Whenever I am with my parents, we eat. It has established itself over the years as one of our favorite past times, and this weekend it took first place. Yes, the cultural excursion to see Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice was mind-numbingly good (emphasis on the mind-numbing part). Yes, the exploration of Court Street in south Brooklyn was interesting. But really, it was all about the food. I won’t go into the litany of every dish we tasted, but I will share a few highlights.
Since I came to New York for the first time at age 16, my mother and I have always gone to La Goulue for a meal when we are in the city together. Chef Sebastian Chamaret from the now-defunct Upper East Side restaurant has opened up a new spot in Williamsburg, so we had to try it together. Everything about this meal was divine, from the company to the cuisine. Alexxa and Stevie joined us for charcuterie, seared foie gras, duck “a la plancha,” the most succulent chicken breast I’ve ever tasted, served over a squash puree, and more. It’s still BYO for a few more weeks until they get their liquor license, so Stevie brought us the 2009 Baudry Chinon Blanc, a Chenin Blanc that was lovely and round, with a high level of acidity that proved to be a real crowd-pleaser, as well as a 2001 Burgundy from Hubert Lignier Morey-St.-Denis, a bright, beautiful Pinot Noir with a lot personality.
251 Grand St. between Driggs Ave. and Roebling St., Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Another neighborhood adventure, we met for brunch at Diner, the refurbished yet rundown dining-car-cum-restaurant down the street from me. I thought my dad would get a kick out of the décor, which makes you feel as though the place has survived more than one earthquake, as well as the food. Although I enjoyed my grits, Mom her root vegetable hash, and Dad his sausage gravy, the real highlight was the Bloody Mary: tomato juice, thick with horseradish and rimmed with kosher salt.
85 Broadway, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
After an ordeal to get a cab and over an hour wait for a table, I thought this meal was bound to be a royal failure. However, once we finally sat down and got our food, the first words out of Dad’s mouth were: “This is a really good burger.” Phew! Both Mom and Dad had opted for the quarter pound of house-ground beef served on the “perfect” bun, which was neither too soft nor too stiff, and both were members of the Clean Clate Club (as the saying has gone in my family since my brother was unable to properly pronounce “plate” as a baby). Admittedly, I helped out with the extra crispy fries, but I was mostly busy digging into the Eggs Huntington, the restaurant’s own version of the Benedict. These eggs were perfectly poached, the whites and yellows both set, requiring two stabs of the fork to pierce the yolk and soak the deliciously dense buttermilk biscuit beneath. The only drawback of this meal was that my side of greens was bare.
524 Court St., Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
Momofuku Ssam Bar and Milk Bar
For our last meal, Dad requested something different, and my mind jumped to the East Village Momofuku restaurants. Chef David Chang is a Korean-American who doesn’t understand the word “vegetarian;” he is one of the chefs that has brought pork belly into the limelight in American cuisine, if that gives you any indication. I thought it might be a great fit: a killer combination of “ethnic” food and meat lovers, topped with some hefty spice. We started out on the right foot, ordering their famous pork belly buns, the fatty meat layered in soft, doughy steamed buns alongside thinly sliced cucumbers. A bit of the Sichuan spicy sauce made this an instant hit for my dad (Mom was less enthused). However, we made the mistake of ordering not one but two fish dishes, the pufferfish and the albacore tuna. The pufferfish tails were lightly fried and served with squid ink and squash, a unique blend but slightly difficult to eat. The tuna, on the other hand, was overcooked, and its barley accompaniments were as bland in color as they were in taste. Thank goodness for the final dish (all plates are meant to be shared), a spicy pork sausage ragu served with chewy rice dumplings. This one was so spicy the waitress took the Sichuan sauce away so we wouldn’t be tempted.
For dessert, I wanted my parents to try something in keeping with the eclectic theme of the night. Momofuku Ssam Bar is connected to the Momofuku Milk Bar via a passageway (also accessible from the street), and we headed over to try their various desserts. Pastry chef Christina Tosi has taken her love of youthful treats — from milk and cookies, chips, and cereal — and created one of the most interesting pastry shops in town. The cereal milk soft serve and compost cookie (literally made of chips, pretzels, chocolate chips, and more) are certainly not for everyone, but we had fun tasting through the sampler of ice creams and a few of the cookies.
Ssam Bar: 207 Second Ave, East Village, New York
*Milk Bar located around the corner on 13th St.