365 Van Brunt Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231
365 Van Brunt Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231
I promised Operagirl a birthday dinner and had grown bored of our repetitive hang-outings. No more could I bear meeting her for drinks near Lincoln Center, a neighborhood whose nightlife is akin to the the love-child of a retirement home and a brothel. No! I cried into the foggy gloom of night. No more could I stand being surrounded by the foppish dandies of 66th Street, forced to smile tepidly at their self-aggrandized tales of harmonial dismay. Thusly did I pick her up and drove we two over the River East and into Brooklyn Towne. Beyond the dark empty warehouses along the shore and amidst the dark stretches of unlit cobblestone streets lay our destination. Red Hook. And within Red Hook, Fort Defiance.
Red Hook, Brooklyn, is maybe unlike any other neighborhood in the city. Walled in by the river, a city housing project, the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and an Ikea, and with nary a subway to call its own, Red Hook (as we think of it anyway) is a strip only a few blocks wide that has quite suddenly become home to renovated warehouses, artists lofts, boutiques, restaurants and a Fairway... all somehow coexisting within a quasi-colonial architectural structure that at once feels apart from the city as well as being entirely ensconced within it. The area's failure in the arena of public transportation aside, Red Hook has started becoming a destination spot for food and, now, with the introduction of Fort Defiance, a restaurant-cum-cocktail bar, there should be no reason not to call your favorite car service and make a trip.
Fort Defiance is small, maybe thirty seats, with space for about six at the bar. When we got there this past Saturday at 9, they were almost full, but not full enough for us to have to wait for a table. The menu is small as well, with three entrees: beef, chicken and fish. The rest are appetizers or cocktails. If you've been to Pegu Club on Houston Street, then you'll understand the idea of Fort Defiance. If Pegu Club has a theme (and it does), then that theme is colonial Britain. If Defiance has a theme, it's colonial America. They work together while being completely separate. The cocktails really play more than window dressing, though. I ordered a Sazerac, Operagirl ordered a Margarita.
Anyone who eats out with me knows that I have a preference for small menus. Large menus remind me of diners and chain restaurants. Large menus are often the result of trying to please all of the people all of the time and just as often result in spreading talent too thin. Fort Defiance takes the opposite approach. Very few, very simple dishes. And the message here is, "Hey, we may not have as many options, but you know that these three are gonna be good". And they were.
We started with some appetizers. Operagirl ordered the Deviled Egg and Broccoli Rabe and Garlic. The deviled egg, a super simple appetizer made of a hard boiled egg and whipped cream smooth mustard filling, was fantastic. Broccoli Rabe is a more acquired taste. If you like bitter, dark green vegetables you'll like this. Imagine Broccoli crossed with tobacco and you'll have an idea of what Broccoli Rabe is. Now saute it with garlic and butter and you have a mighty fine, extremely healthy dish. My appetizer was the Grilled Baby Octopus served with a black olive butter and fennel sauce. I thought it was delicious. Tender, not rubbery, with just enough char to give it some smoke. Operagirl not only refused to try a bite, but refused to even be at the table with me while I ate it. Apparently, whole octopi on a plate make her queasy.
For dinner, Operagirl ordered the Braised Beef Brisket, served with a side of what looked (and tasted) like mashed potatoes but what was actually pureed celery root and a side of Brussels sprouts and apples. The meat was incredible. There was a little more fat than I would have liked but that aside, it was absolutely melt in your mouth perfect. The celery root was a good companion, but the Brussels sprouts and apples weren't. They weren't bad-tasting, but this seemed like the wrong dish to give such a sweet side to. However, for the record, Operagirl literally wiped her plate completely clean. My guess is that the only thing that kept her from licking it was that we were in public. My entree was the Roast Plymouth Rock Chicken with mashed sweet potatoes and sauteed spinach. As good as the brisket was, this was better. I'm a sucker for roast chicken, especially when you can get it this moist and fatless. In fact, this is one of the few times I can say that you can eat the skin and not feel unhealthy. Fort Defiance managed to cook the chicken in such a way that the layer of fat, so often fused with the skin, was completely gone. In no time, there was little left on my plate but a few bones. The meal was somewhat heavy so we skipped dessert.
Three appetizers, two entrees and four drinks came to $113 including tax and tip.