Saturday, June 16, 2012

Where Chefs Eat: Frannys and Barbuto

Summer is a good time to hit popular restaurants throughout the city because people are leaving for the hamptons, jersey shore, and other beachy destinations. Although this is true for most restaurants, this theory backfired on me when I went to Franny's on memorial day. After a long weekend, I thought people would be calling it an early night or just arriving home from leaving the city. Not the case at Franny's as the wait at 9:30pm (on Monday) was 2 hours strong. The hostess was super nice and told me that some of these people probably put their name down and leave; but to check back. She said I could call and check if I was staying local. I tried that method, but the phone lines were busy. 

Jackie and I walked to Carlton Park, a new farm-to-table restaurant down the street from Franny's. We sat outside and enjoyed beers and appetizers while we kept Franny's in the back of our minds. Carlton Park was empty; but they had only opened three weeks before. We started with some beers and progressed into some apps. 

The menu is market focused, but thats not new in this neighborhood. We started with a soft shell crab salad and a fluke ceviche. Both were good, but the ceviche definitely stood out with its bold flavors. Our server seemed eager to invite us back; but we kind of rushed out when I found out our table at Franny's was ready.

So why was I so determined on getting to Franny's? Well, I don't get to Brooklyn much and I've heard great things about Franny's by people in the service industry. Its a place where chefs eat. Its a homey, restaurant that totally embraces the concept of local ingredients and seasonality. The chef and owners of Franny's agree that less ingredients is better--three great components are enough. They aren't into making complicated food; but they are into simple farm-to-table food. 

Colin, our server, was very knowledgeable on the menu and helped us create a great meal. He sent us out the spring onion zeppoles which I had asked him about. He sent this out complimentary because of a mutual connection with the restaurant industry. Our crostini arrived next: first the asparagus and lardo followed by the pancetta with ramp butter. We then received the pork cheek and beef tongue terrine--a delicious appetizer easily passed over by the non-adventurous eater. We were then cleared and set up for our pizzas. We got the ricotta, fresh mozzarella, basil, and hot pepper pizza and the clam pizza. Clams, chilies, and parsley combined into one of the best pizzas I've ever had. Our other pizza was delicious; but the clam pizza was ridiculous. 


At this point, I could only have an amaro. I sipped the Italian digestivo and talked about how good our meal was. Franny's gets a lot of hype, but it lived up to all of it. The wait could be a bit much, but once you get in you will find it was well worth it. Food like this makes me want to venture into BK more often. No wonder this is a popular industry place!

Back in Manhattan...
Life is simple or atleast it seems that way on an afternoon stroll through the West Village. You walk a little slower and take in your surroundings--far from your daily routine of darting towards the subway. At Barbuto, Jonathan Waxman's cooking reflects this simplicity, a sort of California style of cooking. Waxman's menu is short and aggressively seasonal. He is known for simple, seasonal cooking and has got much recognition for it. Barbuto has been on my list of places to go for awhile and today I finally made it. 

Barbuto looks like an old car garage transformed into a restaurant. The restaurants doors roll up when the weather is warm, which gives it that open feel. Even if you're not outside, you can't escape the natural light that pours on in. Christa and I grabbed a table right outside the roll up doors--perfect for people watching. Here on Washington Street you could definitely enjoy outside seating as its quiet and serene. The only noise that might disturb you in the occasional lambo that cruises down the street. 

Our server was alright. Service itself was good-- they kept our waters filled and were there if we needed (although we didn't need them). Our server actually talked us out of getting a dish, saying it might be too much. So I can definitely appreciate not over-selling me just for the sake of running up my check; but he didn't seem to enthusiastic about being there. Then again it was a Saturday afternoon and i'm sure he would have rather been at the beach. He was fine though, I guess i'm just use to drinking the Danny Meyer kolaid. 

So onto the food, the main reason that brought me to Barbuto. Waxman's chicken dish is something i've heard about for quite some time. Whether Top Chef was talking about it or the New York Times was giving it a shout out, its been something that I've needed to try. I went in there nervous, because I was scared it wasn't going to live up to all the hype. After all, how good could chicken be? I love chicken--but its a protein that I often cook and often cook good at that. So why pay for chicken when you got chicken marinating at home ready for that sweet grill pan you just bought. Well my friends, chef Waxman has the answer. The chicken is perfectly cooked and lightly seasoned with its beautiful brown skin seasoned in a light salsa verde. While enjoying this bone-in chicken, you really wish you could just pick it up and get every bit of meat. Barbuto doesn't stop there as the other dishes we got were also delicious. Linguettine carbonara was the perfect starter for those stuck between breakfast and lunch. I prefer an al dente spaghetti; but the flavors were on point. Soft shell crab was another product of Waxman's knowledge and skill. The lightly battered and fried crab sat atop of romanesco sauce that kept me and Christa scrapping the plate. 

For dessert, I got salted caramel gelato and amaretto crunch which I enjoyed with my cappuccino. A scoop of the amaretto crunch worked well with a quick dunk in my coffee! The salted caramel was good enough to stand on its own. We could have sat there for hours, but we decided to walk to the pier where we walked along the water and sat in the sun. 

Barbuto is definitely a good spot to check out. Simple, delicious food in an awesome setting. And for West Village prices, NOT BAD at all! I don't know if I can crown it the best chicken in the city; but its definitely up there. 

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