Tuesday, March 23, 2010

River Barrel (but not for long...?)

Needing a nearby neighborhood dinner one night, Priya and I walked up a block to visit River Barrel, a nondescript restaurant near our house which has always had a just-OK menu including a decent and not-too-pricey burger. Recently, River Barrel has been undergoing some big changes, though; after Greenpoint Coffeehouse closed a while back, River Barrel poached its kitchen and chef (Jonny Meyer, formerly of T.B.D.'s beer garden and Fatty Crab). Jonny had promised great things to come, and finally we were getting around to try it out.

The restaurant was virtually empty when we arrived, and so we got the chance to chat with Jonny a bit. River Barrel's menu now features several Korean-influenced dishes (a legacy of the owner, Mrs. Kim, who began to cook some of her own foods to fill in while River Barrel was between chefs... Jonny took the Korean influence and ran with it, and River Barrel--soon to be renamed "Mrs. Kim's" or something similar--has a menu that runs from bucatini carbonara to a fancy burger to bibimbop, house-made kimchee, and similar fare). We took Jonny's recommendations and ordered a Korean hot dog, Korean fried chicken, and a side of Brussels sprouts. (forgive the poor photographs--really dim light!)

First, though, Jonny sent us out an appetizer: boquerones with wasabi greens and pickled radish on crostini, with a side of daikon kimchee. It sounds decent, but somehow the pretty-good-sounding ingredients synergized into something really superior.

The Brussels sprouts were very sweet, flavored with denjang (Korean miso) and scattered with matchsticks of apple. The leaves had come apart and were deliciously crispy.

We shared an order of Korean fried chicken that was phenomenal. Jonny told us that he used vodka in the batter (on the principle, espoused by Heston Blumenthal, among others, that vodka, unlike water, doesn't cause flour to become glutinous, and, moreso, evaporates more readily) and the chicken was extremely crispy--perfectly so. Covered with a sweet sticky sauce that drew part of its umami flavor from anchovies (I think?) and over a bed of rice flavored with Thai basil, the fried chicken instantly became a local highlight for us. At $15, I thought the price was a little higher than I'd been expecting at first, but after tasting it, I don't begrudge them a dime. And $15 is easily comparable to other restaurants serving similar dishes.

I don't think I would've ordered a "Korean hot dog" (heck, I don't eat American hot dogs) but for Jonny's enthusiastic recommendation. Not really a hot dog, it's a thick lemongrass-flavored house-made sausage on a roll with house-made kimchee and a sauce formed of a mixture of ketchup and Mrs. Kim's own hot sauce.

Again, so so good, and at only $8, greatly preferable to the $12 burgers that proliferate in the city.

We heard that the awning and name might change very soon, but for now, before the new menu gets widespread, it's fantastic and quiet. Definitely will be back...repeatedly!

1 comment:

Erum said...

Sam and I are really enjoying reading this out loud in the car cruising on 66 east.

Sounds like a MUCH different River Barrel than the one we visited!