A Good Bar Spoiled

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:13

    If you’ve heard anything about Greenpoint’s Five Leaves, you’ve probably heard the late actor Heath Ledger was a financial backer. There, that’s out of the way. What’s more relevant at this point is that John McCormick (Moto, Smith and Mills) designed the place, and veterans of Prune and El Beit run the kitchen.

    With McCormick involved, you can expect Five Leaves to look good, and it does. On entering, the small, triangular space is comforting and somewhat familiar. This is a decent trick given the profusion of restaurants with the now-hackneyed trappings of New Brooklyn Cuisine decor: Burnished metals, weathered wood, old-timey-looking pendant lights. You’ll find all of these in Five Leaves but deployed well and freshly enough; a massive arcing mirror behind the bar, the blood-red wood banquette and the pale wooden planks of the vaulted ceiling are actually pretty and pleasant even if you’ve seen their like before.

    In keeping with the low-key vibe, comfort food (with a dash of personality) is what the kitchen does best. The herb in the fried-egg-and-sage sandwich ($9), for example, enlivens the breakfast staple above the greasily familiar. Named with a nod to Ledger’s Commonwealth roots, the Big Breakie ($10) offers a quartet of well-executed breakfast items, starting with two eggs and home fries crisped perfectly and finishing with two sides of your choice. Try the meaty, not-crispy and thick-cut bacon— it’s authentically un-American. Enhanced with aioli and creamy avocado, the Blat ($9) is an extra-rich BLT. And of course there are burgers. If the heft of the not-quite-cheap-enough standard version ($13) isn’t enough, the slightly pricier Five Leaves edition ($15) adds a fried pineapple ring, pickled beets and an over-medium egg.

    When the lights go down in the city, however, Five Leaves stumbles. The dinner menu is fairly modest in scope but ambitious enough to suggest the kitchen can nail it. Unfortunately, that is more than Five Leaves can deliver. On a recent visit, the first course—house-made ricotta ($9) with figs, thyme, sea salt and chestnut honey, served with raisin bread—promised better things to come. The airy, salty cheese, mashed together beautifully with the jammy figs and honey, offered a delicious, texturally rich snack. From there, though, things slid downhill. Fast.

    The grilled quail ($14) was nicely suffused with the flavor of bacon and wine. But the little bird was both over- and undercooked—a bit too charred on the skin side and, in the middle, too pink to eat. (Worth noting: our friendly waitress apologized and promised to inform the chef, but then we never heard another word about it, and the quail was still on the bill. To be fair, we only discovered the rare meat after picking most of the bird clean.

    Our entrées didn’t fare much better. Hangar steak ($19), served in harissa butter with mashed potatoes and braised cipolini onions, was cooked well and had a good flavor, but the meat was awfully tough and chewy for that usually tender cut. The sides too were ho-hum, the potatoes nothing special and the onions fresh but slightly undercooked.

    A whole grilled trout, stuffed with lemon slices and thyme and served with sautéed greens and roasted sweet potatoes with sage butter, was burnt at one end, leaving the fish dry and flaky. Bites closer to the lemon were better, but the citrus and herb flavors were clumsy and overbearing. Too much salt spoiled the nicely sautéed greens, and the sweet potatoes were lumpy and sodden, their sweetness didn’t jibe with the aggressive edge of the sage butter.

    After the hearty pleasures of breakfast and lunch, I’d hoped for better. Five Leaves’ welcoming vibe and inspired comfort food make nice additions to the neighborhood, but leave your fine dining hopes at the door. -- Five Leaves 18 Bedford Ave. (at Lorimer St.), Brooklyn 646-510-6467