Sunday, October 21, 2007

Borough Food & Drink

12 E 22nd St (Broadway/Park Ave S)

Borough Food and Drink, Zak Pelaccio and Geoffrey Chodorow’s new co-venture, celebrates the best of New York City edibles. Many of their ingredients come from the city’s favorite purveyors of signature local cuisine, from Greenpoint’s Sikorski Meat Market to Faicco’s Pork Store on Bleecker, from Salumeria Biellese in Chelsea to Joe’s Dairy on Sullivan Street just below Houston. Other ingredients are locally sourced. And much like any culinary adventure in the city, the decision-making can brutally difficult—so much so that we went back a week after our first visit for seconds.

We first dined at Borough Food & Drink on opening night, and the scene was a combination of circus and approaching-well oiled machine. There appeared to be almost as many employees as customers, which made the space between tables a bit busy at moments. When I had called ahead for a reservation, I had been told that I would be able to walk in and get a table, but this was woefully inaccurate. We ended up waiting at the bar, where bartendress Summer took excellent care of us, for almost an hour. The specialty cocktails are worth a sip, and so these were not moments idly spent. The “Legacy” of Bay Ridge tastes of the tropics (Bay Ridge in August?) and is almost unbearably sweet, and the Chelsea Cherry skillfully blends chocolate and cherry flavors. The Queens Candy Apple is a twist on the classic apple martini, topped with a slice of apple that, once you near the bottom of the glass, makes it difficult to get the last drops of appley goodness until you eat the apple. Once we were seated, service was attentive and our food arrived in a reasonable amount of time.

Borough Food & Drink is comfort food heaven, assuming that “comfort” isn’t referring to the sensation one experiences after a meal there. The restaurant is not the wisest pick for waistline-watchers, but for those who worship at the altar of the happy tastebud (and don’t mind the slight discomfort of overfullness afterward), this is the place. On our first visit, we began with flatbread topped with guanciale (an unsmoked Italian bacon) and ricotta and the big bowl of dumplings, and I would have been satisfied leaving the meal at that. The flatbread was especially delicious, making it difficult not to overindulge, even in anticipation of the courses ahead. The dumplings were pan-fried rather than my usual boiled, which made them no less delectable, but slightly heavier (read: less room for what followed). What followed were the spicy pork sliders, one topped with bacon and cole slaw, and the other with bacon relish. These were good, but our first course was a hard act to follow. We also got the perfect, threadlike tobacco onion rings and the fried pickles with spicy aioli, which, while they sound odd, were awfully tasty. Dessert was Brooklyn Blackout Cake from the Two Little Red Hens Bakery. Listen to me carefully: Do. Not. Miss. This. Cake. It was dark and moist, the frosting smooth and sweet, and the accompanying clotted cream an ideal counterpoint. One slice was enough for two of us, but only due to internal space constraints.

On our second visit, for which we arrived with the triple threat of a reservation, an earlier dinnertime, and its being a Wednesday, we started with the Borough spreads & dips. These included smoky eggplant spread, a Lebanese “yogurt cheese” called lebneh, and taramosalata, the Greek fish-roe spread, and were served with warm bread spiced with zatar, a Middle Eastern blend of spices that often includes marjoram, wild oregano, thyme, toasted white sesame seeds, and sumac. One of my companions, who does not count himself among the babaganoush-friendly, nonetheless quite enjoyed the eggplant spread. The tangy lebneh and salty taramosalata balanced out the trio. The Manhattan clam flatbread, with tomato sauce, parsley, and garlic, paled in comparison to its porcine-dairy brother that we had sampled the week before. The frisée salad with dried salami was reasonably good, but the allegedly poached egg on top had a nearly hardboiled yolk. An arugula salad with fried goat cheese was a hit, and I had a lovely appetizer special of cold corn soup with crabmeat and avocado. For my main course, I had the Rigatoni Norcina, made with sweet Italian sausage, mushrooms, spring peas, and Toussaint cheese from Sprout Creek Farm in the Hudson Valley. It was flavorful and, according to our waiter, one of the only non-salad dishes in the place that wasn’t so heavy as to leave one needing to be rolled into the nearest taxi upon exiting the restaurant. It did indeed have a lightness to it, and I would have eaten more if I could only have found somewhere to put it. I’ve never been a big Reuben fan, but the aficionados at the table assured me that the Sikorski Kielbasa Reuben was a fine specimen. For dessert, we tried to resist the pull of the Brooklyn Blackout Cake, but were once again putty in its chocolaty hands. One of these days, we’ll get back in there to try the Little Pie Company’s apple pie.

Borough Food & Drink is raising the bar—and the price tag—for neighborhood hangouts everywhere. The wood surfaces are beautiful, the seating up front welcoming, there’s a pool table in the back, and they even have free wi-fi! It’s a great place to go for a bite (or too many bites) with friends and sample much of the best of what the city and its environs have to offer, all from the comfort of your table. After each meal there, I felt as though I had been on a Five Borough Bike Tour of the palate, and as though I would need to go on the real thing if I ever wanted to be able to button my pants again.

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