[Pigging by Wilfrid: April 2, 2017]
Oh Otway, Otway, how you raised my spirits. I feel I've been on something of a roller-coaster with restaurants recently. Disappointment when traveling, disappointment at home (some exceptions, of course, like Monsieur Benjamin, reviewed today).
But Otway made me focus again on what upper-mid-priced restaurant dining in New York could and should be. Casual, essentially, but with sparkling service in relaxed surroundings, and really--what's more important?--focused, sure-footed food. Made nice--if not quite "new romantically."
What's in a name? Otway. I've seen it suggested that the name is from the German, meaning "successful in battle." Is that why owners Samantha Safer and Claire Welle chose the name? To many, it will conjure Restoration dramatist Thomas Otway. To some, John Otway of "Really Free" fame (worth watching). To me, it always signified George Otway, first schoolmaster at the alma mater I share with Douglas Adams, Sir Hardy Amies, and Lily Allen's dad Keith (not all at the same time).
And now it means a terrific little bistro too. I mean, there's a trolley right inside the door. A trolley, with bottles, whole cheeses, bread. This is a good sign.
Ironically, the restaurant's corner location, big windows, white walls, and general lay-out (the bar is the focus) reminded me strongly of Petit Crenn in San Francisco, where I dined disappointingly recently. In fact, the look and feel is--in some ways--not of New York. But it points in a sophisticated, grown-up direction I wish New York dining would more clearly take--at a price level below the Le Coucou's of this world.
It's in Brooklyn, by the way, not far from the well-known pizzeria Emily. Clinton Hill, I suppose.
Bread is served warm; it's housemade, as is the butter; it's crusty, comforting, and strives for no novelty.
The menu is confidently edited. Five appetizers, five mains. But specials were announced, and I was a sucker for a special snack: ramp profiteroles.
For this dish not to be a winner, the execution would have to suck. It doesn't. Light and savory profiterole pastry encasing a creamy, ramp-rich filling based on fresh cheese. Oh, memories of Fritzl's blood sausage beignets. And two could share this $8 dish. (I didn't.)
I liked the idea of raw lamb with black garlic, but I thought it might be unrepresentative of the kitchen's skills (good meat, home run). So I reverted to my first choice, the uni crêpe. Crêpes seem to be having a moment, what with Olmsted's carrot version. This, however, is not one of the gossamer crêpes. It's a hearty, almost spongy wrap of which a Breton would be proud, strongly rye flavored.
Inside, house yoghurt, slightly sharp. Draped over the roll, lobes of sweet uni. Fresh chives. Joyous dish.
Among the entrées, the smoked tongue was calling my name. Perhaps it was the time of year, but the peas and spring onion swayed me towards the pork. I took care to ascertain that this wasn't going to be a piece of distressed, undercooked loin. It's the shoulder, slow-braised.
Brown food on a white plate--which is a good thing, although it challenges my very easily challenged photographic skills. Especially brown, because the sauce is a blood sauce. At least, it's advertised as such, but I believe the health authorities have silly reservations about kitchens dealing in pints of fresh pig's blood (am I wrong?). In any case, as I expected, this was essentially a blood sausage coulis, and a fine compliment to the pork. The peas made their entrance as a supporting purée, and the slices of pickled onion played the top notes.
Did I say whole cheeses? Yes, if that's your choice, they'll bring a couple of rounds to your table (admittedly missing a wedge of two). I asked for some Tomme de Crayeuse, and was served, for once, a heroic portion. No ounce-of-this, ounce-of-that, some nuts on the side.
One complaint--I'm allowed one, yes?--never serve anything pickled on top of cheese (or so nearly alongside it that the pickle juice will can do any harm). The pickled mushrooms were good; the sliced pickled sunchoke slightly bitter; but my word, I had to move fast to sweep them off the surface of this fine cheese before they flavored the whole wedge. Ask for the garnish on the side.
But well, if that's the worst of it. What a fine place to eat: the check pushed past $100, of course, but that was four dishes and four glasses of wine. A pair of diners will do well here. Wines--leaning heavily towards the natural and organic, as is fitting for this age and this food.
Go and enjoy it. Please don't make it as hard to get into as Olmsted.