[Pigging by Wilfrid: May 17, 2010]
Been a long time coming, this fusion restaurant from Zak Pelaccio and Robbie Richter.
Lodged in a small and slightly awkward space on South 6th Street - you walk past Peter Luger and keep walking - Fatty 'Cue has sufficient pedigree to be packed to the seams most evenings. I tackled it on a weekend afternoon, and found a seat at the bar immediately.
There are a few tables in the bar-room, some more in a mezzanine just visible up the stairs. I think there's another room above that; there's certainly an open terrace behind the bar, visible through the bar's open window. The kitchen is located just beyond the bar, which affords the added amusement of watching and hearing the dishes expedited from a cramped space at the bottom of the stairs.
Like Fatty Crab, this is intended to be a rock and roll operation - music playing and dishes appearing in whatever order suits the kitchen. In fact I found the staff markedly friendlier and more relaxed than their intense counterparts at the downtown Crab - maybe because it was a sunny afternoon, albeit a busy one.
I knew I had no control over the order of the meal, but picked one of the "snack" items hoping it might come out first (it didn't). Coriander bacon with yellow curry custard. And let's repeat - because I've not seen it said much or enough - this is a fusion restaurant. And this is a fusion dish. American barbecue is dragged onto the same plate as Pelaccio's Asian influences and accents. Sometimes happily, and sometimes with confusing results, as here. The bacon is fine (yes, it's pork belly again, but smoked), the herbal accent mild.
Serving it with toast points encourages one to think, I suppose, of breakfast. An egg, sunny-side up, would have made the plate. Instead, we have a little pot containing something which looks like, almost has the texture of, mustard. That would make sense. Except, of course, it's a sort of half-solidified yellow curry sauce. Maybe some palates find this a perfect accompaniment to bacon and toast. I was humming, "one of these things is not like the other ones...".
With the legendary Richter smoking the meats, the pork ribs are an automatic order. I am still content with the proposition that the ribs he produced for Hill Country are the best (commercial) barbecue ribs I've tasted in New York - and compared well with the best of Memphis. Hill Country's ribs are still good. How's he doing here?
Barbecue, as we are constantly reminded by experience, is a fickle thing. Given consistent meat, the same smoker, the same smoke, the same cooking time, it should be automatic. In practice it's variable, and these ribs - beautiful in aspect - are not the best Richter can do. No complaints as to flavor, but perhaps they'd not spent long enough sucking up the heat. The meat needed work to tug from the bone, close to which fat and gristle remained white and not quite cooked. A batch is a batch, of course, and if you order ribs here they may be perfect.
But wait, here comes chef Pelaccio to fuse some other flavors with this American classic. Okay, a palm syrup, allegedly infused with smoked fish flavor. The latter was barely discernible (which surprised me, as I know Pelaccio has some almightily powerful fish condiments in his armory), leaving us with a pool of light, slightly sweet, sauce. For what? I don't know why it's obviously a better choice than BBQ sauce, if the ribs need sauce at all. It felt like going through the motions of putting something Asian on the plate.
On the other hand, it can all come together (and apologies for the above photo, tragically featuring the best dish I tried). The barbecue brisket was exquisite the day I tried it (a good batch, I guess). Slices from the leaner end, together with some richly fatty charred cubes. As good as it gets. More than that, the fusion functioned delightfully. Soft, spongy bao are more fun than Wonderbread (or even potato rolls). Pickled red onions and fresh cilantro add crunch. A small side dish was shared by a deeply flavored (and not stupidly hot) chili jam and - out of left field - a simple aioli. The only weak link was a cup of jus - bone broth - for dipping, which would have been more appealing if it hadn't been cold.
This dish was an example of diversity working together. You could execute a sandwich four or five different ways with the meat and condiments provided, every version a delight. If there's more like this on the menu (I didn't have a chance to try the much-praised duck), the project is worthy.
Quench your thirst from the no-nonsense beer and wine-list - PBR, Porkslap, or Rogue's Fatty Crab "Side Stepper" red ale. There are no more than six inexpensive wines, because Brooklyn can't be fiddling around with wine-lists. Effort is expended on cocktails, and I wallowed in the Stone Julep, based on bourbon steeped with slices of peach, apricot and nectarine. It made the sunny day sunnier.
A restaurant of promise, if not yet of consistent achievement - but be careful with the prices. Larger dishes are in the teens, and they aren't immense (the pork ribs, for example, come with no side) - you are probably going to order two of them (or three for two people to share), which translates into an entrée price in the upper twenties. And you ordered snacks too didn't you?