The TasteMakers project was created “for New Yorkers to check out new restaurants we see as forward-thinking and adventurous…to represent the cutting edge of food.” Thirty restaurants, bars and sweet shops are participating ranging from Canelé by Céline on the Upper East Side to the Whiskey Soda Lounge at Columbia Waterfront District (where ever that is!) When I was asked to review Meadowsweet I happily (almost happily) took the train to trendy South Williamsburg, tried to grow some ironic facial hair on the way---a completely failure--and began my life as a food critic. Paraphrasing the Bard, “If food be the music of love, eat on!”
I arrived in South Williamsburg in a foul mood having barely survived navigating the underground labyrinth of the 14th Street Train station, a crowded, urine-soaked version of Dante’s First Ring of Hell, searching for the M train (M for Mysterious? Miserable?) When I finally arrived at Mercy Street (indeed, Lord have it!) there was no cell reception so I hadn’t a clue where I was. Instead of bursting into tears, I restarted my iPhone and dear Siri, genuinely surprised I was in Brooklyn, guided me down the grungy-brick road. If this is trendy, I thought, you can have it.
The journey started to improve as I past the legendary Peter Luger’s Steakhouse. Ah, the light dawning, this is where the Manhattan glitterati go for meat. Then I passed the monumental Williamsburg Savings Bank, a miniature Saint Paul’s Cathedral plopped down in the middle of nowhere, although the Hassidim walking around in their black coats made me question my metaphor.
Finally, in the distance, twinkling like Emerald City, was Meadowsweet (149 Broadway, 718 384-0673), and once inside, my awful journey faded into oblivion as I began an outstanding meal.
The welcoming interior is a bright, airy space decorated with whitewashed pine reclaimed from a factory in Kentucky plus a 17-foot herb garden hanging form a loft over the entrance. An old-fashioned mosaic floor, original to the building’s first tenant, a printing factor, added a homey feel to the contemporary white.
Polo Dobkin who was the Chef at Gramercy Tavern and guided the much lamented Dressler to its own Michelin star, is now the owner and chef with his wife Stephanie; after an extensive search around Brooklyn including Park Slope and other areas, they decided on reconditioning Dressler’s ground floor location.
The people at TasteMakers suggested I order from the special 5 Course Chef’s Tasting menu (each TasteMaker participant has created an affordable one, this one is $65) and I was more than happy to oblige. The waitress asked if we had any food restrictions, any preferences, and then chef would concoct a 5 Course meal tailored specifically for us. Continuing my music metaphor, we left the menu to chance, an edible John Cage-like feast. I was with two friends, so we had the opportunity to taste 15 different dishes.
Of the three starters the winner was the one presented to me (the kitchen knew I was reviewing): the Crispy Baby Artichokes with baby arugula, shaved parmesan and creamy garlic dressing, a signature dish. I remember loving another artichoke dish at Piperno a fabulous restaurant in the Jewish section of Rome, but this crunchy, creamy delight put dear Piperno’s to shame.
This five-course meal consisted of a starter, a pasta dish, a seafood dish and a meat dish topped off by desert. Plenty of food, indeed, but the portions were exactly the right size (not too small, Goldilocks, not too big) to be enjoyed without feeling stuffed or worse, still hungry. Again, I think I was given the winner, a perfect pasta, the Chitarra Nero with uni, rock shrimp, crab and house-made garlic bread crumbs. Our waitress warned it might be spicy, but the seasoning merely highlighted the fish; the uni was as succulent as the uni served in the best and most expensive Japanese restaurants in the city.
At the beginning of the ordering process, I mentioned I loved octopus so I was pleased (and by now, not all that surprised) that I was served the Grilled Spanish Octopus with tomato, fregola and mollica. Suffice it to say that Chef Polo’s roots are Austrian and Spanish (Catalonian) and he likes to keep the Mediterranean menu seafood centric and this octopus dish rivaled the octopus I was served on Mykonos, having just been caught by Tasos, my fisherman friend, and served to me minutes later.
The only restriction I gave to our waitress was I would rather not have the Hanger Steak. I was delighted when she served the Duck breast with Tokyo turnips, acorn squash, puffed rice and mole. Even though every dished had been a treat, I think the duck, tender and pick, that seemed to melt in my mouth like a savory M&M, was my favorite. The tiny turnips and squash were farm fresh, lightly steamed, while the puffed rice added a risotto feel to the dish. Of course, every plate was shared with my friends, and Michele a genuine foodie, was rendered speechless by the delicacies.
After tasting the three deserts, which I’ll refrain from writing about in case my trainer is reading this article, we were introduced to sous-chef Alex Clark, substituting for Polo on his night off.
Twenty-seven year old Alex, heavily tattooed, bearded and pierced like all good Brooklyn-ites, is clearly a disciple of Dopkin’s and was all too happy to share his thoughts about Meadowsweet: “I love the rustic food style. It’s all about the down to earth flavors. The Tasting Menu let’s us play around with some special ideas, to challenge ourselves, as well as offer our signature dishes. I hate to use the phrase fine dining, but we simply want to be a high end restaurant in Brooklyn with really great food.”