This review of a New York restaurant is a break from The Picky Glutton’s usual London-based coverage.
St Anslem is slightly unusual due to a combination of both its menu and location. Almost every savoury dish at this dimly-lit Brooklyn restaurant is grilled on a large gas-fired appliance, from meat and vegetables to seafood. It’s a full-service restaurant and bar with lots of dark wood panelling and exposed brick walls, but it all looks slightly out of place located as it is on a gritty road that could double as a crime scene on The Wire.
Although there were plenty of tables and seats at the bar on my weekday evening visit, I opted to sit at the counter with its almost unobsctructed view of the kitchen and the aforementioned grill. The flirtatious service was both charming and efficient. Although I should’ve tried out one of the large slabs of meat or fish, I wasn’t in the mood for a hefty helping of flesh after my meat overdose at Hill Country. I therefore decided to pick and choose from the selection of small tapas-sized dishes designed for sharing.
I started off with the grilled cockle clams. The small clams had become very soft as a result of the grilling, losing their firm texture but the taste of the garlic butter they had been cooked in made up for this to a certain extent.
The tomato and burrata salad is oddly named since there aren’t any other vegetables. It’s still a tasty dish though. The grilled half-tomato is sweet and juicy with added character from the shavings of basil sprinkled over the top. Its sweetness provides a nice contrast to the warm burrata with its firm milky exterior and creamy, soft interior which tastes distinctly of mozzarella.
Given the apparent ubiquity of tinned sardines, I’ve always wondered why fresh sardines aren’t served and eaten more often. Judging from the grilled sardines served at St Anslem, it’s because of the whisker-thin bones which you will inevitably swallow whether you like it or not. Aside from that annoyance, the soft, salty flesh went nicely with the firm, subtly tart pickled lotus root.
Another seafood dish was the grilled octopus. The soft tentacles would have tasted a bit anonymous if it wasn’t for the dressing which managed to be both spicy and zesty, but not overpoweringly so.
If I had finished my meal here, I would have concluded that the food at St Anslem was satisfactory, but unmemorable. I didn’t though and I’m glad for it. The highlight of the evening turned out to be the eggplant trio. This chargrilled threesome actually consisted of courgette and aubergine slices along with figs, all of which were juicy, smoky and incredibly flavoursome despite their blackened appearance. The sweet chutney, reminscient of durian, was an inspired accompaniment to the smoky vegetables and fruit. The breaded goat’s cheese patty, while tasty in its own right, felt tacked on though.
Following the eggplant trio was always going to be tough, but the dessert rose to the challenge ably enough. Bread and butter pudding may not sound terribly exciting (I can already hear the Euro Hedgie, the resident dessert snob, scoffing in disdain), but it’s the best version of this classic comfort dish that I’ve tasted yet. The crisp crust gives way to a creamy, fluffy interior that tastes of pears. The whole thing is drizzled with nutella and a raspberry sauce. Even if it wasn’t for the actual raspberries thrown in for good measure, the raspberry sauce somehow successfully captures the tart taste of the berries and their coarse, dimpled surface texture. It all comes together very nicely.
My dinner at St Anslem proved to be one of two halves. The first half up until the eggplant trio was nice but unmemorable. The eggplant trio and the dessert on the otherhand were superb and will linger in my memory for sometime to come. I wish I had had the time to visit St Anslem again to see sample their other dishes, including their meaty mains, but I’ll give St Anslem the benefit of the doubt with a four star rating.
Name: St Anselm
Address: 355 Metropolitan Ave., Brooklyn, New York, NY 11211
Phone: 718 384 5054
Opening Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 17.00-23.00; Friday-Saturday, 17.00-midnight
Reservations: probably a good idea.
Total cost for one person including soft drink but excluding tip: $70 approx. (approx. £44 at time of writing)