Saturday, June 21, 2008

'68' a Greenpoint Favorite

If I had known that it was anything other than a vacant space, I would have gone much sooner. I had heard that Coco’s was adding a restaurant directly next to its hugely popular bar space, but I had a hard time believing that it was even in the works. One February afternoon, I decided to take a chance. From the outside, a large steel door and frosted windows makes the place looks more like a warehouse freezer than anything else. A typical restaurant chalkboard claiming the status of “Open” was sitting at the top of the walkway as the only sign of life. I looked skeptically at the board, back up at the cold-looking door and pulled, unconvinced that it would even give. Indeed, the door did swing open and I was pleasantly greeted by a window that gave a glimmer into the warm ambiance of the restaurant. Once I swept through the dark velvet curtain, I was all of a sudden in another world.

It has been clear since the beginning that 68 – named for its address on Greenpoint Ave – is the adored sister of Coco 66, the popular hipster bar of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Just like next door, stainless steel tables are decorated with red votive candles, and the bar is dimly lit exposed brick. But unlike the DJ blaring a variety of drinking-friendly tunes next door, diners of 68 are treated to the softer playlists on ipod shuffles. With the mood set and all other senses cared for, everyone’s palate should be adequately primed for a fresh and unique treat.

Although the item is never highlighted as such on the menu, it’s clear that the restaurant’s signature dish is the goat cheese brulee. Noting the conversation around us – often between strangers – seemed consistently focused on the goat cheese and how everyone must try it, my boyfriend and I knew we made the right decision to order it. Three discs of warm goat cheese sat atop marinated red beets and were decorated with plump blueberries and fresh sprigs of mint. The airy, aromatic beets produced visions of lush country gardens and were contrasted sharply by the pungent taste of heavy, farm-like goat cheese. The berries and mint mingled their way into the equation eloquently, providing soft notes of summer grace and rounding out the visions of faraway provinces.

Feeling serenaded by our first dish, we awaited our next course in relaxed anticipation. Although it turned out to be a bit of a wait, we were pleased to find that it was completely worth our time. My tilapia arrived perfectly fried – crisp on the outside, soft and warm in the middle – and arranged atop homemade guacamole. The rare combination of the mild fish with ripe avocados was a great balance, rounded out by a ring of jalapeno crème fraiche around the edge of the dish that allows you to get just the right about of desired kick in each bite. The large side of mashed potatoes – which I had ordered separately – was impressive in its simplicity. The dish was completely void of any lumps at all and tasted exactly like fresh potatoes – a rarity, for some reason, in mashed potatoes. My boyfriend's mussels and clams came in a deep bowl filled with a delightfully spicy beer-based broth. Olives, sausages and roasted peppers simmered inside, infusing the broth with its flavors and producing a warm, hearty treat perfect for any cold day.

Despite the fact that we were completely full after dinner, we could not resist the temptation to order dessert. We decided on sugar and cinnamon churros, knowing that the light luxuries would take up minimal space in our stomachs. While still tasty, the churros were somewhat of a disappointment to the overall stellar meal we had just consumed. About four tiny churros arrived with two large dipping bowls – one chocolate, the other caramel. The churros were more on the crispy side than the light and fluffy texture I was expecting, and the bowls of dipping sauce were enough to accompany five times as many of the fried treats. Nevertheless, this last dish did not dampen our high opinions of the place in the slightest, and the surprisingly low number sitting on our bill only heightened its value.

I've been back many times over the past few months, though no visit was quite like the first. The tilapia remains my favorite entree, as the steak is a little lackluster and the chicken, while good, just doesn't excite me. The exclusive post-midnight burger mingled its way onto the regular dinner menu, and they changed the mussel and clam dish into an appetizer portion before phasing it off the menu entirely (though I have seen other diners order it anyway, so give it a try!). 68 also started serving brunch back in March -- the free alcoholic beverage my favorite perk. But when the weather is nice, it's too much to trudge into the dark bar space. I'd save this place for a rainy dinnertime instead.

1 comment:

Dazy said...

My kids have some good mania for churros. It's one more item I offer them for tiffin. Other food are also good.