Brooklyn


Café Moutarde
239 Fifth Avenue
(at Carroll Street)
Park Slope
(718) 623-3600

 

 

 

Café Moutarde almost doesn’t fit the surrounding scene — even though this stretch of Park Slope is full of excellent places to shop, dine, and drink yourself silly it still all looks like . . . well, Brooklyn. But Moutarde is a gleaming, bejeweled European bistro, with shiny copper fixtures and mirrors in all the right places. I walked past it dozens of times thinking I couldn’t afford it before I actually looked at the menu. It turns out that, not only can I afford it, but in a way I need it.

I don’t think we New Yorkers are particular enough about the quality of life in our city, the simple aesthetic value of our living spaces that’s so often overlooked. We live in drafty, windowless, leaky dives in order to keep our rents below $1,000 per month. We allow our refined cityscapes to be marred by garish modern high-rise condos, parking garages, and anything else the non-residents who build this place dream up. We flock to every new Dunkin’ Donuts or American Apparel or Starbucks rather than boycott them out of the neighborhood so regular, less fluorescent establishments can open in their place. In our constant search for the deal and the trend we forget the importance of beauty and a slow comfortable pace, how those things can stimulate our emotions and thoughts and make us feel less automated. We lose that certain . . . je ne sais quoi that they capture so well in Europe. I think of Moutarde as a little way to regain it, even if only for a few hours over breakfast.

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Beast
638 Bergen St.
(at Vanderbilt Ave.)
Prospect Heights
(718) 399-6855

 

 

In Brooklyn, we treat brunch as if it were a high holiday. In other parts of the country (even other parts of the city) brunch is kind of a novelty — maybe something to do on Mother’s Day or a pre- or post-birthday party. But here in America’s fourth-largest city it’s a birthright.

The basic tenets of the meal are just — sleep late, eat a big meal, maybe get a little tipsy, certainly work up a good caffeine buzz, read the paper slowly, talk loudly. It’s an elaborate and secular way to worship something we highly value: our day of rest.

But the execution of the meal fails often, probably because of the overkill. Though they shall remain nameless here, I’ve been burned by bad Brooklyn bruncheries who rush you along, skimp on the coffee, over-poach the eggs to the point where they fall off the plate and bounce, and generally treat the food like a no frills Restaurant Week version of their regular offerings.

This is all why I’m so attracted to Beast on the weekends. Not only do they offer up great food during brunch but they understand why we like brunch to begin with.

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Amorina Cucina Rustica
624 Vanderbilt Avenue
(betw’n Prospect Pl. and Park Pl.)
Prospect Heights
(718) 230-3030

 

 

 

I found my one true love on Viale Trastevere a few years ago. She had all the main requirements — curvy, brunette, and holding a freshly baked pizza from the ancient brick oven beside her.

My lady adorned every box that came out of Pizzeria ai Marmi in that old and moody corner of Rome. Marmi (known as “the morgue” around town for its garish lighting and marble tables) was only one happy moment in a lifelong connoisseurship of Neapolitan pizza, but it was the most profound. The neighbors knew it well, and we bumped elbows every night as we crammed in for dinner. The wine was cheap. The pizza (as it often is in such places throughout Italy) was perfect. But it was the skill that captivated me. I ignored countless hours of conversation while watching the overstressed pizzaioli shape the dough, top the pizzas, load them in, and take them out, never missing a beat in their practiced rhythm. To eat something so fast and cheap yet so flavorfully nuanced seemed to typify life there — where simplicity breeds contentment and an attention to detail that elude us as we continue to evolve and automate.

When I moved back to New York a couple years ago I held out hope for the triumphant return of Neapolitan pizza to my weekly pleasures. I thought it would take some effort, some trial and error, and not a small number of Metrocards and wasted time. It turns out that all I had to do was look around the corner.

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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.

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Geido-NagetRollGeido
331 Flatbush Ave.
(btw’n Park Pl. and Prospect Pl.)
Prospect Heights
(718) 638-8866

 

 

Although it’s annoying, it’s also a little endearing that everyone in this town knows where “the best sushi place” is. It’s especially amusing that said place is always, conveniently, right around the corner from where the speaker lives or works.

I’m pretty new to the sushi game so I notice these things. And part of my naiveté is not really noticing many discernible differences between the billions of Japanese restaurants dotting the landscape in these parts.

In retrospect, this is probably not the best way to shore up some street cred for a report on Geido. But it is good to have the full disclosure out of the way before I try to figure out what is so alluring about this place, what calls me back sometimes multiple times a week. I don’t exactly know what I’m doing (which helps, in this case — sushi aficionados often ruin my experience here), and it is just steps away from my front door. But that’s not why.

Geido has a perfect mix of a couple things that make you feel like dinner, well-earned and well-prepared, is ready. One of these things requires time to appreciate (the food — we’ll get to that later), and the other is much more obvious: the joint is jumping.

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