WILLIAMSBURG — Manhattan isn’t the stronghold of culinary innovation it used to be, now that Queens and Brooklyn are giving establishments in the most coveted zip codes a run for their money.
Queens has become a hotbed of international cuisines, but Brooklyn has been the go-to place for cutting-edge cuisine for several years.
With innovation in full bloom at the beginning of the winter season, DNAinfo New York takes a look at what we'll be eating more of in 2014, with some of the most memorable new dishes coming out of the city's trendiest borough.
Chef Saul Bolton has a firmly established legacy in Brooklyn. He opened the original location of Saul in Boerum Hill in 1999. Since then, he’s opened The Vanderbilt, Red Gravy and local sausage company Brooklyn Bangers. Saul has relocated to a new home in the Brooklyn Museum, but its first locale inspired one of the dishes Bolton is most proud of — dry-aged squab with roasted carrots, almonds and spiced yogurt.
“Boerum Hill used to have the largest Yemeni population in the U.S. and a lot of people from Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon,” the chef said. “This particular dish embodies the Middle Eastern influence in our food particularly well.”
Squab is foodie code for pigeon. Bolton imports his from California. Dry-aged over 28 days, the meat loses 20 percent of its water weight, creating a “deeper, more minerally, gamy-er flavor, which is a desirable thing,” Bolton said.
As co-owner Lance Hess describes it, The Bounty serves “new American food with French technique.” This Greenpoint restaurant, which opened in summer 2013, focuses most of its attention on seafood entrees and a raw bar, but Hess and his team nominated their chicken dish as one of the stars of their dinner menu.
“It’s just chicken, but people tell us they dream about it,” he said.
The chicken is brined for 12 hours and roasted to order. It’s served up with a house-made apple mustard and an onion soubise sauce.
“Soubise consists of paper-thin sliced onions, which are blanched, removing bitterness, and sweated down to ensure tenderness,” Hess said. “The onions are then pureed into a silky smooth soubise."
Jewish and Japanese fusion? Yes. It’s happening. Chefs and co-owners Aaron Israel and Sawako Okochi blend their respective cultures in the new American cuisine they serve in their Williamsburg restaurant, with fascinating results.
Their sake kasu challah bread, served with raisin butter, is among their most popular appetizers, Israel said.
“The jumping-off point was a challah recipe that I was working on and then Sawako started talking about in Japan they use sake kasu — the pulp leftover from making sake,” Israel said. “It has a nice, fermented, yeasty flavor and she suggested that we put that in the bread. It worked out really nice. It adds a nice, subtle, yeasty, funky flavor to it.”
An entrée worth eating any day of the week, Israel said, is their lox rice bowl.
“It’s sort of our take on rice chirashi — a Japanese dish where you put all the fish on top of the rice,” he said. “Instead of doing tuna or something else that you might get at a Japanese restaurant, we cure our lox in-house and put that over the rice, and we added some things that we want to eat on top of our rice.”
Greenpoint restaurant River Styx only opened last spring and brings new meaning to the idea of wintry cuisine with this chicken dish, flavored with the help of pine needles.
“It gives that pine flavor to the chicken and then we serve it with spun honey — honey that’s whipped with a little cream and rosemary. It’s super delicious and very wintery,” said general manager Amanda McMillan.
The restaurant tucked inside the King and Grove Hotel in Williamsburg was buzzed about before it opened and continues to keep up the hum of excitement with the recent opening of Little Elm, an eight-seat chef’s table inside the restaurant. The menu is always changing and chef Paul Liebrandt’s favorite dish of the moment happens to be particularly reflective of the season at hand.
“Currently, my favorite dish on the menu is our pumpkin,” he said. “It’s a red kuri pumpkin, which is just delicious, with crispy sweetbreads. It’s seasonal and lovely. It’s flavored with a mole spice, which adds a nice Mexican touch that works really well at this time of year.”
Opened in September 2013, Bergen Hill’s seafood-only menu has a standout that’s converting the uninitiated into fans of a mollusk.
“People come with their family and say they’ve never had octopus before. We tell them to try it and they eat it and they love it,” sous chef Anthony Mongeluzzi said.
Mongeluzzi explained that the dish isn’t “fishy-tasting,” since the restaurant uses young, smaller octopi that weigh only 2 to 4 pounds. The preparation is of the dish is painstaking.
“We take the octopus and we braise it for two and a half hours at a really low temperature in an aromatic broth that consists of white wine, rosemary, thyme, lots of garlic, some onions, a little red pepper,” he said. “We let it sit overnight, portion it and then we sear it until it’s very crispy. We take the sauce we cooked it in and reduce it down and it makes a glaze for it. It’s served with farro, broccoli rabe, raisins, charred onion puree, charred onions and a harissa vinaigrette.”