This past weekend, I went with my family to the hipster neighborhood of Williamsbug, Brooklyn to Gwynett St for my mother’s birthday.
I know it seems strange that I picked this venue generally since Williamsburg usually appeal to young adults around my age range and to those who are aware of what Gwynett St serves, it’s quite cutting edge food. Except, my mother is not exactly your stereotypical Chinese woman. She likes (arguably, loves) food that tends to have unusual (異常) flavors and she doesn’t like to repeat. Since most of my family is aware that Brooklyn is pretty much the borough to eat interesting delicious food, we thought why not make the trip out? Executive Chef Justin Hilbert and Sous Chef Owen Clark who both have cooked at Michelin starred restaurants like Mugaritz (Hilbert), Fat Duck (Clark), and eventually wd~50, where both chefs met.
When we walked toward Gwynett St, it’s a pretty unassuming restaurant. Brick and mortar, standard double glass doors with a windowpane that has the restaurant’s name. The small bar area and the dining room looks unassuming with exposed brick and dark wooden tables. The casual feel, almost unremarkable decor of the restaurant gives it an urban version of a blank canvas that would let the diner focus on the great food coming from the kitchen, as you’ll read on.
We told our waitress we’re having the tasting menu ($85 per person) and requested to have their loaf of whiskey bread ($5) and glasses of Brut Cava (Pares Balta NV; $9 each). The bread was warm and rustic and served with a side of sweet Vermont butter. It’s texturally more of a quick bread than the yeast bread loaf I was thinking but nevertheless tasty with a faint hint of whiskey.
The Cava is always a delightful way to toast to any occasion, even my mother’s birthday. Light and sparkling with notes of citrus and floral honey.
Not too long of a wait, our first courses came out called Autumn Roots. Amuse bouche in size of having a few forkfuls of beets, rainbow radish, sweet potato, walnut, walnut powder, walnut purée. Vegetal sweetness, nutty flavor with faint bitterness. Cool, creamy crunchy bites. It was mesmerizing and all of us murmured how good this was.
Moving onto Mushroom, a beautiful, minimalist plated dish of warm chestnut purée, lobster mushroom, fried hen of the woods mushrooms, and raw shaved creminis on top. It’s a study of mushrooms’ range of textures and flavors on a plate. From the delicate raw cremini shavings to the tender, meat-like chew of the lobster mushrooms and the crispiness of the fried hen of the woods, to creaminess of the chestnut purée, making the textures meld wonderfully. My parents, who I think sometimes are the harshest critics, were enamored with this dish.
Almost halfway through our tasting, we’re presented with what our waitress called this dish tofu and she said it’s not the tofu that we’d normally associate it. The “tofu” we had was a creamy, custard-like cube of purée of walnuts, encrusted with fine powdered walnuts; not the squeaky cubes of tofu that most people think of. The fine slices of creamy avocado reinforces the texture of the “tofu.” The celery and pickled red onion were the essential accouterments to this dish, as it broke up the monotonous nut flavors with sharp brine and onion flavors.
The fourth course of steelhead trout, grilled fig, toasted sweet potato and onions in tobacco, fig leaf broth, finished with tobacco oil. When we’re served this dish, I got the strong scent of sweet figs and a blend of vegetal sweetness. It was surprisingly subtle flavors and I liked how it does work. The sweetness and silky textures of the fig and trout juxtaposed with the somewhat subtly crunchy sweet potato and onions it is intriguing but the broth does tie this dish wonderfully that you understand how brilliant it is.
The heartier course of bavette steak with braised leeks, oyster leaf, oyster cream, and oyster mushroom was as close as in your face flavors as it gets. Bold flavors of minerally beef matched with the intense triple punch of briny oyster flavor. This easily won my father’s vote for the favorite dish of the evening since there’s meat (he’s an omnivore with carnivorous leanings) and he likes bold flavors.
For a restaurant that does not have a pastry chef, their desserts are not an afterthought. Our first dessert of the evening was squash and sassafras brought back memories of desserts I had at wd~50 when Alex Stupak was their executive pastry chef. It made perfect sense since Chef Hilbert worked with Stupak back then in the pastry department.
Our dessert of creamy squash sorbet, squash curd, crunchy sassafras streusel, sassafras anglaise, date, and twisted curl of date chip does put a perspective of autumn flavors and it was a perfect balance of sweet and subtle bitterness of the sassafras.
We paired desserts with a bottle of Moscato d’Asti. Beautiful aromas of the grapes are enhanced by a crisp, nice acidity, a light fizziness and the sweetness of the natural residual sugar.
The dessert that ended our meal was a showstopper. Abstractly beautiful splatters of bull’s blood beet juice and scatters of beet and cocoa crumble. The quenelle of tart and delicately floral rose hip yogurt, the creamy discs of dark chocolate ganache, and creamy dark chocolate mousse. Intense, deep chocolate flavors brightened by the tart yogurt, it was a memorable finish.
Service was cool and casually professional under the watchful eye of owner Carl McCoy. Overall, the food from Chefs Hilbert and Owen was pretty darn sublime. The flavors are like not exploding fireworks in your mouth. Think of it as a symphony (e.g. Tchaikovsky Symphony 6 (4th movement)) that slowly builds up from various flavors but it slowly brings out powerful emotional highs as the meal progresses.
To view more of my photos of this event, please scroll through the slideshow below (or click through my Flickr set):