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Posts from the ‘Australian/New Zealand’ Category

Five Leaves

Last week my friend in Greenpoint, Sherri, suggested we check out Five Leaves and say hi to our mutual pal who was one of the chefs. Strangely, just minutes before her email I received one from him mentioning that he’d already moved onto another job. I don’t think it had even been three weeks. (For some reason I equate hasty throwing in of the towels with west coasters, which both he and I are. I’ve always had the same compulsion. Even after getting my master’s degree in 2004 and trying to be serious, I’ve managed to breeze through four jobs.) No matter, the new restaurant was still in need of a visit and as the only New Yorker who seems to enjoy riding the G train, it was a journey I didn’t mind.

At 7pm it was still early enough to have a choice of three open tables. Being of the wobbly chairs wedged inches from your neighbor school of style, we picked one of the single two-seaters in the front near the takeout window. Honestly, it didn’t matter; it’s a tiny place. We were still in the line of traffic and next to the bar. I’ve never been to Moto, but Sherri remarked that they looked similar right down to their triangular shapes. That was astute since the same person designed both interiors.

Five leaves ricotta We started with ricotta flavored with thyme and honey (at least I thought it was honey–the sticky substance looks more like marmalade in the photo) and topped with a few fig wedges. The fresh crumbly cheese paired well with the sweet raisin-studded bread. I think the smaller plates might be where they excel.

Five leaves burger It looks like the Five Leaves burger is a classic Australian rendition (though I recently read somewhere that this peculiar item is actually a New Zealand invention). I hadn’t heard of the beets, pineapple and fried egg combo until Sheep Station opened in Park Slope a while ago, and now it seems like these burgers have been creeping up throughout the city. It’s the beets that are the strange component, I think. I declined a bite so I’m not sure how this version was.

Five leaves frisee My frisee was heavily dressed but not off-puttingly oily. The unusually meaty lardons were the highlight of my meal. I know it would be grotesque to eat even a small bowl of cubed pork belly as a meal (well, I guess that's what lechon is but there's nothing remotely Australian about it) but really the egg and lettuce were nearly superfluous. I also ordered a side of truffle fries, which were a little on the underbrowned and soggy side. I do love starch, salt, and I guess the occasional drizzle of truffle oil, so it didn’t faze me much.

The overall consensus was that the food was average, and so too the service—at least by Williamsburg standards (yes, I realize this is just over the Greenpoint border, but it’s still on Bedford Ave.). You may wait eons for food, you might never get what you ordered and that phantom item will most likely show up on your bill anyway. It was hard to tell if the crowd that amassed outside during our hour-and-a-half there was due to sheer popularity or lackadaisical pacing inside.

Sherri described this service type as typically Brooklyn, but I think the cute and well-intentioned yet negligent staff is more uniquely Williamsburg and environs. I wouldn’t incriminate the entire borough. But no one who lives in 11211 seems to care, so no harm is really done. And if you happen to be one of those laid back types who live nearby, it’s worth a stop in for drinks and snacks but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the place for a serious meal.

Five Leaves * 18 Bedford Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Sheep Station

I’m all for new restaurants brightening up bleak strips of Brooklyn. I fruitlessly waited for something cheerier than White Castle, KFC or Twin Lin’s Chinese take out to bless Fourth Avenue in the no-man’s-land 30s where I lived for three years. Not even mild gentrification brushed that anonymous swath of Sunset Park that’s increasingly referred to as Greenwood Heights.

MusselsUpper Fourth Avenue appears to be having more luck. Sheep Station is the latest in what appears to be an Australian-ish boomlet (Wombat has possibly opened in East Williamsburg, and Carroll Gardens West’s DUB Pies, East Village’s Tuck Shop and Lower East Side’s Bondi Road aren’t all that old). I use ish in this case because the food isn’t overwhelmingly Australian (I was tempted to earnestly ask for a Bloomin’ Onion and Kookabura Wings). The fish of the day was barramundi, a meat pie was on offer and the burger comes topped with beets, pineapple, and a fried egg (which I’m assuming is de rigueur down under and not simply bizarre without reason) but generally the cuisine feels pubby.

Sheepstation By 10pm, when we arrived, there was a decent crowd, mostly drinking not eating. We opted to sit in the eerily cavernous back room (I know, I complain about being cramped and then I freak when given too much space). Facing edges of the rustic fireplace-warmed brick and concrete space contain tables, and a birthday party brigade occupied the comfy looking corner nook. The empty middle of the room seemed like it needed something, either more tables or clumps of milling drinkers. By 11pm we had a private dining room.

I went generic and ordered mussels and fries, while James had the fish and chips. Both entrees were solid renditions and fairly priced around $12, as I recall. The menu isn’t huge, which furthers the impression that Sheep Station is more of a bar that serves food (it’s hasn’t been referred to as a gastropub for nothing) rather than a full blown dining destination. But it’s a worthy stop if you live in the vicinity (or have been suckered into staying at the lovely new Gowanus Holiday Inn).

Fishchips_1 The only weirdness occurred when we ordered off-tasting pints of Blue Point Toasted Lager. Despite hailing from the world’s microbrew capital, I’m no hops-crazed know-it-all. But I knew enough to detect that something was amiss with the flavor in my glass. I can’t put it into words but it was plastic-like, possibly chemical, definitely not natural. Maybe it was just soap. I loathe raising issues with food or drink (thank god I’m no longer vaguely in P.R. where making a fuss and sending things back seemed like standard practice during company lunches) but we had to say something or else we’d wonder about it all night. We were gladly given different beverages, Coopers Pale Ale in bottles, but I know we were then pegged as diners who couldn’t handle strong flavors, as it was explained to us that it was a fresh keg and the beer was “extra toasty.”  I know what toasted might taste like and that wasn’t it. Now, I feel compelled to track down a six-pack of Blue Point Toasted Lager to prove that I’m not needlessly high maintenance.

Sheep Station * 149 Fourth Ave., Brooklyn, NY


Though I don't do it very often, I love slowly getting drunk and spending more money than usual on fun food combinations. By the end of the evening, I'm never sure if I was blown away by my meal or if I'm in an unusually agreeable state of mind because of the wine and cocktails. I wish I had more experiences like this, and I suspect from reading reviews and blogs that quite a few New Yorkers blow hundreds of dollars on dinner numerous times a week. I don't know any of these gourmands personally, but one can only guess that sugar daddies, comps or expense accounts are involved. While a mildly peculiar resolution (to spend money more freely), I intend to attempt biweekly fine dining in 2006.

Public is one of those sort of high concept uber designed (I have to admit an attraction to the whole library chic motif–card catalogs, faux typewritten menus on clipboards, children's magazines on shelves, tempered with non-institutional gauzy panels–despite it not making much sense) places that I fully intended to visit when it first opened, but never got around to. There are just too many options in the city. But I'm glad that I chose it for our Christmas dinner this year.

We weren't the only ones who had the same idea. An office party, that I almost accidentally crashed, was going on in the "wine room" and large groups were also convivially celebrating throughout the space. We were seated next to one such family, so Manhattan. I can't even imagine my mother taking us anywhere classier than Poor Richard's, if we went out to eat at all. We spent a good portion of our meal trying to figure out if the diminutive female, sitting at her own table next to us, odd one out of a clan of six in three two-seaters, was a child or an adult. We ultimately decided on well behaved eleven-year-old. I don't think anyone said a word to her through the multi-course meal. Maybe that's very Manhattan, too.

For a starter I had the fried Coromandel oysters with shiso, sansho pepper and wasabi-yuzu dipping sauce. I don't know if I tasted the pepper, but wrapping the bivalve in the Japanese leaf was a nice contrast and cut the richness, sort of like using lettuce around Vietnamese spring rolls. My first choice would've been James's confit rabbit, foie gras, and Tahitian vanilla terrine with quince glazed grapes and breakfast radish (I have no idea what makes it a breakfast radish) but I was tipsy and didn't care enough to force him to relinquish his wise choice. Plus, he gave me a generous portion of the foie gras to shut me up.

I've noticed that I'm a complacent diner, meaning I'm not demanding and rarely ask questions. I frequently see waiters spending a good amount of time with tables and I guess this is expected and that I'm the weird one for knowing what I want and keeping the ordering process brief. But waitstaff seem to be disappointed when you don't need clarification. So, I was almost relieved when I saw an ingredient in my intended entre, grilled New Zealand snapper on curried cauliflower and kasundi with a crab, Thai basil and crispy garlic salad, which I was clueless about. Kasundi was a stumper. Our sweet waitress (she really was–the couple on our other side was drunker than we were and borderline obnoxious and she appeased them, no problem) informed me that it was a spicy tomato relish, and I swear my cluelessness warmed her to us. We tend to get cold service and I'm convinced it's because we don't elicit opinion and expertise.

Note the lone basil leaf

Following the lots of components, but one that's nearly absent formula, I didn't really notice the crispy garlic salad, which probably meant two slices of the clove. After earlier cocktails at Pegu Club, a gin and tonic in the bar and a few glasses of a random Semillon James chose on a whim because it wasn't Australian or New Zealand-ish, my thought processes were skewed. I actually chose this dish because I love fried basil, a Thai touch, but there was only a single leaf atop my stack of food. No matter, I enjoyed the flavors, which were very distinct, sweet, saline and hotter than anticipated. Kasundi is Indian, as it turns out.

Rather than finishing sweet as usual, we opted for a plate of Spanish cheeses (Caa de Cabra, Tetilla, Roncal and Valdeon) with marcona almonds, apple chutney and focaccia crisps. I also went for a glass of Fonseca port. I've neglected to mention the bread basket, which became an irrational focus for James. There was a fennel roll that he became enamored with and seemed hurt that we only got to choose one piece of bread at the beginning of the meal. Emboldened by the liquor and rambunctiousness of fellow diners, I was like "just ask for another," especially since the crisps ran out well before the cheese. Our waitress gladly obliged our request for extra starch.

Decimated and unappetizing, I know

And as we waited for the coat check girl to return to her post, we were mesmerized by the baskets of bread that were inexplicably housed on a shelf across from the closet. Yes, James stuffed his pocket with a fennel roll. I don't think he ever ate the pilfered bread–it'll eventually become a moldy souvenir.


Public * Elizabeth St., New York, NY