Three Restaurants in the Luckiest Borough
My favorite Brooklyn restaurant right now is Joya, the newish Thai place on Court St. This large space is soothingly industrial-minimalist: a concrete floor, a soaring ceiling, elegant gunmetal blue-gray walls off which resound the youthful crowd's chatterings and amorous grunts. The bar at the front of the space appeals to me. For various geometric reasons that I don't at this moment feel like discussing, the bar space just feels right?I mean, it feels physically appropriate, my body feels at home within it. Have I made myself clear?
Toward the back, near the open kitchen (where steam rises from a gleaming world of stainless steel), you can eat all sorts of straight-up and very good Thai food (silken curries, beautifully delicate summer rolls), none of which I've found disappointing.
Or you can drink glasses of Sierra Nevada or Thai iced coffee, that confection compounded of condensed milk and coffee black enough to have dripped from a crank-case. This stuff is powerful as hell, a beverage so sweet and hard in its hypercaffeinization that it'll blast you right through the roof and up toward the May moon.
Joya, 215 Court St. (betw. Wyckoff & Warren Sts.), 718-222-3484, Brooklyn.
God's Creation is Perfect
Sometimes, I swear?I'm blown away by the wonder of God's creation. These recent spring days have been so intense in their blue clarity that I think there must somehow be a moral component to them, as if living within them, and studying their subtleties and secrets, could make you a better person. Stand on your Brooklyn rooftop high atop the humble borough that unfolds itself in its red-brick good cheer westward toward the harbor and Manhattan, and eastward toward the greening park (a plump ripe green mound), with the shade trees in the old streets busting open into the first lime green of the season?well, it's something.
I've been getting up early again, which is impossible in winter. Go up on the rooftop not too long after dawn, when your mind's racing with that almost supernatural morning sharpness, when you're aware of sensations (the mathematical precision of a Black Sabbath guitar line roaring from your clock radio, and it's only this perfect when it's, say, 5:35 a.m.) that aren't available to you as the day progresses and loses its hallucinogenic purity?go up on the rooftop and it's baffling what you can see. The hump of Staten Island, the ferries and the freighters either moving or bobbing in the bright swells under the Statue, the bridge sprawling outward from Staten Island to the shoulders of industrial Jersey, and of course there's?well, there's Manhattan, the gleaming and slightly smug core of this sky-blue and tree-green and red-brick reality?
A while ago a diner called Dizzy's opened at the corner of 8th Ave. and 9th St. in Park Slope, and became popular quickly. You know the drill. It's a weekend brunch place with tables out on the wide sidewalks, and the neighborhood's young residents crowded around the door in the spring and summer sun, waiting for tables, lounging with cigarettes over the remains of their pancakes, heads thrown back, running into or else avoiding each other.
(Or else you could sit inside on the counter stools, or at one of the tables, and get served in a diner ambience by crunchy college-town types, which is par for the course in much of Brooklyn, as human beings like yourself and myself colonize neighborhoods and, for better or for worse, rework the old bars, the old diners, the old soda counters?Brooklyn's old blue-collar infrastructure.)
I avoided the place, because cutesy coffee-and-muffin or breakfast places are a murrain in Brooklyn, a plague. What was the point? And also the restaurant was called Dizzy's, which seemed to betray a certain awfulness, to betray that fake postmodern consumerist nostalgia. I figured they must have named the place, fraudulently, after Dizzy Dean, or after some fictional and lovable Brooklyn palooka of hipster dreams.
Actually, it turns out that there's in fact a real-life Dizzy involved with the place, but whatever. I've been going there recently, getting up early on these incredible mornings. A walk through the streets, through the quiet cool, and you're there, and if it's a weekday you sit there and read through the newspapers and you feel like you're getting away with something as, outside, your friends and neighbors glide down 8th Ave. and toward the F-train station.
The place is, of course, kind of precious. I wasn't wrong. "Eggs and Other Good Things," reads one section of the menu?but so what? It's there, it's open at 7 on weekdays and at 9 on weekend mornings, and as the light grows clearer and the world turns toward summer, and as you leave the place and walk through the brownstone streets, with the new leaves staining the sunlight lime green before it sifts down to the pavement, so that you're living in a world of lime-green shadows?as all this happens, you feel lucky that you live in such a good place, and confused that anyone would want to live anywhere else.
Dizzy's, 511 9th St. (8th Ave.), 718-499-1966, Brooklyn.
Bar Tabac Riff
Sitting at the bar of this newish Smith St. restaurant called Bar Tabac on a cool, wide-open night at the end of April, here's what it boils down to: windows thrown open to the ragged street, which explodes in a thousand feverish nighttime ways a couple of yards away. Cabbies going nuts, the sidewalks crowded with guys on dates, all seething and spring-horny.
Meanwhile, you're sleepy as can be, poised to spend the night not attending a party in Red Hook, excited just to eat, go home, stretch the tension from your back and fade off into the sort of gentle sleep you're capable of when your blood's not laced with toxins, and your bedroom windows are open to the fine noises of the neighborhood (the wigger upstairs with the beatbox has knocked it off recently, and life is better for it) and the cool air.
Brooklyn, in case you haven't visited for a while, remains as lumpy as can be. Smith St.'s as hip as the borough gets at this point (at least if you don't take into account the feverishly creative and artistically triumphant Williamsburg-and-Bushwick-and-DUMBO boheme we've all read so much about in the papers), but it remains likably frumpy and domestic, an area in which you can be sure, twice a year, to encounter the parents of a girl you used to be involved with, strolling through their middle age, still apparently as delighted to see you as they used to be.
So here in Bar Tabac you've got middle-aged guys with guts and frumpy mustaches, arrayed against the walls in this appropriately tobacco-colored space, their skinny wives drinking from frumpy wine glasses on the other sides of the tables, staring into frumpy space. And little kids squalling, cackling deviously, sliding under tables and chairs, stampeding in packs, galloping through the spaces of this place like the crazy-eyed rats used to gallop between the walls of this building I used to live in on 108th St., on the Upper West Side.
(The waitress' eyes widen, she flexes her body to dodge them and flow with their energy?she's the proverbial reed, bending with the wind. The young ones play table soccer on the table-soccer rig that's set up right up there by the bar, near the loitering Frenchmen.)
Everything in here looks secondhand, by way. But this conduces less toward an atmosphere of Authentic Olde World Charme (of some ancient smoke-stained dump, jammed into a medieval former blacksmith shed off a Parisian bis, and the surly patron has a syphilitic daughter) than toward a suspicion of grime. This had something to do with the linoleum floor. It's the sort of floor that, in my small experience as a renovator of real estate, seems always to harbor moist secrets?flaking planes of dry-rotting floorboard, or teeming insectoid civilizations. But it's probably just me.
Meanwhile, the floor's screwy near the bar. It slants hard toward the street. My center of gravity was high on my stool. I experienced, in the depths of my consciousness, an anxious, dreamlike feeling of vertigo while I ate my food, as if at any moment I were going to totter over and fall out the window onto the sidewalk outside.
So I sat at the bar last Friday night, alone and gentle and sleepy, and ate:
Exactly three scallops, no more and no less, rather adequately prepared, not too sweet, not too sour?neither too hot nor too cold, neither too hard nor too soft, but just right. They were arrayed across the center of my plate in a graceful arc, not unlike the arc of the gibbous moon that on this night smiled down upon the worthy residents of the prosperous borough, yea, out of the western sky. Blah blah blah.
The scallops were accompanied by a small mesclun salad of distinction, and also by a small mound of a pungent tapenade (that's that pasty and oily mashed-olive stuff, associated with the cuisines of the Mediterranean). This mound had roughly the proportions of the belly of a soup spoon, were you to turn a soup spoon belly-up on your plate, in order to dig the crazy convexness of its moundy mound.
I also ate a slab of roast tuna over a bed of rice stuff. (According to the menu: "Spiced vegetable Basmati rice 'du Soleil.'") The rice stuff was good. The tuna was all right, but a little dry. I didn't sweat it. It cost $14.95. Who cares?
There was also some alcohol and, afterward, a terribly disappointed walk through the beautiful evening up to Atlantic Ave., where I found that Peter's, the ice-cream-and-pie place, had closed without informing me, and that therefore my desire for one of their miniature apple pies would remain unfulfilled, and that I would have to come to terms with this absence on my own, somehow. But I tell you, it used to be damned pleasant to eat a plump Peter's apple pie on a soft spring night.
"Frumpy Brooklyn's Tabac?It's No Balthazar." Such would be the slogan printed on this enjoyably adequate establishment's matchbooks were the world a more honest place. The restaurant's only concession toward Euro-slickness comes in the form of the waiters, with their open-necked shirts and sideburns and sinuous charm. Oh, how the local yentas?batting their eyelashes behind the menus?oh, how the local yentas swoon.
Tabac, 128 Smith St. (Dean St.), 718-923-0918, Brooklyn.
Op-Ed: How the U.E.S. Dies
Scrapbook: Imaging at Lenox Hill
Op-Ed: How the U.E.S. Dies
Scrapbook: Imaging at Lenox Hill
Summer in the City