Saturday, February 19, 2011

Danny Brown Wine Bar and Kitchen, Forest Hills NY

Despite it’s newly awarded Michelin star I cannot say that Danny Brown Wine Bar and Kitchen would have been at the top of my list of “must visit” restaurants in the 5-Bouroughs – as a matter of fact, under most circumstances it would have most certainly never even entered into the differential. Truth be told, the decision to visit DBWB occurred entirely as a logical compromise in the life of someone who rarely lets logic get in the way of his dining logistics – first my friends, admitted “non-foodies,” stated they wanted to join me for dinner prior to the Kings/Islanders game at Nassau Coliseum, then they noted that if possible they’d prefer not venture into Manhattan, and finally they requested a modest priced place that sold “steak and burgers.” With those stipulations in place, a location in Forest Hills, an opening time of 5:00pm, and the convenience for me to get there via LIRR the logic was simply too great to overlook.

With the best restaurant lunch of my life wrapping up just prior to 2:30pm I was glad for the long walk from Bouley to Penn Station – for the first time in a while I was actually quite full. Graced by the suddenly pleasant weather and carrying my gift-loaf in a bag the 2.5 miles went relatively quickly and before I knew it I was on the 4:04 train to Forest Hills where my friends were waiting. A quick drive through the lovely old community and we would find ourselves at 104-02 Metropolitan Ave. before the doors even opened for business – we even managed to find free parking.

Walking up to the restaurant just prior to 5:00 we were welcomed in like old friends – first by an elderly woman who would later joke with us for being “too quiet” and next by the man who would turn out to be our waiter for the duration of the visit, a lean fellow with a well manicured beard and voice so soft that I never really caught his name. Competent, helpful, and ever circulating to fill glasses I must say our server’s mild demeanor would have been welcomed in almost any other place serving similar quality cuisine but it did present a slight problem in hearing dish descriptions since a rather poorly behaved pair of children one table over spent the evening coloring on themselves and the tablecloth (and later white paper provided by the restaurant) while yelling as their oblivious parents drank cocktails.

Sitting and chatting while sipping our beverages – water for myself and diet coke for the rest – it quickly became evident that Queens’ first Michelin Star has actually become a bit of a destination as both the bar and the dining room would be filled by 5:15. With the bar up front, the open kitchen in back and the 44-seat space largely filled with cream walls, black chairs, and white table cloths the restaurant itself was not really much to behold, but the reason we were there was the food and after making our server aware of our time constraints the first course would arrive quite promptly – a $30 small board of Charcuterie and Cheese featuring Rosette de Lyon, House Made Pâté de Campagne, Pork Rillets, Brillat-Savarin, Bûcheron, and Idiazabal paired with Fig Compote, Whole Grain Mustard, Cornichons, Aged Balsamic Vinegar, plus Baguette & Walnut-Cranberry Raisin Bread. Having never really experienced such a board before my friends were impressed by the pork salami while I was personally wowed by the lovely rosemary and four-spice accents of the rillets. Amongst the cheeses, the buttery triple-créme was the table favorite while I fancied the Bûcheron just as I always have.

Still chatting and slowly working on the board, our next round of courses would arrive perhaps fifteen minutes later – not rushed, just right. Orders amongst my pals would include the Serrano Ham Croquettes with Saffron Aïoli, the Tuscan Bean Soup with Parmigiano Broth & Truffled Crouton, and the Wild Mushroom Risotto with Black Trumpet & Chanterelle Mushrooms, Parmigiano Fricco. Offered one of the Croquettes I’ll note it was more subtle than my previous experiences with similar tapas dishes – creamy and savory but not overly accented by the ham. Significantly better would be the risotto – toothsome but creamy, the mushrooms plenty earthy with the grated parmesan and cheese tuille adding characteristic savory notes and texture.

For my appetizer, the Torchon of Hudson Valley Moulard Duck Foie Gras with Quince and Pomegranate would be the obvious choice – and at $21 quite the portion. A solid terrine, perhaps a bit too chilled and unfortunately served only with room temperature Baguette the texture was spot on – the sort of torchon that was equally good spread on bread of by the forkful with the balsamic tinged quince smear or the sweet pomegranate seeds.

With appetizers and charcuterie finished save for a few bites of risotto our main courses would arrive in short order – each cooked nicely and enjoyed by their respective recipients; the Grilled 10 oz. “Black Angus Blend” Burger on English Muffin with Crispy French Fries and Cheddar for the guys while the lady opted for Creekstone Farms NY Strip Steak “Au Poivre” Potato Gratin & Wilted Watercress.

For my main course of the evening the choice was made the minute I saw the Hand Made Tagliatelle with Duck Confit, Red Swiss Chard, Toasted Sunchokes & Sage – and shockingly it would prove to be my favorite pasta on a trip that included visits with both Benno and White plus the crab dish at EMP. Rustic in presentation yet refined in flavor the pasta itself was hand torn and perfectly al dente – a bit of resistance to the tooth, no more and no less. Topped with crispy sunchokes and savory sage, bitter chard, and a ragout of confit in a thick gravy hefty garlic and nutmeg the flavor profile was diverse and well conceived – a dish worthy of its persistent status on a menu that changes regularly.

Debating dessert as we’d hoped to make the game on time our debate ended when we saw the menu – little known to me one of my co-diners has quite the taste for Carrot Cake and with that in mind both he and another opted for the Rum Raisin Carrot Cake - Cream Cheese Mousse. Hefty with boozy plump raisins and dense with sweet carrots the base of the cake was without a doubt the best carrot cake I’ve ever had, though admittedly it is not my “go to” dessert. Large in portion and not overloaded with the frosting, a sweet and light smear, my friends were appropriately satisfied.

Not wanting to order the same as the others, my dessert would prove the worst of the bunch – a decent Banana’s Foster Crêpe with Brown Butter-Rum Sauce & Whipped Cream that suffered from Bananas that were simply not quite ready to be served. Thankfully light on the tail end of a day full of eating I will say the crepe itself was textbook, but the with the bananas still slightly sour I have to imagine this dessert would have been vastly improved with the bananas a day older.

The final dessert, ordered by the lady of the table, was Warm Apple Tarte Tatin - Crème Sucrée. With a fluffy pastry shell at the base and buttery cooked apples and cinnamon atop the dish wish simple, straight forward, and tasty – though the crème really did not add much.

With the clock inching towards 6:45 our server would return with the bill – a tab I can guesstimate but did not see as my friends opted to pay. Thanked by our server we made our way to the street and were it not for getting lost along the way we’d have likely made the game just past the National Anthem – instead we arrived with two minutes left in the first and the Kings already down one. While the Kings would indeed go on to get shut out, I have to say I mostly enjoyed Danny Brown Wine Bar and the rest of the evening – while the restaurant may not be a destination, I’d say it defines “very good cuisine in its category,” and apparently Michelin and the locals agree.


Roz said...

As usual, an excellent write-up! Amazing that the pasta you had at DBWB&K trumped White's and Benno's.

Having lived in Queens for many years, albeit long ago, (mid-50's to '68), it's really strange to contemplate the idea that there's a Michelin-starred restaurant there. Actually, until you mentioned it, I had never heard of Danny Brown. But, then, I hardly pay any attention to the dining scene in the Outer Boroughs.

With regard to the lack of decor, it would appear that the Michelin inspectors don't put much emphasis on that aspect of things, at least, where one-stars are concerned because at Seasonal, which also has one star, the decor is quite plain.

uhockey said...

Well, obviously my opinion of the pasta at Morini was not as good as the opinion of others - the bad service may have jaded me, too. At Lincoln - the gnocchi was heavenly and the pasta was good, but I really loved this dish - probably a top 10 all-time pasta for me.