[Pigging by Kim Davis: February 19,2018]
A cozy, buzzing room; an interesting location; sweet service. But Chez Ma Tante isn't quite all there yet.
But does it matter? It's almost a yearling, it's steadily operating at capacity on busy nights. Guests are happy. So maybe it doesn't matter at all, but there's no point me commenting on restaurants if I just clap my hands and shout "Hurrah!" So here goes.
The precarious menu. It's not a long menu, not overly short either. Seven appetizers, six mains (and some "snacks." But it's the kind of menu which might mean the place isn't worth a journey if some items run out. The night I went, the pig's head terrine and veal tongue hadn't even made it to the menu in the first place. Salads aside (it's cold out there), this really reduces a meat-eating diner to chicken liver pâté, steak tartar (with potato chips?), and chicken and pork mains. Okay if the place is just down the street from you. I don't know it's worth a subway ride. (Yes, there's a fish dish -- skate -- and vegetable things.)
And then there was the wait. A winter night in Greenpoint. A pleasure to step inside off the street. But I got no further. I was on the dot for my reservation, but tables were full, nobody was finishing, and there were no seats at the bar. I stood inside the front door, where I was soon joined by a couple with a reservation (she, heavily pregnant, eventually provided with a chair). My hopes rose when a couple of diners asked for the check, but it turned out there were parties waiting at the bar ahead of me. About forty-five minutes in the doorway, a full hour and twenty minutes between arriving and being served an entrée. So of course I am making a fuss about the limited menu.
In addition to nuts and fries (big thick farmhouse fries with aioli), there were some oysters on the snack menu. Advertised as "oysters and parsley," they came with dabs of parsley sauce, but also pre-dressed with a fierce vinaigrette which negated their flavor.
Not really wanting potato chips with steak tartar, I chose the chicken liver pâté. An honest, decent version, but nothing to make a detour for. The quantity of toasted bread on the plate seemed excessive, but it was appealingly smeared with lardo.
And then the lentils, the sea of lentils with pork shoulder added as a garnish. That's how it seemed. Lentils are, of course, an apt accompaniment to pork. These lentils were unobjectionable, if slightly overcooked. But why give me so many? I suppose it's hearty plating.
The slices of pork should were not tender like the pork shoulder served at every Dominican lunch counter. But they weren't really tough. They had a nice char. The problem was that they had been vigorously spiced. But not even that: the heat level was tolerable. Unless I miss my guess, the spice rub included Sichuan pepper, and ingredient to which I'm strongly adverse.
The only benefit was that it masked the taste of the wine. I'd ordered a glass of Cahors, which I'd enjoyed. Ordering a second, I was served a sticky fruit bomb, clearly a different wine. But after tasting the pork, it no longer mattered.
The dish was a bit oily, but I will say the salsa verde was good. Again, not detour-worthy.