Monday, March 12, 2012

NYC: Brushstroke

It was not easily that I settled on Brushstroke for Robbie's birthday dinner.  We dine out a lot, so I wanted to make sure that it was a special meal - something out of the ordinary.  My first choice, since I thought Rob would love it, Torrisi's 20-course chef's tasting menu, was booked solid, and while we were on a wait list, the chances seemed slim to none that we'd be called off of it (and, in fact, they were).  I'd read a lot about Brushstroke, and it seemed like it would be an interesting culinary experience.  I've done tasting menus before, but I'd yet to experience a kaiseki, a series of artistically presented small plates that balance the taste, texture, appearance, and colors of food.  I wasn't expecting to be hit over the head with flavor, as we would have been at Torrisi, but I expected to experience subtle flavor combinations that I might not have seen before.  Sam Sifton gave a glowing review over the summer, and while he's steered me wrong before, I scoured the blogoverse and most people seemed to agree that this place was something special.

So it was that we wound up at Brushstroke at 9 p.m. We had to wait for a little while, so we sat and the bar and started in on some cocktails (which would later prove to have been entirely unnecessary).  The decor of the bar is pretty awesome - at first it just looks as if the walls are covered with whatever the wall-equivalent of parquet floors would be, but upon closer inspection, the cross-hatch patterns are made by the pages of books, stacked vertically and horizontally with the spines facing in.  Pretty cool.  Anyway, I went with a cucumber and almond number that was strong yet balanced, and I enjoyed the extra crunch from the smoked almonds. Since I really like almonds (smoked and non-) and booze, so there was little chance of that drink failing for me.  Rob had a ginger thing that was, well, gingery and, uh, boozy?  Yea, I'm doing a great job here.

We sat at the counter by the open kitchen, where we were able to watch the massive team of cooks prep and slice, sear and arrange, making this the third consecutive birthday meal that Robbie and I have eaten at counters (the others being the Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare (fucking awesome) and Momofuku Ko (also absolutely ridiculous)).  Every motion, no matter how seemingly rote, was entirely deliberate and well-intentioned.  Bouley must run a tight ship.  

Brushstroke has gotten some flak about it's rigid dining room menu, where only an 8-course (regular or vegetarian) or 10-course menu are available.  Since it was a celebration, we went balls-out and opted for the 10-course Early Winter tasting menu.  We asked our waiter about the availability of beverage pairings, and he said he'd fetch the sommelier. This led to the first real misstep in the meal - the sommelier did not stop by until after the first course was served. There was likely little adverse effect of this, though, since the first course was cold, but it seemed out of order and awkward for the sommelier to speak to us for a few minutes about our options while our food sat, already served, in front of us. When we asked whether it was possible to pair every course with a wine or sake, we were presented with a couple of options.  It was possible to order a few half-bottles of wine or sake (he suggested three to complement the different stages of the meal), or, "if we drink a lot", we could have a different wine or sake paired with each meal.  Since we're a couple of lushes, we went for the full pairing. The sommelier was sometimes slow with the delivery and imperfect with timing his pours, but he was very knowledgeable, particularly about sake, for which Rob has a particular affection.  

Hawaiian Hearts of Palm, Broccoli Rabe with Yuzu Mustard Miso

Since this was a couple of weeks ago now, I don't remember much about this dish.  Except that it was cold and the flavors were bright and that, like all the dishes that followed, it was beautiful on the plate.  It didn't blow us away obviously, but I remember eating it without complaint and enjoying it.

Steamed Chawan-mushi Egg Custard, Black Truffle Sauce and Uni

Now this dish, this dish is one I am not soon to forget.  The flavors were so balanced, so restrained, and so perfect.  It was light and tasted unlike anything I'd really had before, which is what I was banking on when I decided on Brushstroke.  The black truffle sauce was understated and earthy and did not overwhelm at all the fresh salinity of the uni.  I'd eat this umpteen times over.

Today's Sashimi

A variety of sashimi was next placed in front of us, tuna, mackerel and yellowtail (I believe) each paired with a different dipping sauce, fresh grated ginger and some kick-ass wasabi.  More places should use fresh wasabi, by the way. The fish was all fresh and delicious, as you'd expect in this sort of setting.  Not life-changing, though.

Lobster Bisque with White Miso and Sake Lees

This isn't the lobster bisque of which Cape Cod memories are made.  This was thinner, with most of the body a result of miso, and as a result, it was packed with umami.  The lobster was generously portioned, expertly cooked, and delicious as lobster can be.  I'd pick this over a cream and sherry bisque any day of the week.

Sea Bass Sushi with Pickled Plum Sauce

I really enjoyed the sushi, topped with teeny droplets of pickly plum sauce, which was pungent enough to actually contribute a good amount of flavor despite its modest application. Rob found the sushi a bit too fishy tasting for his liking; ever the fan of fishy (not obviously non-rancid) fish, I savored these couple of bites.

Today's Oyster with Yuzu Dressing

Here is an oyster.  It was delicious.  

For the next three courses, the diner is asked to choose from a list of options.  Where two options were presented, we obviously each chose one for maximum tastes. 

Grilled Anago and Yam Dumpling with Ankake Sauce 

As we just said we'd have both options and share, it was up to the waiter to allocate the dishes among the two of us.  So it was that for the next course I was presented with the grilled anago and yam dumpling with ankake sauce.  This was really interesting and very delicious. I love grilled eel, so I was pumped when this was placed in front of me.  Add a Japanese hush puppy and I am good to go.  This was awesome.

Miso Marinated Black Cod with Chrysanthemum Leaf Puree

I tried a little corner of Rob's cod, and it was among the better preparations of the now-ubiquitous miso black cod I've tried.  It was meaty and substantial, and got a great blackened flavor from the grill.  

Cherrywood and Chrysanthemum Smoked Duck, Malanga Puree and Chamomile 

I was handed the duck, Robbie the pork belly.  Duck and I are having a moment right now, so our waiter read us properly and set each dish before its more eager recipient. This duck made my duck look like amateur hour (which in all fairness, I suppose it is).  It was tender, and smoky, and slightly sweet, with faint hints of spiciness and some crunch. It was, in a word, fantastic. 

Yuru-kosho Marinated Pork Belly, Sweet Onion Puree, Black Vinegar Sauce

Rob was handed the other option.  I have a limitation on the amount of non-bacon pork belly I can really eat in one go, so I was glad he was given that dish, and the boy has seemingly limitless stomach capacity for pork belly.  He really liked it, and while I can't articulate his precise reasoning for that, I can vouch for his authority on the matter.  

Now here was where there menu presented some difficulty; the "over rice" portion. Whereas the two prior courses has two options, here there were four options, but still only two of us.  Obviously two dishes would be sacrificed and thrown into my memory as Things that Are Probably Delicious but that I Will Never Know. The mixed vegetables with ankake over brown rice was an easy target, particularly since I knew I'd be getting a taste of ankake in the dumpling dish.  By the way, I'm still not precisely sure what ankake is, though a quick google search leads me to believe that it is a "starch-thickened broth with chunks of meat, vegetables or seafood" (thanks Chowhound).  The Salmon was hard to see go, though; R.I.P. Steamed Salmon with Salmon Roe and Aonori Seaweed, I hardly knew ye and your delicious little bursts of roe.

Soft Shell Crab over Rice with Chrysanthemum Petal Sauce

After consulting with our waiter, who I must say was charming and attentive, I went with the soft shell crab.  Once it arrived, any thoughts of steamed salmon dancing around my head were quelled and that first bite vindicated my choice. This was the best soft shell crab I've ever had.  It's not soft shell season here, so who knows where it was shipped in from, and something makes me think that I don't want to know what the carbon footprint of our meal was, anyway.  The crab was meaty, and crunchy, and just flawless.  Yes, there was rice, but it was rice and I ignored it to ensure I was able to finish every last bite, save for the quarter that I (generously, if I do say so myself) bestowed upon Rob.  

Stewed Wagyu Beef over Rice

The beef was flavorful and tender, the sauce not overwhelming, but I couldn't really be bothered trying to ascertain what I liked about it when I was so absorbed in my crab.  

Dessert again presented us with options - though, truth be told, we didn't know what they were.  Thankfully, our waiter was incredibly helpful in guiding us here as well and made suggestions from the choices he'd committed to memory. 

We were also presented with a box of rice crackers that were dusted with a variety of powders, some sweet, some savory, some spicy; all quite interesting. 

Soy Milk Ice Cream with Toasted Buckwheat

After divulging my tendency to shy away from the overly sweet and my general proclivity for salty desserts, the waiter told me matter-of-factly that I would be having the soy milk ice cream.  I couldn't argue with his confidence, and I love me some ice cream.  This was fucking delicious.  The ice cream was savory, just the faintest hint of spice, but the toasted buckwheat was what really did it for me.  It was nutty, salty and downright wholesome tasting.  I really loved it.    

Soy Milk Panna Cotta

For the birthday boy, a soy milk panna cotta with matcha sauce, served with a candle of course.  The panna cotta was also rather savory, and had a great consistency, and sat atop a bed of red bean puree.  It seemed to combine the understated flavors of many Japanese desserts with the sensibility and style for which the French are known.

While the meal didn't come cheap, Rob and I both quite enjoyed ourselves at Brushstroke.  It doesn't have the hushed reverence of Momofuku Ko, or the cool sleekness of Brooklyn Fare, but it is a different experience altogether.  I could have done without the cocktail at the outset, particularly given the amount of booze that we consumed throughout our meal, and likely would have had we not been asked to wait 20 minutes for our seats at the counter to be ready. The meal was quite different from any I'd really had before, and that was what I was hoping for when I made the reservation.  I definitely never thought I'd consume so much chrysanthemum in one sitting, or at all.  None of the flavors at Brushstroke will hit you over the head or send smoke out of your ears, but you'll enjoy a thoughtful, beautiful and delicious progression of tastes, all of which are pretty damn great.

30 Hudson Street (at Duane St.)
New York, NY 10013
(212) 964-3771

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