Monday, July 21, 2008

Good Food in Brooklyn

A while back, in the Spring I think, I was waiting in line at the Whole Foods on the Bowery and I noticed in their magazine wrack something called The Diner Journal. On a whim I bought it. I’m so glad I did.

This journal is the brainchild of the people who run three restaurants in Williamsburg, Diner, Marlow and Co, and Bonita. I have eaten at all of them and have gone back many times and taken friends with me. What these creative, talented, visionary people have done is taken the “locavore” movement and put it into reality and done it in such a way that it is accessible. That is to say that all three restaurants serve locally raised animals that are not filled with antibiotics, tortured or factory raised. Even some of the more posh restaurants in Manhattan aren’t able to make that claim. And not only can these people make the claim, they do it and still offer a $9 chicken burrito that’s meat filled and delicious.

I’ve only eaten at Diner once but my initial impression is that it's an updated riff on traditional diners. At lunch they have a lot of burgers (again, all of it grass fed and local) with a very small selection of dishes that emphasize the season. The day I was there they only had one dessert offering, a non-traditional version a rhubarb trifle that tasted as if it had candied fruit in it – it seemed very old British updated, sweet and sour and creamy with an incredible intensity of flavor. And the serving was reasonable so it was just the right amount.

Marlow and Co. does the same with a bit more variety and an emphasis on local oysters and an amazing selection of local cheeses. The first dish I had there, one they have had several variations of every time I’ve been this summer is a Rhubarb crostini with ricotta or goat cheese with different versions of rhubarb from compote to jam – every one I’ve had has been amazing. The room is upstate country house, old marble and wainscoting and an old, what looks to be recycled, wood ceiling. It’s a cool escape from the world, like going back in time, to a place where fresh local organic food, simply presented, is the natural order of the day.

Bonita is their take on traditional Mexican food (I want them to open up a SE Asian restaurant!). This is the most casual of the three. It looks like they took an old traditional style Mexican restaurant and turned it on it’s sombrero, adding wonderful mosaic tile panels and ceiling fan, and a long marble bar. In the summer I highly recommend you nab one of the several tables on the sidewalk - they don’t have air conditioning – so it can be a tad uncomfortable. There is a nice selection of cold beer and sangria that will help cool you off and make you forget the heat (note just beer and wine no margaritas here).

What I most appreciate about Bonita is of the dishes I’ve had, or had a bite of, none of them have been over filled with rice and beans, a trick most other Mexican restaurants use to bulk up the burrito with the cheap stuff.

If you are in New York City you must make the journey out to Williamsburg (the J, M, or Z trains to Marcy Ave) to experience some of the best food you’ll have in a long time, food that not only tastes good, but that clearly prioritizes farmers and the environment.

How is it that this group of people who created these splendid eateries can figure out how to make a living and offer humanely raised animals and local/organic fruits and vegetables? And if they figured it out why haven’t more people jumped on board?

Let’s hope they are inspiring an entire new generation of restaurateurs. Just their very presence is an inspiration to me, because they prove it can be done and the only thing that is lacking is the will to do it.

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