Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Braeburn (New York, NY) -- CLOSED

The West Village is the scene of some stiff restaurant competition, even by New York City standards. Within a few minutes' walk, you'll find Annisa, Soto, Perry Street, The Spotted Pig, Recette, Blue Hill, Babbo and Blue Ribbon Bakery, among many other well known institutions. In this kind of company, Braeburn doesn't stand out as one of the best spots to nosh in the area -- but it has perfected the art of the casual, likable, low-key neighborhood restaurant: The food is good enough (in any mid-sized town outside of New York City, it would be one of the better restaurants); some of the folks who work there are so nice, you'll want to be a regular just to drop by and say "hi"; and happily, there isn't usually a wait if you do decide to spontaneously stop in for a meal.

On a recent cold, blustery November evening, during a brief break in the rain, Justin, Gaile and I fought our way to the corner of Perry and Greenwich Streets and ducked gratefully into Braeburn. The cozy restaurant, which typifies haute farmhouse style decor and food, is divided into three intimately sized, candlelit dining rooms. We were seated at a three-top right outside of the kitchen and just next to the bathroom -- not the ideal seating arrangement, but we were too wind-whipped to protest.
The menu has hints of southern influence here and there, with grits, buttermilk, banana pudding and fried chicken all making cameos. It leans towards comfort food, farm-to-tabley food with lots of braised dishes, creamy dishes, and of course dishes that include bacon.
Shortly after we ordered, we were presented with the restaurant's standard amuse bouche of tempura crusted eggplant. The tempura was a bit greasy, but the bite was served crispy and hot. Not long after that, our appetizers appeared. I had the warm smoked trout with roasted butternut squash, toasted pumpkin seeds, apple-celery salad and brown butter vinaigrette. The lightly smoked trout was delicate and tender, a bit reminiscent of a (Swedish) standard on Aquavit's menu. The squash, apples and celery were all beautifully brunoised and lightly dressed with a balanced, not overly acidic vinaigrette. The pairing of fish with vegetables wasn't transcendent, but it didn't clash and went reasonably well with my glass of prosecco.

Justin's roasted beet salad, with Braeburn apples, spicy walnuts, goat cheese fondue (and greens not mentioned on the menu), was fairly basic, but also enjoyable. The goat cheese fondue tasted like a variation of blue cheese dressing. The beets and apples were, again, attractively diced. Someone in this kitchen clearly has excellent knife skills.

The wait staff came by with a bread basket full of fragrant, hot, herbed biscuits. They were more springy than crumbly, and more glutinous than the light, baking powder leavened biscuits I grew up with in the south. A different breed of bread, but Justin and Gaile both declared them to be delicious.

Our entrees were somewhat hit or miss. I had the grilled Long Island striped bass with ruby crescent gnocchi, chorizo, baby red chard and spring onion lobster broth (pictured at the top of this post). My fish was cooked to a good temperature, but was off-puttingly fishy, a surprise and a shame given that the fish was locally sourced. The broth, too, was made with less than fresh lobster, which really turned me off to the entire dish, as the broth permeated everything, including the springy, soft gnocchi. The most delicious elements of the plate were the tender chard and chorizo, which I could've eaten an entire plate of by themselves.

On the other hand, Justin's Long Island duck breast main dish, with herb spaetzle, apples, duck confit and brandied prune sauce, was lovely in its entirety. The duck was very, very tender, perfectly brined and juicy. Stewed prunes and prune sauce accented the dish with their pleasant, unobtrusive sweetness.

To accompany our mains, the chef was kind enough to send out a side of brussels sprouts, shredded and sauteed with sliced, roasted chestnuts, on the house. It was a brilliant combination, an embodiment of autumn, and probably the single most delicious thing we put in our mouths that meal.

We closed with a "Petticoat Lane apple cobbler", made, according to the menu, with ginger, star anise and oatmeal crumble. The cobbler had been baked until bubbly in the oven and then topped with a generous scoop of buttermilk ice cream and an apple chip beret. The apple and spice infused steam that escaped when Justin dug his spoon into the ramekin was thoroughly aromatherapeutic. I had a hard time not stealing all of the tart and surprisingly light buttermilk ice cream for myself. 

Where the food at Braeburn ran the gamut from very good (brussels sprouts and duck) to barely edible (striped bass), the service was consistently excellent throughout the evening. Our server, a radiantly kind fellow named Yaya, was always present when we needed him, but was never obtrusive. Other wait staff were equally on the ball and quick to bring drinks, refill glasses and clear plates without making us feel hurried. All things considered, there were enough hits that proximity dictates we'll be back for another meal sometime down the line -- just not for the fish.

117 Perry Street
New York, NY 10079
(212) 255-0696

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