March 8, 2010
It’s a blustery winter night and you’re wandering through the wilderness, surrounded by dark, unfriendly mountains subconsciously hastening your search for a nearby lodge, a warm oasis stocked with food and drink. Now replace the wilderness with the eerie calm of Vinegar Hill; the dark, unfriendly mountains with the Farragut Houses; and the nearby lodge with Vinegar Hill House, a welcoming oasis buzzing with activity amidst a slumbering, industrial Brooklyn neighborhood. The appetite of a hunter comes in handy at Vinegar Hill House where well-intended appetizers mainly fall prey to entrees only a carnivore can love. Cast iron chicken. Red Wattle Pork Chop. And if it’s offered, a 36 ounce rib eye special. It’s all part of a seasonal menu carved around the week’s freshest ingredients. Fitting fare for the site of a former butcher shop. Read on to see why skipping the appetizers is a smart move on more than one level…
Upon entry, a bustling dining room, populated by young 30-somethings trained in the look of the hipster, greets you unceremoniously. If your party is under six people, you don’t have a reservation so alert the hostess to your presence and make room for yourself at the copper-topped bar, mere feet from the massive wood-fired oven. When the time comes you’ll either be led to a nearby table or guided to a steep, narrow staircase in the back of the restaurant, at the bottom of which is a cozy room with a fireplace, unadorned save a painting of John F. Kennedy and a pile of chopped wood. This is where NYC Food Guy found himself with three friends, hungry and warmed by the roaring fire.
Of the four appetizers we ordered, only the Chicken Liver Mousse with Vinegar Onions and Pistachios ($12) offered a totally cohesive dish. Crisp pistachios and delicately toasted, airy bread balance the decadence of the creamy mousse while the sweet cippolini onions help counter the offal-ness of the liver.
The Oven Roasted Octopus with cranberry beans, olives, mâche, and charred lemon ($12) featured perfectly charred octopus whose flavor and texture was overcome by the strength of the charred lemon rinds and crisp olives.
The fact that the creamy collard greens were the most notable ingredient in the Wood Fired Tart with Collard Greens & Pork Belly ($11) tells us how disappointingly bland the pork belly and burnt pastry shell were.
The Shaved Market Salad with clothbound cheddar, pecans and caraway vinaigrette ($10) proved to be a one-note dish, deriving all its flavor from the red onion strewn throughout the pleasingly crunchy salad.
Our disappointment with the inconsistent appetizers was literally squashed by the appearance of our entrees. First, the super juicy Cast Iron Chicken ($16), which embodied a pleasingly tart flavor reminiscent of the best salt and vinegar potato chips. The crisp skin echoed a potato chip crunch when not soaked in the addictive jus, so delicious it rendered unnecessary the flavor of the sweet grilled onions.
The Red Wattle Country Chop ($24) with homemade sauerkraut featured crispy-skinned slices of sometimes tough, sometimes buttery pork sweetly sauced but devoid of the tender, edible fat NYC Food Guy has grown to love (see: Momofuku Pork Belly).
La piece de resistance was the special 36 Oz. Rib Eye for Two ($80) which easily served three, justifying its hefty price tag. Butterflied prior to service, the steak became juicier as it rested. But the bone provided the most delicious bites as we carved off small, charred bits of gristle-laced meat crusted with salt and spicy crushed peppercorn.
The bitter green salad ($8), served as an accompaniment to the Rib Eye, offered disappointingly dull buttermilk dressing watered down by the greens, which had not been dried thoroughly.
Braised kale with ricotta and nutmeg ($8) lacked the flavor and contrast in texture needed to make it stand out.
The salty-sweet contrast of the seasonal salt baked sweet potato with harissa creme fraiche ($8), overshadowed the harissa which lacked the spice I was hoping for.
Pass on dessert as well; the signature Guiness cake ($8) is overpriced considering the boring, dense cake beneath a crown of ordinary cream cheese frosting.
Now that your journey is complete, you understand the need for a focused path to satisfaction. Extraneous appetizers dilute value and valuable stomach space. Make the outdoors-man in you proud at Vinegar Hill House and stick with the pleasing products of the hunt.
Vinegar Hill House72 Hudson Avenue between Front & Water Streets Brooklyn, New York 11201 718-522-1018 Closed Monday Open for Dinner only, Tues. – Sun.