>> 10/20/14

151 Atlantic Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11201
(718) 855-0051

For her most recent birthday, I met Myna near where she works in Brooklyn and treated her to dinner at Red Gravy, a cool, definitely-not-traditional Italian bistro on Atlantic Avenue, at the very southern tip of Brooklyn Heights. Fun fact: Brooklyn Heights was, once upon a time, the only place in Brooklyn that one could live without regularly having your sneakers borrowed from you while you were still walking in them or your car radio liberated from the confining shackles of your dashboard. Nowadays, it's but one of many (very) expensive places in the borough. Atlantic Avenue, once home mostly to a prison and a series of dilapidated brownstones with pawn shops on the first floor, is now home to condos, bistros, and boutiques... and a prison.

The interior epitomizes the Brooklyn bistro aesthetic. Bare brick walls, vintage (or vintage-style) chandeliers, raw wood beams across the ceiling, comfy booths, top shelf liquor at the bar, dark-but-not-too-dark lighting. When I arrived it was deserted, but this was an early dinner. While the other would-be diners were out at happy hour someplace, not to arrive for another hour, Myna and I were just sitting down. Peppy New Orleans style jazz played over the stereo. It gave a funky fun vibe to the place and I liked the contrast against the Italian menu. It lets you know you aren't eating at a cliche. Our waiter was somewhat stiff. It was as though he was waiting a table at Le Cirque. Every word was pronounced crisply and there was, unless I'm imagining it, a slight nod of his head with each selection we made, as if to imply "Of course, sir. Excellent choice. I will tell the chef forthwith." I don't know why that stuck with me. He was a good waiter though. No complaints.

For her appetizer, Myna chose the Octopus, grilled with yogurt, cilantro, fennel, and beans. Half of the dish was delectable, and half was just okay. This is because half of the octopus was grilled until it was tender and perfect, and half was undercooked and too chewy. Red Gravy could have had a real winner here if only the tools they used displaced the heat more evenly. I have a thing for raw food. Part of me feels like it's the one adventurous thing this particular coward can do, part of me remembers reading an article once upon a time saying that people who eat raw food and food that fell on the floor have healthier immune systems than people who don't because, over the aggregate in small doses, the body is more used to fighting off intruders, and part of me just thinks it tastes good. So I tried Red Gravy's Crudo, thinly sliced raw fluke with peach, basil, and lime. This was for sure a winner. Even Myna, who typically avoids the raw stuff, liked it. The fish was fresh and tender and the combination of lime and peach, which I wouldn't have thought of pairing it with, worked extremely well together.

Myna's entrĂ©e, sticking with the seafood theme of her meal, was the Calamari & Scallop, pan seared scallops, stuffed calamari, and a side of mixed chickpeas with scallions and peanut. She enjoyed it, although I wasn't the world's biggest fan of the stuffed calamari. Don't ask me why because I can't put my finger on any good reason. I just wasn't. The scallops, on the other hand, we very good. I was torn between two options, and the waiter recommended the Berkshire Pork Chop (not the most Italian dish on the menu, I warrant) served with a gooseberry peperonata, polenta, and basil. While the pork chop itself was well made and tasty, it was fighting for control of the dish with the salsa-like relish that rested atop it. In retrospect, I maybe should have gotten the quail. I always enjoy quail. In addition, we ordered a side of Broccolini, sauteed in garlic. It was delicious.

For dessert, we ordered a couple of coffees, an Affogado, and the Plum Tart. The most recent time that we tried the Affogado, it was oddly at the Australian restaurant Burke & Wills. The Burke & Wills affogado, with its brownies and cream, was far better. This version was a let down. I mean, it was pretty much just ice cream with espresso poured over it. An Americano in a bowl. The plum tart was pretty good, though I can't say I was blown away by it.

Two appetizers, two entrees, two desserts with coffee, a bottle of wine, plus tax and tip, came out to about $200.

Red Gravy on Urbanspoon



>> 10/6/14

DBA Brooklyn
Finback Brewery
Paulaner Brauhaus
Reichenbach Hall
Zeppelin Hall

There's something about drinking beer outdoors at big tables or inside of a cavernous room (also at big tables) that is inherently relaxing. Maybe it takes one back to lunchtime at summer camp when everyone would gather at the rows of picnic tables and unpack their lunches. An apple, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, one of those small bags of Cheetos, and a little rectangular box of Coors with a flexi-straw. Ahh, good times. 

Hence, Oktoberfest has always held a warm place in my heart. So each Oktoberfest, which actually starts in September despite countless attempts by all of those engineers that Germany is famous for to move it, I put together a small compilation of places in and around this grand city of ours that you should head to for a liter, or a stein, or a pint, or a snifter of your favorite hoppy brew. 

113 North 7th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 218-6006

DBA has a beer list that's literally a dozen pages long and a rotating selection of taps that's impressive by just about any standard. That said, it's one of the least Oktoberfesty beer gardens you can hit up this season, and not just because instead of listening to oompah music, you might find yourself listening to some girls outside talking about the new vibrator-saddle machine that one of them bought (she liked it). No, DBA wants to appeal to an audience that appreciates and longs for a dive bar. There's the requite lone ratty pool table and the requisite pinball machine. There's the bathroom that was stolen from a meth clinic and the complete lack of a food menu. DBA offers up a veritable binder of takeout menus from restaurants that will deliver, so it's essentially a BYOF establishment. It's not exactly near a subway line, so if you live in the area, appreciate good beer, and find that every so often you have a new tattoo you don't remember paying for, DBA is your spot. 

78-01 77th Avenue
Glendale, NY 11385
(718) 628-8600

Granted, it's not really a beer hall, but it does have plenty of big tables and a large selection of taps to choose from. Finback is a brewery in the central Queens neighborhood of Glendale that just recently opened its tasting room. Like DBA (which sells Finback), unless you count the free popcorn, there's no food. But what it lacks in bratwurst, it makes up for in local craft beer. Finback is heavy on the spicy infusions, but you'll find a nice IPA on the menu as well. The customers in this semi-suburban spot are decidedly Brooklynesque. Kids in tow, tats, skinny jeans. It seems that when people in Williamsburg get knocked up and need to settle down, they get on the bus to Glendale. In addition to selling beer by the glass, you can create your own beer flight by putting together as many $2 mini-glasses as you want. Or, in the other direction, bring a growler or two and fill 'em up to go. 

265 Bowery
New York, NY 10002
(212) 780-0300

Getting back on the traditional Oktoberfest track is Paulaner Brauhaus on the Bowery. The area used to be one of New York City's premier destination spots for having a homeless crack addict take a leak on your leg, but things have improved as the homeless have been priced out of most of the area. Much like Finback, Paulaner makes its own beer and only sells its own beer. However, if you want food they have that too.  Schnitzel and sauerkraut and salmon and other good ol' German favorites that are both very good and very heavy fill the menu. If German food does one thing well, it soaks up beer so you can have another round. The interior is large, but not cavernous, with a bar area occupying one half of the restaurant and a dining area with a massive single table smack in the middle of it occupying the other half. 

5 West 37th Street
New York, NY 10018
(212) 302-7744

If you daydream about what the dining room of a Bavarian castle would look like, you'd imagine midtown's Reichenbach Hall. Everything is wood, flags hang from the ceiling between heavy timber beams, steins line the walls, huge communal tables stretch to the horizon, and medieval-esque chandeliers light the room. It's the size of an airplane hangar. Literally, it's that massive. At lunchtime, I was surprised how dead it was, but if the website is any indication, it picks up come happy hour when the after work crowd comes in craving sausages, spaetzel, and pretzels that are literally the size of a large pizza. The beer on tap is traditional German, the food is very good, the waitresses are hot, and the uniforms of said waitresses are those somewhat cliche getups we associate with beer gardens and Halloween parties. 

88 Liberty View Drive
Jersey City, NJ 07302
(201) 721-8888

If you ever wondered to yourself "Golly gee whiz, what could the largest beer garden in the New York City area be?" then the odds are that you haven't hoisted a stein at Zeppelin Hall. Zeppelin Hall, so named, I presume, because a fleet of dirigibles could safely land and discharge their passengers here, is easily the biggest of the beer gardens and the biggest of the beer halls, all folded into one big package. Jersey City has gone from being a run down, divey slum, notable mostly for its unique smells and curbside litter mountains, into a preppy, young, clean neo-borough like Hoboken with new developments on every corner. Your grandparents may have dreamed of leaving, but these days, you probably can't afford to move back. Still, you can drink there. Zeppelin Hall serves German-ish food (I cannot stress this enough: mac and cheese is not spaetzel!) the beer hall way: you get on a line, wait, and bring it back to the friends at your table. Of course, this is Jersey, so you bring it to your brahs and they're all watching the Jets on a huge TV and wearing green jerseys and cheering at random intervals because touchdown or an ad with lolcats.

Merry Oktoberfest everyone!

Paulaner Brauhaus NYC on Urbanspoon Reichenbach Hall on Urbanspoon Zeppelin Hall on Urbanspoon


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