Saturday, March 20, 2010

Buttermilk Channel, Brooklyn

We entered the clean crisp space of Buttermilk Channel in Brooklyn at around 5:30 in the evening for an early supper before returning to Boston. The sun was just beginning to set and it cast a lovely light on the sparely decorated but welcoming space. It was beautiful. The tables were set and service was just beginning. My friend, Patrick, commented that this is the first time he has ever been here without at least a brief wait at the bar for a table. The meal that we were to be served is a testament to its popularity with Brooklyn locals and visitors from across the bridge.

Owner, Doug Cromwell, and chef, Ryan Angulo, have formed a winning partnership here in Carroll Gardens. The food overall had a light feel to it despite the use of ingredients that might otherwise produce heavy dishes. Reading their bio’s online, they both seemed to have worked at New York’s Picholine near Lincoln Center and both have culinary educations from top notch schools. I have had the pleasure of dining at Picholine, and I see the practiced hand of a great chef and the spirit of hospitality echoed in Buttermilk Channel.

Dan, Patrick, and myself were seated at a lovely table with more of that beautiful steely afternoon early spring sunlight streaming in. The wine list and menu were beautifully printed and the wording was clear describing the dishes in just enough appetizing detail. Though the wine list is completely American I found that it had plenty to choose from. It featured mostly stars of the California club such as Joel Gott, Edmunds St. John, Robert Sinskey, and Qupé, but there were also local producers such as Dr. Konstantin Frank, Wolffer, and Millbrook. I got really excited when I saw a bottle of Scholium Project Verdelho from California and ordered it immediately. It met with approval amongst our merry company and the staff that was attending us. Owner, Doug, even came over to chat with us a bit about the wine once he saw that we had ordered it later in the evening.

The maker of Scholium Project believes in letting the wine completely make itself. If fermentation stops, it is allowed to continue on its own when it’s ready. There is minimal handling of fruit and wines are made according to “Old World” customs. Our bottle of Verdelho was powerful, crisp, dry, and full of succulent stone fruit flavors. I couldn’t believe that the alcohol was over 16˚, something I usually have a hard time with. In truth, I may not have ordered it had I known this, but I was so pleased with the wine that the relatively high alcohol was a non-issue. It tasted like drinking dry peach nectar with a little kick and it was perfect with Buttermilk Channel’s simple but sophisticated fare.

While we perused the appealing menu, we ordered a round of small bites to start, which ended up not being so small. The house pork terrine was a generous slice of country style pate flavored with herbs and Bourbon accompanied by grilled sourdough toast, turnip greens and pickles. We also tried the house-cured bacon, adorned with honey and grain mustard, and a panzanella salad with parsley, raisins, and celery leaves. Both charcuterie offerings were well crafted and delicious. They may have been the stars of the meal for me. We had some of their delicious homemade pickles, both sweet and dill. They were a perfect counterpoint to the rich meaty flavors we enjoyed so much. Hopefully I will get to go back soon and make a meal just out of charcuterie and wine from their fabulous list.

For first courses, I had a delicious salad of seared kale and endive with a soft-boiled egg and buttermilk and anchovy vinaigrette. It was a really clever end-of-winter version of the classic Caesar riffing on the classic theme using wintry greens. Dan’s barbecued pork ribs were falling off of the bone and had a mild but complex flavor. Patrick ordered a nice little tart with delicata squash, goat cheese, and a lovely flakey piecrust. The portions were generous for first courses and we could have easily stopped the meal there, but we had two more courses to go. Undertaking completion of the meal was a yoke that we happily bore.

Main courses, or “second courses” as they are called here, were refreshingly smaller in size. In fact, I thought they were pretty much the same size as the first courses only more focused on protein. I guess this is why they are called second courses rather than mains on their menu. My bacon-wrapped trout was filled with more goat cheese and leeks and served with plum jam and roasted turnips. I wouldn’t have ever put all of these elements together in my own kitchen, but the dish worked quite nicely. Dan tried their crispy fried chicken, which was just as good as many I’ve had down South. I really liked the maple-balsamic syrup that accompanied the waffles with the chicken. I will try and duplicate the tart, tangy, and sweet syrup in my own kitchen sometime soon. Patrick’s duck meat loaf was tasty too – tender, rich, and nicely sauced with a light duck jus, and ornamented with mashed potatoes and a couple of perfectly crispy fried mammoth onion rings.

Desserts were equally satisfying. I was over the moon about the pecan pie sundae, which has also received lavish praise from Frank Bruni of the New York Times. Buttermilk Channel’s pie rivals my own mother’s exceptional pie. It tasted as though they used a whole stick of butter in each pie and the dark Karo syrup just like mom’s. Making a sundae with two pieces of pie and two scoops of ice cream is pure genius. I felt as though I had died, gone to heaven, and landed on a buttery pecan cloud.

The other desserts were also very good, but somewhat eclipsed by the fabulous sundae. The peanut butter chocolate bread pudding was topped with a lovely bittersweet chocolate sauce and had a nice velvety texture. Our pear and ricotta tart had the subtlest flavor of anything of the desserts with a touch of ginger and that same delicious piecrust that we had experience in the first course winter squash tart.

Service in general was kind, efficient, and thoughtful. We were impressively served our four courses in an hour and twenty minutes due to our time constraints without ever feeling rushed. Our plates were cleared at appropriate times and silverware was always in place in time for the next course. The waiters were well informed about the menu and were sure to get answers from the chef when they didn’t have all of the information to my more detailed questions. They were a more polished bunch than the typical bistro crew and had a professional demeanor that I often observe in many finer restaurants.

The word “clean” comes to mind most when I think back on the food. I aspire to cook this kind of food at home. I am constantly amazed at how much work it takes to turn out a dish of simple ingredients that is balanced without masking any flavor with too much of something else. I greatly admired Chef Angulo’s light touch turning out dishes that easily could have been cloying or too heavy given the ingredients. To say that we enjoyed ourselves would be an understatement and I will greatly anticipate a return in April on our next Brooklyn/New York excursion.


  1. Ooo...wanna eat here. Have heard about it forever, and it may just be your mouth-watering post that gets me there! Thanks. Glad you had a good trip.

  2. OMG! Can't believe that a restaurant is using my pecan pie recipe. LOL!