 and nose-to-tailing it as much as possible.  And on these counts, Black Barn is meritorious, but sometimes the execution falters to live all the way up to the concept and surroundings.

The menu reads pretty pricey, but portion sizes are legitimately large enough to share, whether it falls under the menu category of "To Share" or not.    Nothing small plates about Black Barn.  Our server talked up the Mangalitsa pork to such a degree that we went with a charcuterie board from that division of the menu, even though I'm not such a cold cuts kind of girl.  It's a bountiful and beautiful array, furls of thinly sliced variations of the pig: soppressata, salty prosciutto, zesty salame, hearty rillettes... all from the heritage breed from Mosefund Farm in Jersey.  Accompanied by hearty, chewy sourdough and a small crock of mild, tender house-pickled
 vegetables, there's enough meat here for five to enjoy a bite of each variety- if your appetite can take it.  A grilled corn salad from Appetizers was similarly plentiful, but the focus is on summer's grand finale of produce, showcasing sweet
kernels against bitey arugula in a cool buttermilk
dressing. A halved avocado bookends the greens in case you didn't get enough good fats with the charcuterie board (although trust me, you probably did).

The next four categories on the menu are meant as entrees (Garden, Ocean, Slow Cooked and Wood Grilled), but regardless of my passion for vegetables, I still have a tough time making my main course a plant, even if they call it a Cauliflower Steak.  But shared as a starter, it makes a shareable beginning, even if it is technically more stack than steak.  A glistening pile of curried florets, perhaps a touch over oiled, are toasted, roasted, and melted into submission, brightened with raw cucumber half-moons, chopped cherry tomatoes and sliced rainbow beets, it makes quite a picturesque pile.   Smooth daubs of cilantro raita anchor the elements, and in the end, it is hearty and satisfying enough to warrant its $24 dollar price tag.

For a protein fix, a striped bass with crispy skin lured me away from the waiter's recommendation of the grilled swordfish with caponata.  After the fact, however, I wish I would've listened to him, although the bass was harmless.  Sure, the skin was crispy-ish, but the nubs of tomato didn't do much to revitalize a milky potage of plain sorana beans and undercooked green ones, making the whole dish pretty lackluster. Which our server was not- he actually became an integral part of the enjoyment of the whole evening, faithfully attentive and pleasantly funny throughout the
 course of the meal.  Even if he did forget (or was it the kitchen?) the side order of brussels sprouts, that arrived tardy scorchingly hot; they expedited their arrival but somehow still managed to overcook them, and even the smoky hunks of bacon nestled within couldn't quite unmuddy their flavor.  An unlikely winner of the evening, however, was a slow cooked Vermont Shivanne Farm baby goat... or maybe it wasn't unlikely, given we are dining in a barn.
The hulking platter  included bone-in chops, a roasted loin, and (my favorite) a tender braised shoulder.  The meat was mildly gamey, but mostly just beefily rich and tender, and a rustic hash of rosemary potatoes and artichokes gave a humble, earthy balance.   Dishes came out in a very timely manner, but be wary of the up-pour.  Despite our table's drinking by the glass, our server was tip-toe ready to top off our wine glasses even before they were emptied-  a fine practice if you have ordered a bottle, but confusing if not.  An ever mounting tab can result if one isn't quick to moderate the refills, so let the drinker beware.

Now there's an apple pudding on the dessert menu that would've easily captured my fancy, but at the time, the  cremesicle appeal of an orange-vanilla eclair piqued my interest.  Although impressive in longitude, it wasn't at all the flavor profile I was expecting.  Candied orange peel and chocolate chip-studded vanilla creme is a long stretch from the tangy orange sherbet classic I inferred.  Pronouncedly elongated, the eclair was sort of a holdover from SD26, its flavor a solid
 adaptation of a Sicilian cannoli Frenchified into a delicately puffy choux....  well, at least the plate was a holdover.  Doherty retained these custom rectangular dishes from the old restaurant, and then came up with the dessert to put them to use, but either a tweak of ingredients or menu description is in order.  Brooklyn Roasting Company stepped up to compensate in part, though, with a smooth toasty brew that made a lovely pairing.

Overall, the setting and service, ambiance and bounty are the restaurant's strongest points.   The less fussy plates are the best, which is in good keeping with a place called Black Barn.  Any urban cowboy should be happy kicking off his boots here.

tel.  (212) 265-5959

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