Brooklyn, New York
Somehow the story of eating dinner at Saul, a one-starred Michelin restaurant that has been in business over nine years in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn, started the day before. It began with the phone call from one of the front of house staff confirming my dinner reservation for the next night. Except the guy making the call was so charming and polite on the phone that I already had a good vibe going about the restaurant before I had even eaten one morsel.
So it was no stretch of anyone’s imagination when I walked in 24 hours later for an early dinner before seeing a show at nearby BAM, that I would be pleasantly surprised not only by the high level of service but also with the sophisticated dishes coming out of the kitchen. The minute I walked into Saul, I felt comfortable. A storefront space on Smith Street, the room is minimally decorated (brick walls covered with small paintings) with tables not too close together and a small bar at the end of the room.
In addition to the menu, there were two appetizer additions as well as an entree. Had we not had to rush out to the theatre, I might have sprung for the $85 tasting menu. I mean, who does such an elaborate tasting menu at that price range? That said, an offer of “is tap water ok” was made to us and a small basket filled with bread that was crunchy on the outside and warm and fluffy on the inside with a ramekin of butter was put on the table. An amuse bouche of creamy carrot soup with a cilantro-spiced yogurt topping was also offered. Drinks were ordered, the wine list perused. I thought the wine list was fairly price friendly with a concentration on California reds.
Lynn went with one of the appetizer specials that night: fresh fettucine with oxtail ragu with some garlic chips, thin slices of chorizo and a poached egg thrown in for good measure. I was intrigued by the pork belly, grilled octopus and bean and radicchio salad. Lynn’s pasta was absolutely out of this world — noodles bathed in a ragu sauce but also with a creamy consistency given the egg addition plus a wonderful spiciness to boot with the garlic and chorizo additions. My grilled octopus was decent — the pork belly melted in your mouth, the grilled octopus a tad chewier than I would have liked.
Since Lynn has pretty strict instructions not to duplicate my dinner order (even if he desperately wants what I’m having), I persuaded him to get the grilled scallops. I ordered the pan roasted skate. Although he liked the scallop dish, he thought the portion size a tad small. Being a big fan of skate, I thought the fish was delicious but I was not particularly happy that it was on the bone. I’m not a baby, but sometimes I do get a tad scared thinking there might be that one bone I may miss and find myself choking (or worse).
We did manage to find a few extra minutes before we had to get to the theatre so we split a tangy goat cheesecake — a small disk of goat cheese with an awesome pear sorbet side kick.
Bottom line: I felt terrible such a great restaurant with such a truly talented kitchen staff had been off my radar for so long.
Our second follow-up visit in less than a month because we had tickets to a show at BAM once again. This time, the restaurant was much less crowded. In fact, when we walked in for an early dinner there was only one other table occupied. Even when we left over an hour later, the restaurant was a tad empty for a Saturday night. I was hoping it had more to do with our early dining hour rather than Saul losing patrons. The lovely bread basket was brought, drinks and wine ordered. Service once again was impeccable. And the meal? Even better than our previous visit. I love the fact that soup is brought out as an amuse bouche. It was particularly nice since we’ve had such a long cold winter and that day was particularly blustery. Our amuse soup was a creamy rutabaga with a hint of horseradish topped with diced apples and chives. Lynn and I both had the starter special: a single spinach ravioli topped with morels and resting on a bed of parsnip puree with a golden egg yolk tucked inside. When my fork cut into that exquisite little dough package, the egg dribbled out bringing not only a patch of color to the dish but a creamy richness to the otherwise earthy morel and spinach flavor. I remembered the ragu dish Lynn had the last time and I realized something pretty basic: Saul does pasta very very well.
Next up: the rabbit loin for Lynn. It came plated with fresh peas and what looked like a green pea sauce with roasted potatoes. The rabbit was perfectly cooked, not oversalted (my pet peeve) and tasty. I had been tempted to order this dish particularly because of my insane love for rabbit (see my review of the Farmhouse Inn) but decided to go with another special that day: lamb three ways. The lamb dish consisted of a twin chop, (medium rare as requested), thin slices of lamb loin and a chorizo-like lamb sausage. Plated on arugula with red and yellow tomatoes, the spicy factor was also kicked up a notch by the warm and fragrant lentils in one corner coupled with farro in the other. While I thought the chop was a tad chewy, the slices of lamb were beautifully cooked. Since we were once again under a time constraint, we shared the same dessert we had on the previous visit, the goat cheese “cake” with the wonderful pear sorbet. And yes, we are still determined to come back and have a very, very long meal with lots of courses and wine to boot.