It’s time I say goodbye to my dear friend Sarah. She was visiting me from Vancouver since Friday and we had a blast all over NYC. Highlights include: visiting the Tomás Saraceno sculpture on the roof of the Met (that’s a reflection of me in the sculpture above); eating in the new Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg @ Reynards; joking about “man repellent” clothing; Jones Beach; an inversion workshop at Jivamukti yoga school; and dinner at Kyo Ya.
Sarah and I met fourteen years ago at Pearson College on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, a wonderfully bizarre, idyllic school that brings students together from around the world to promote international peace. She was an alternative skateboarding punk from B.C. and we bonded instantly. Since then we’ve been pretty good about visiting each other nearly every year—sometimes I go to Vancouver and more often she comes here to NYC. Below is us at Habana Outpost in Fort Greene, doing our part at brokering peaceful international relations.
We ate like queens while she was in town. Three meals in particular stood out. Friday night we dined at the bar of Gwynnett Street, the new Williamsburg joint run by two former WD-50 chefs, Justin Hilbert and Owen Clark. Pete Wells gave this place two stars back in April, writing:
And while it is a restaurant in Brooklyn, Gwynnett St. is not really a Brooklyn restaurant. There are no butchers’ tools hanging from reclaimed barn doors. Under the eye of Carl McCoy, the proprietor, the dining room staff is calmly professional, utterly free of pretense and attitude. Nobody is the least bit likely to pull up a chair and offer to show you pictures of the sauerkraut the chef is currently fermenting inside a pair of Red Wing boots.
If only he were kidding about the sauerkraut pictures. But who am I to judge? I’m brewing kombucha atop my fridge as I write. At least it’s not brewing in my Toms shoes. Anyway…not only was the food at Gwynnett really solid, the service was attentive and atmosphere lively without being loud. I love a restaurant where you would just as much want to dine at the bar as a table—Dressler being one of my favorites for this—and Gwynnett is such a place. We started with whiskey bread served with cultured butter from VT, and a pea & mint salad. The peas were full of spring—bright and fresh and grassy—and the whiskey bread was decadent and a hint sweet. We then had duck that tasted like perfectly charred steak, and, just to be redundant, the steak with radishes two ways. (My mostly vegan diet mostly went out the window this week – I’m back on the wagon though. Side note: a guy turned to me in line at Chop’t yesterday and said: you know why this line is so long? Everybody was at the beach this weekend and thought, “I need to start eating salads for lunch.” Ha!) For dessert we had what tasted like amazing peanut butter and jelly, but was actually milk chocolate ganache, peanut crumble, and black currant somethingorother.
I had also been wanting to try Reynards, Andrew Tarlow’s new joint in the Wythe Hotel, also in Williamsburg. Shout out to my friend Hale Everets and his team for a really elegant redesign of this former waterfront factory. We met up with our friend Ella, also from our Pearson days, whom I hadn’t seen in many years, and feasted on a beet-and-mint salad; nettle toast; arctic char with spring vegetables; house-made sausage; lobster and peas poached in butter; chocolate olive oil cake; and Mast Brothers chocolate sorbet. The food was creative without being fussy. It was seasonal and fresh and really well seasoned. The place is a little sceney for everyday eating, but perfectly fun with out-of-town guests on a balmy holiday weekend. The staff are effortlessly hip in that Williamsburg way—lots of short denim cut-offs, wedge heels, and Warby Parker eyeglasses—but the clientele leaned more toward a slightly older out-of-town crowd with gold jewelry and blue blazers, guests of the hotel I imagine. After dinner we skipped the half-hour lineup for the rooftop bar (see what I mean, sceney) and headed down to Zebulon. I dig Reynards open kitchen design (below), to which we had front row seats.
And last but not least, there was Kyo Ya. For Sarah’s last night in town I thought dinner at this five-year-old Japanese joint hidden on East 7th Street was the proper sendoff. I made the reservation weeks ago. Since it was (also) reviewed in the Times not long ago, I didn’t want to take any chances. This place is charming in a hushed but not snobby way. It’s the kind of place you wish there were more of in this crazy loud city of no-reservation restaurants, open kitchens, new American cuisine, cool kids everywhere, and savvy marketing behind the next new thing. Kyo Ya is kind of opposite. The antidote to Gwynnett St. and Reynards, which don’t get me wrong, I really liked.
For starters, there’s something like ten tables at Kyo Ya. And a quaint staircase off the street level leading you to the subterranean restaurant (above). The entrance has leaves pressed between two large panes of glass and I noticed instantly upon entering that I was put at ease. We ordered a la carte rather than kaiseki, and chose the sea urchin, two bites worth of luscious uni served with small sheets of nori and fresh wasabi; chawanmushi, a silky, savory custard with shrimp and gingko nuts, among the best I’ve ever had; a smoked potato salad, made by dressing the potatoes in a smoked soy sauce; one of their specialities—pressed sushi with soy-marinated Canadian salmon (photo below); and snapper chazuke—a pot of rice served with snapper sashimi and little side toppings like shiso, wasabi, tiny cubes of daikon. At the end you pour green tea over your bowls of rice and mix with the leftover chazuke sauce. Each bite at Kyo Ya is a kind of revelation, a testament to chef Chikara Sono’s inventiveness paired with reverence for tradition.
And here’s the uni…
It was a decadent meal in a very understated way, quite a fitting end to my week with Sarah.
312 Graham Ave., Brooklyn
80 Wythe Ave., Brooklyn
94 E. 7th St., East Village