Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A First Draft at Dean Street

New York City has always been a town of high expectations. At first glance, Dean Street seems like it could be a perfectly respectable spot in the underserved Brooklyn neighborhood of Prospect Heights, not too far from my hood. However, when early reports revealed that Chef Nate Smith, formerly of The Spotted Pig was hired by owner John Longo as the new chef at Dean Street, I was immediately excited for the potential of a "Brooklyn Spotted Pig" (as some were prematurely calling it). Sorry, but even if you try to clamp down on the hype (or avoid it entirely), in the New York City dining scene, these comparisons are inevitable.

Seizing our opportunity, Steve, our friend Jonas and myself decided to check out Dean Street on only its second week in business.

Entering the overly crowded bar area a few minutes late, I was worried that we'd be stuck waiting 45 minutes for a table. Lucky for me, Steve and Jonas arrived on time, and I soon found myself in the much more comfortable back room dominated by an open kitchen.

At first glance, the menu advertised a "chocoate" tart for dessert. I asked our waitress if this was the same as chocolate, or maybe some special new ingredient I'd never heard of, but either she didn't hear me correctly or was not amused by my nitpicking. Unfortunately, this lack of detail was indicative of our whole meal.

We started off with a couple of bar snacks. Gentleman's Relish, deviled eggs and fried cheese (manchego).

The snacks were perfectly fine. I'm a fan of deviled eggs, but these were undistinguished and their taste has completely faded from memory. Gentleman's Relish, with a soft boiled egg and a garlicky hit followed by the briny bite of anchovy was interesting, but felt overpriced for a single piece ($5). Fried cheese was, well, fried cheese--- nothing more, nothing less.

Avoid the tagliatelle at all costs. I was in a forgiving mood, and deemed it merely edible, but Jonas compared it to the sausage and potato soup served at Olive Garden. Burn.

The burger was much better-- beefy and thickly ground-- although not in the same league as at Spotted Pig. Cooked to our requested medium rare, the burger could have used a heavier sear (but that's a little more difficult to get when it's grilled). Served with cheddar, the burger sported a grilled bun similar to the one used at Spotted Pig (although no grill marks on the outside).

Sides were underwhelming. Pumpkin hash, curry cauliflower and brussel sprouts were all in desperate need of further caramelization. Apart from the disappointing lack of brown in our veggies, pumpkin hash was too soft, lacking bite. While my companions complained that the cauliflower was missing the advertised curry flavor, I thought there was plenty, just that, you guessed it, more caramelization was needed (has the deep brown, delicious cauliflower at ma peche taught us nothing?) Finally, with so many restaurants doing serious versions of brussel sprouts, Dean Street's felt a little too standard.

I'd be remiss if I didn't praise the standouts. Roast chicken was blessed with an intensely crunchy skin and seasoning reminiscent of KFC (trust me, this is a good thing). The garlicky bed of bitter broccoli rabe didn't hurt either, and we greedily passed the chicken around until it was picked clean.

French fries served with our burger (or as its own side for $5) were fantastic. Creamy insides with a crunchy, salty skin went perfectly with a creamy housemade mayo. Good stuff, reminding me slightly of the thrice fried fries at The Breslin.

Desserts were interesting, but not mind-blowing (again, expectations were high in light of the fact that Nate Smith's wife works at Four & Twenty Blackbirds in Gowanus). The above mentioned chocolate tart was flavored with cayenne pepper, which left a spicy smokey note in the back of my throat that was tempered by our surprisingly light butterscotch pudding.

Pear and elderflower pie gave us a rude introduction into the heavily floral flavor of elderflower. My whole concept of elderflower comes from the scene in Monty Python and The Holy Grail, so I was unable to put that aside and taste objectively. My fault.

Admittedly, I've only been to Dean Street once, but I fully intend on going back (though we did taste most of the menu and heard less than stellar reports from other friends). For my next visit, expectations will be tempered, and I merely hope to have some simple classics done well while throwing back a few beers (good choices of Kelso on draft). If Dean Street can succeed at that, I'll be perfectly content. Yet, it's clear that if Dean Street aspires to be more than just a good neighborhood bar and restaurant, it needs some edits.

Dean Street
755 Dean Street (at Underhill Ave)
Brooklyn, NY 11238


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