ABistro-JennaA Bistro
154 Carlton Avenue
(btw’n Myrtle and Willoughby Avenues)
Fort Greene
(718) 855-9455

 

 

As old as New York is, it refreshes itself every day. No matter how long you’ve lived on that street, something will surprise you today — that’s a promise. And that’s why perfect, cool, sunny New York afternoons are made for walking.

Fort Greene was abuzz with discovery a few weeks ago when construction workers digging a new sewer line on Vanderbilt Avenue pulled a remarkable boulder out of the ground. Not only was it huge but it was somehow otherwise alluring — enough to inspire a local resident to call the Environmental Protection Agency to see if they could prevent it from being hauled off to the dump.

When a geologist arrived on the scene to chip off a small piece, he confirmed the neighborhood’s suspicions: their rock was awesome, a 400,000,000-year-old gift from Wyoming via the last glacier to crash through this area.

So new discoveries are often simply old yet previously invisible, which is just fine, especially if it involves something to eat. While the rock was certainly inedible we still had plenty more neighborhood to explore.

ABistro-CoupleFort Greene is a lovely walking neighborhood on par with the sleepiest of sleepy New England towns, so there is cuteness in abundance, as well as pricy destination restaurants and trendy cafes. That day, however we were just looking for brunch and thanks to word-of-mouth (that all-important tool for finding restaurants in New York) we knew to walk a little ways past the prettier tree-lined parts of Vanderbilt and Dekalb and keep an eye out for A Bistro.

While it is a bistro in name, its European accents aren’t that prominent. It actually brought me much more firmly back to my favorite watering holes in Mozambique, with their blank walls, potted palms, cool breezes, and the greatest chicken dinners in the world.

They were probably so exceptional in Africa because the chef had to go out and buy a live chicken at the market once I ordered it, but at A Bistro it was because the chicken was lightly pan-fried with pineapple, mild onions, sautéed greens, a fascinating fresh rice cake, and that mysterious chili-powered spice so common to food from warm places.

Their sorrel (a Caribbean drink made from the Jamaica flower) completed the lazy tropical feel with its authentic yet rare touch of ginger.

ABistro-Chicken2Abdul, the chef and owner, seems to have lived on every continent and collected culinary techniques in his duffel bag as he went. This lends A Bistro its best feature (dishes that surprise you despite your cosmopolitan nature) and its worst (a little overreaching as it tries to cover many bases at once). The marinated tofu was a good example of the latter — made with bok choy only to make it recognizably Asian while offering the tiniest smidgen of tofu that will leave anyone hungry for more.

But no one goes to an African-inspired restaurant for tofu. They go for the traditional and the experimental. We regrettably neglected to order anything for brunch and were thus forced to watch plate after plate of their signature spicy pancakes go by to the smarter tables. Abdul described the pancakes (in typical understated fashion) as, “Very, very . . . nice.” It might not be the spice factor that makes them nice but their towering fluffiness. Each pancake was at least an inch thick. How do you do that, Abdul?

In fact, everything that Abdul and Cassandra (his partner and the restaurant’s hostess) have accomplished with A Bistro is fairly surprising: a truly global eating experience with flawless, artistic presentation for a below-average price. Cassandra, happy with our happiness, invited us back, of course and we agreed to take her up on the offer. After all, what else is a day like this for but to expand your small view of the world?

ABistro-BigRockAndPhotogThe Big Old Rock (as we unceremoniously called it) is alive and well, by the way. City officials, recognizing its beauty and significance, are moving it to a park in Queens, where it better matches the bedrock there. Brooklynites understandably pouted a little at this, but at least we can say there were a few weeks there when it brought out a little bit of wonder.

We ran our fingers over it while we could, finding its true crystalline blackness underneath the layers of New York mud. We befriended a geology buff who drove in from Connecticut that afternoon just to photograph the moment and drive back. “You don’t just stumble across a glacial erratic in New York City every day,” he said.

ABistro-BigRockAndJennaWe all took a minute to look and imagine how much of the Earth it had touched in its long life, and feel the unusually warm fall breeze and listen to the now out-of-place roar of traffic from the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, reminded that we do indeed live on a planet and that we’re lucky to live in a place with people who hail from every one of its corners.

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