Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Dinner Worth Traveling for at Saul

As is the usual case, a typical Friday night for me involves grabbing dinner with MW and possibly getting drinks later with friends. After a long week of work, the prospect of staying in and cooking just doesn't seem too appealing. Though MW and I have made it a habit of eating out in Manhattan, recently we have made a conscientious effort to dine out more in Brooklyn. And why not? While there was a time when Manhattan was the premier restaurant destination for all of New York City, Manhattanites are now traveling to destinations such as Brooklyn and Queens to satisfy their epicurean desires. Saul has been on my shortlist of "must-try" restaurants in Brooklyn for awhile now. So last Friday evening MW and I made the short trip to Smith Street instead of crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.

Located in Boerum Hill, Saul has been one of Brooklyn's preeminent fine dining restaurants for the past ten years since it first opened in 1999. Awarded a Michelin Star, Saul is one of only four restaurants in Brooklyn with this prestigious honor. But this feat shouldn't come as such a surprise given, chef and owner, Saul Bolton's impressive resume. Having spent time in kitchens with the likes of David Bouley and Eric Ripert at Le Bernardin, chef Bolton knows a thing or two about cooking.

We arrived and were promptly seated inside Saul's cozy dining room. Exposed brick walls, dim lights and white table clothes exuded a casual-yet-sophisticated atmosphere. After looking at the wine list, MW and I both ordered a glass of the J. Wiemer Dry Riesling, Finger Lakes NY (2007), a wine we've enjoyed before at Blue Hill at Stone Barns.

With lower overhead expenses many Brooklyn restaurants are able to pass those savings onto their customers with lower menu prices. Saul is no exception. For the quality of food being served, the $85 seven-course tasting menu is an absolute bargain (not including an amuse bouche and petits fours). Our amuse bouche consisted of a Rutabaga Soup with Tapenade and Chive and had a velvet-like texture that was sopped up with crusty bread.

The first course was a Cheviche of Local Albacore Tuna, Citrus Marinade, Extra Virgin Olive Oil and a Micro Dice of Peppers. The Cheviche was light and refreshing, surprisingly so, considering the fat content of the tuna, and was a good start to the meal.

Our second course was a Sweet Pea Soup with a Peekytoe Crab Crostini. This course seemed like a homage to Spring, as the pea soup was bursting with flavor. The addition of fresh peas hidden in the bowl complimented the smooth soup and popped in your mouth with each bite while the crab crostini provided an additional textural contrast.

Our pasta course was a Ricotta Gnocchi with Artichokes, Olives and Prosciutto Chips. Despite the gnocchi being incredibly tender, this was the weakest dish of the evening, as the combination of every component resulted in the dish being overseasoned.

Before moving to the more savory courses, MW ordered a glass of the Iris Hill Vineyards Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, OR (2006) and I ordered a glass of the Heller Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Caramel Valley, CA (2006).

The fourth course was a Sautéed Atlantic Tilefish, Leeks and Lobster Sauce. Chef Bolton's skills with fish was evident as he was able to coax a perfectly crisped skin while preserving a moist flesh. The lobster sauce was rich and complex, reminiscent of the sauces at Le Bernardin.

The Warm Hudson Valley Foie Gras came with Poached Rhubarb and sat atop an Apple Puree and Almonds. The sweetness of the rhubarb, tartness of the apple and richness of the almonds paired excellently with the nicely seared foie gras.

Our last savory course was a Pan Roasted Normandy Duck Breast, Potato Puree and Fava Beans. This dish was mired with inconsistency. While the duck was cooked to a wonderful medium-rare, an overly seasoned potato puree left us gasping for more water.

I appreciated that we were allowed to pick our dessert for our final course. MW wanted something with chocolate and opted for the Valrhona Caribe Warm Chocolate Cake with Macadamia Nut Crunch Ice Cream. The cake was passable but paled in comparison to my dessert choice.

I ordered Saul's signature dessert, the Baked Alaska with Coffee and Vanilla Ice Cream and a Dark Chocolate Cookie. While I was a bit disappointed that it wasn't flambéd tableside, the taste more than compensated for such theatrics. The combination of sweet meringue, cool ice cream and crunchy dark chocolate cookie resulted in a dessert truly deserving to be featured in the Michelin guide.

Our meal ended with the check and petits fours of House-Made Caramels, a salty and sweet treat that both MW and I enjoyed the following day.

Saul is at the forefront of a new culinary movement of fine dining emanating from Brooklyn. This type of cuisine doesn't require white table clothes or polished silver but has them (Dressler, The River Cafe), isn't confined to a set of preconceived notions of what food should or shouldn't be (Frankies 457, Vinegar Hill House) and stays conscientious to seasonal ingredients (Applewood, Diner). To me, Saul is not so much a destination restaurant, rather it's a great restaurant that so happens to be located in Brooklyn that requires a visit.


140 Smith Street

Brooklyn, NY 11201
(718) 935-9844


To see all our pics please click the flickr link.

Saul on Urbanspoon

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