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the sweet scoop
the sweet scoop
Manhattan-based restaurateur Taavo Somer set across the river to open his first solo venture, Isa (meaning “father” in Estonian) in Williamsburg. The gorgeous space feels like an airy, modern barn with a large hearth, exposed kitchen, a wall of logs for the wood-burning stove and doors opening to the street. In a style called “primitive modernism,” chef Ignacio Mattos (formerly of Il Buco) executes rustic, seasonal fare with produce hailing from the restaurant’s rooftop garden.
The printed daily menu only featured about a dozen dishes (the eatery was still in its soft-launch phase) with minimal descriptions, yet no detail seemed overlooked. Even the trio of freshly baked bread came alongside soft butter dusted with peppercorns and fennel seeds. A start of peppery horseradish shavings awakened our palate and added sharpness to coins of pickled daikon and kombu ribbons, while our Treviso salad tossed with creamy nut cheese and pistachio granola was a much milder appetizer. Adventurous eaters can get their hands dirty with cylinders of chewy, fat-laden pig’s tail glazed with chili and garlic (intended to be eaten sans silverware) or try to brave the sardine. Two large, meaty filets sitting in olive oil surround the fish’s crisped full skeleton and head—all meant for nibbling. On the refined side, our delicate cod filet performed beautifully when accompanied with silken cauliflower puree, fresh dill flowers and a dollop of tart orange confit. To finish, we blissfully spooned smoked yolk (which came cradled in an egg shell) over sliced rib eye and sweet glazed carrots.
At the time, Isa was BYO (waiting for their liquor license) and cash only, but the knowledgable staff affirmed that change was on the horizon. The vibe here is approachable and friendly, a warm neighborhood spot that I look forward to cozying up to again.
After a successful two year stint as chef de cuisine at Manhattan’s Mercadito Cantina, Ivan Garcia headed across the river to open up his first restaurant—Mesa Coyoacan in Williamsburg. Named for the area of Mexico City where he grew up, this authentic Mexican cocina honors the region’s culinary classics with time-honored recipes handed down by Garcia’s grandmother.
The restaurant’s industrial-looking Graham Avenue facade disguises a warm inviting interior that features dim filament light fixtures, a seating medley of cozy booths, high-tops and communal tables, and pop music bouncing off the walls. On the night of our visit, patrons packed into the bustling bar area to sip fresh fruit sangria and margaritas made with house-infused tequilas.
With a focus on organic ingredients and quality proteins, the menu offers excellent Mexican fare and street-food staples. There are plenty of healthier choices, including my ceviche of tender octopus, grilled corn, avocado, pico de gallo and orange slices in a spicy jalapeño citrus infusion, and tiny handmade tortillas (three tacos to an order) topped with spit-grilled chunks of marinated grass-fed beef, chopped onions and cilantro. The roasted organic chicken arrived smothered in a flavorful pipian (traditional Mexican verde sauce) of pumpkin seeds, tomatillo, chiles and zucchini. However, the chiles en nogada entrée—a roasted poblano pepper stuffed with shredded Berkshire pork, pears, apples, peaches and almonds, covered with luscious walnut sauce—was the dinner’s clear high point. The balance of sweet, savory, creamy and nutty was absolutely exquisite.
By delivering high-caliber ethnic eats in a swanky space, Mesa Coyoacan has quickly become a neighborhood hotspot. So grab a date or a group of friends and settle in for some delicious comida that does granny proud.
Williamsburg has seen its fair share of French bistros pop up recently, but Le Barricou charms like no other spot in the neighborhood. Jean-Pierre Marquet’s cozy candlelit haunt has a 19th-century ambiance, with dated newspaper clippings plastered on the walls, an elongated wooden bar and vintage accents scattered throughout the rustic interior. A floor-to-ceiling window facade opens to sidewalk seating on Grand Street and an intimate wine lounge displays antique furnishings and a wood burning fireplace. While the décor may be reminiscent of a classic Parisian parlor, the cuisine is far from old-fashioned with a menu featuring refined French fare.
Chef Joab Masse elegantly showcases locally sourced produce and organic, antibiotic- and hormone-free proteins. The signature Le Barricou salad was served with shaved watermelon and thinly sliced radishes, apples and pears over watercress; sweet honey maple vinaigrette and the hot-flavored flesh of spicy black radishes created a striking flavor contrast that I found addicting. Vegetarian options include light house-made ricotta and wild mushroom stuffed ravioli cradled in delicate tomato, garlic and white wine sauce and creamy seasonal vegetable risotto kissed with truffle oil. The night’s standout entrée was a tender Creekstone Farms Black Angus hanger steak, massaged with garlic confit and caramelized shallot-red wine jus. Reviews were mixed on the hefty grilled Berkshire pork chop, which arrived crusted with thick anchovy tapenade; unfortunately, the too salty taste (I’m admittedly not an anchovy fan) kept me from enjoying the succulent meat, though my dining companion raved about it. I only wish the menu described how prominent anchovies are in the dish.
The bistro’s full bar serves expertly crafted cocktails and exclusively French wines, while the knowledgeable, attentive staff and inviting atmosphere made for a truly delightful dining experience. Merci, Le Barricou.