On the cusp of the summer solstice, it’s hard to imagine looking forward to cooler, darker months. However, last night at Place des Fêtes, a new wine bar and restaurant in Clinton Hill, the idea reinforced me. A few weeks ago, I had a dish there that I was ready to announce the best of 2022. A ski suite was quickly cured, cold-smoked, breadcrumbed in scrambled egg whites and koji rice flour, and deep-fried twice. The dark bronze exterior, dusted in dried red pepper fermented with milk, looked tough but cracked easily when pushed with a fork, peeling clean along the bone revealing succulent sweet steaks. Flanking it was a slice of Meyer lemon, a thin mound of dill and Italian parsley, a small plate of grépecci sauce (mayonnaise, boiled eggs, Calabrian peppers, pickled green garlic, bottarga, lemon) and, best of all, a warm dish. Buckwheat crepes are elegantly folded like a pocket napkin and release the heavenly aroma of roasted nuts. I was thrilled to be able to take it again. My heart sank to see him absent from the list. “The water is getting warmer,” my server explained; The sled was obtained from Massachusetts.
While we wait for the water to cool (as long as climate change allows it), there are so many other things we love here, and the feeling that the kitchen — overseen by chef and co-owner Nico Russell, formerly known as Oxalis, at Crown Highlands — can make magic with any Season, or store offers. Potato fingers, roasted low and slow until their peels are thick, brittle and separate from their velvety pulp, punctuate the campfire, save for the luscious green sheen of the delicious Sabayon, a light custard usually served for dessert, made with slopes and skin-call wine instead of the usual sweet Marsala. Fir needles cling to thick wedges of fresh Japanese cucumber. Portions of red royal shrimp, as their name suggests, are arranged like polka dots in a pool of salt-marinated gooseberries, each dressed in a ring of knotweed, an invasive plant with hollow stems that are crunchy and tart, rhubarb-like flavor.
A plate of four thinly sliced anchovies without a boquette in olive oil, imported from Spain, seemed so austere that I felt compelled to order bread (sourced from a nearby Otway bakery) to make up. But the anchovies were deceptively odorless, almost creamy, with a complex but subtle flavor that the excellent flavor—made of salty rye, thick and dark—threatening to overpower it.
The anchovies and bread both appear in a section of the menu titled “Selled/Pretzel,” which also offers cheese and charcuterie, including a silky mortadella made by Tempesta, a Chicago Salome Company, and old-fashioned country ham from Kentucky. All of these are treated with care no less than in their undecorated simplicity; Last night, I watched a chef bring a plate of pork to room temperature under a heat lamp, which highlighted a cleaver tattoo.
The name Place des Fêtes in the 19th arrondissement of Paris translates to “Party Square”. The Place des Fêtes in Brooklyn, with its buttery leather seats and whitewashed walls, would be the perfect first date spot. Bottles of wine, mostly Spanish, are kept in a huge silver bucket filled with ice at the end of the bar, but they encourage conversation more than bustle: Pete Nat from Castilla y León, for example, smells stunningly herbal and tastes of blood orange.
Even the cocktails make you think. An excellent house martini, cold and smoothly sticky, made with brewed tomato liqueur, sherry, vermouth, and a carbon-negative local vodka called Good that is distilled from discarded coffee fruit. My favorite was the minimal ABV, Vermut and Soda, which features a Basque vermouth that the waiter accurately described as “almost like Dr. smoke. (Dishes $8-$35) ♦