VINEGAR HILL HOUSE

>> 6/26/11

VINEGAR HILL HOUSE
72 Hudson Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11201
(718) 522-1018


Operagirl, who normally resides in New Haven, decided to take up residency closer to Lincoln Center and decided to recruit my help finding a new pad. My reward? Dinner. I felt somewhat guilty when I first suggested Vinegar Hill House, since it's not cheap. But after three brokers, twenty apartments, and countless blocks it turned out to be a pretty good deal on her end.



Vinegar Hill is the easternmost part of Dumbo (or DUMBO, depending on how anal you are), brushing right up against the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It's home to a random peppering of old homes, brownstones, modern luxury low-rises and a few galleries. It's about a 10-15 walk from the F-train. Vinegar Hill House is one of the only eateries in the area and it takes on the role of casual local food joint, upscale restaurant, and cocktail bar. It oozes Brooklyn. The staff dresses exactly like its customers and its customers dress like wealthy hipsters. This should not come as unexpected given that we're in a trendy/wealthy section of Brooklyn and that the owner hails from none other than last week's Freemans, which I absolutely loved, but which was also somewhat hipstery. Hokey homey flourishes line the walls of Vinegar Hill House's dark interior and plaid shirts line the chests of its exclusively under-40-year-old patrons. You'll either love it or hate it.



Vinegar Hill does cocktails better than it does cuisine. In fact, the first thing I saw upon entering was a bartender fiercely shaking a drink. We started with two from the small list (they'll make whatever you want, but their signature drink menu has less than a half dozen) and were instantly impressed. Later on, we ordered two more and the impressing continued.



I wish I could say the same for the food, which was good but which didn't hit my tongue's g-spot in quite the same way. Operagirl's appetizer was the Caesar Salad. No gloppy salad dressing from a squeeze bottle here. They made the dressing the real way and it would have been a lot better if the croutons weren't "schmaltzed"... soaked in chicken fat. To be fair, Operagirl liked it. I can not say the same for myself. My appetizer was the Chicken Liver Mousse, served with a healthy topping of pistachios, some bread and some caramelized onions. This was okay, but not wonderful. It was cold, so was almost like eating liver ice cream. Smeared on the bread and topped with the onions it was more palatable, but I couldn't finish even this relatively small portion.

The entrees were better. Operagirl chose the Cast Iron Chicken, a half chicken roasted to a golden brown in a cast iron skillet, served with greens. It was a little dry, and while it was flavorful, it simply couldn't compare to a similar dish at Danny Brown in Queens, who serves the gold-standard of golden half chickens. I ordered the Striped Bass. This was very good, but the fish itself was extremely small and they used far too much salt. Vinegar Hill House gave this dish a Mediterranean slant by serving it on a bed of hummus and Greek salad (sans feta) and alongside a falafel patty.




I wanted a coffee, Operagirl wanted a dessert. She chose the Guinness Chocolate Cake topped with a sweet and delectably smooth cream cheese frosting. But as good as the frosting was, the cake could not stand on its own without it. It was far too dry and the Guinness, mixed with dark chocolate, made the cake an especially bitter one.

In conclusion, Vinegar Hill House is a good restaurant with a great vibe. The drinks are great but the food needs work, a surprise given the chef's resume. At the end Operagirl and I felt a little let down, especially when you consider the price of our pretty standard meal broke $80 per person after tax and tip. The service was fine, if distant, and the crowd, as I mentioned, is decidedly not-diverse in either age, ethnicity, or income. In other words, you'll either feel right at home or very far away from it.

Four drinks, two appetizers, two entrees, a coffee and one dessert totaled $133 before tax and tip.



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2 comments:

Anonymous,  October 22, 2011 at 4:56 PM  

You make some pretty big assertions about this place based upon one visit. I've spent a lot of time in this restaurant and I can tell you that you're unfortunately wrong about the diversity of the clientele - as "hipster" restaurants go, Vinegar Hill's is especially diverse, with weekday crowds drawing Manhattanites and Brooklynites of all ages, colors, and dimensions, and Friday/Saturday nights drawing crowds from around the tri-state area. (Australian tourists can't be held off no matter what day it is.)
VHH is not expensive unless you're too young or narrow to understand why $20 isn't too much to pay for a well-sourced half-chicken roasted with love, delivered by someone who really does care about your experience (remember that he just recited ten specials by memory for you and advised you on the weird and wonderful wine list) and doesn't flap plates all over the table before jamming his fingers into a trio of glasses to remove them, asking you as he all but turns away, "should I bring you your check?" If your friend can't afford that kind of experience, she should stop eating out so much and treat herself to something valuable every now and again.
Finally, the cake doesn't need to stand alone without the frosting because TOGETHER they comprise the menu item "cake." That was just a pointless comment. Like in any dish of multiple flavors and textures, they create something very special, and it's not bitter, but more-than-mildly sweet. It's not box cake, birthday cake, or Momofuku cake. You know now that if you're looking for something like those things, you won't find it at Vinegar Hill.

Jon Parker October 22, 2011 at 10:13 PM  

First, I don't really care if the chicken was roasted with the love of a matronly grandmother using all of the wisdom of her years, or a robot. If it was dry, it was dry. And it was dry. Dry = less than stellar performance in my book. This isn't up for discussion.

Second, I also don't agree about the cake. A dry loaf of cake that requires frosting for moistness is no better than a frosting so loaded with sugar that the only way to eat it without an insulin shot is to chase it with a pint of coffee. Personally, I think that cake should be moist and the frosting should be a compliment, rather than a requirement.

Third, did I mention bad service? Or just distant service? I thought I said distant.

Finally, I'm ticked pink that you can drop $80 on a meal whenever you want. Most of us can't. And when we do, we expect, well, I expect better.

That said, I liked Vinegar Hill House. Indeed, I didn't think it was nearly as bad as your comment implies that I thought it was. Maybe I went on an off night. Could be. But I don't drop in on places announced or have a magazine pay my way for fifty meals hoping to get a great one to wax poetic about. I go like Joe Shmoe would and get Joe Shmoe's food, Joe Shmoe's treatment, Joe Shmoe's check.

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