The signage for the brand-new Wythe Hotel lights up Williamsburg in a shade of red that evokes Kenny Rogers Roasters.
If you’re not from New York, it probably will be your point of entry into Brooklyn. Reynards, the ground-floor restaurant, may be your first culinary experience in King’s County.
Dinner might begin with guinea hen, the leg braised into musky tenderness and paired with a puree of peas sweet as whipped cream. That’s on a good night.
Another time, you might encounter an unremarkable duck leg with chanterelles, a bland and chewy beef tartare ($15) or a one-note gazpacho ($8) that delivers, in order of appearance, vinegar, acid and heartburn. Canteloupe and feta salad? It’s fine, it’s forgettable.
This isn’t enough reason to cross the East River (or even leave another part of Brooklyn). It’s safe for tourists in search of deviled eggs minus any weird beef hearts or tripe to scare away the innocent masses.
That’s another way of saying Reynards will be somewhat of a disappointment after a $20 cab ride from Manhattan. More ambitious, adventurous fare can be had at Billyburg spots like Brooklyn Star and Gwynnett St.
Reynards captures all of Wythe Avenue’s quirky glory, with reclaimed wood ceilings to attract the natives. Here are women in long pants and men in short shorts. There might be fiddle music playing unobtrusively in the background. Still, one expects a certain amount of comfort. The seats lack cushions and the bar stools offer no back support.
Beverage director Lee Campbell has put together a lovely list of mostly French, off-the-beaten-path wines that range from approachable (a crisp, $11 Thierry Puzelat from the Loire), to adventurous (a $14 Franck Peillot sparkling rose with plenty of fruit and yeast).
One can drink either of these with a pork pate ($10) that tastes like any other served anywhere in the city.
Champagne selections start at $78 and then jump to $110. That’s not too shabby considering that $90 is often the starting point for proper bubbly around town.
Begin with seafood toast, a briny, metallic mix of clams and mussels over garlicky aioli. Or put in for rock shrimp panzanella ($15), perfumed with brown butter. That maritime salad incorrectly comes with blackberries, which you can send back to the kitchen when you’re done.
New Yorkers jaded by the inevitable $125 ribeye or $52 strip steak will find solace at Reynards, where there wasn’t a single steak on the menu on two of my three visits (a $29 sirloin might appear from time to time). Beef eaters can make do with the $16 burger, a French onion soup slider of sorts with assertively salty gruyere and a sweet pile of onion.
Reynards finds the time and money to print out its menus on a daily basis, but can’t manage to update those offerings on its website. So call ahead for individual items, as they change significantly from day to day.
Order the duck breast whenever it appears, as the kitchen knows how to render out the fat and keep the gaminess in check.
A Nicoise salad ($23) has too much fennel, but the softness of olive-oil poached tuna exacts immediate forgiveness. And grilled bluefish, with its clean oils, reminds us how much we loved this local denizen before mackerel started flooding our menus.
The grilled pork chop is the game-changing entree. Expect a medium-rare cut, paired with smoky corn, hot blueberries and a slick of tangy ricottas. Finish with luscious olive oil cake and peaches.
Rating: * 1/2
The Bloomberg Questions
Price: Most dishes under $25.
Sound Level: Average, around 70-75 decibels.
Date Place: Not at the bar, where your back will ache.
Inside Tip: Excellent burger.
Special Feature: The Wythe’s rooftop bar has great views.
Back on My Own Dime: Nah.
Reynards is at 80 Wythe Avenue, near North 11th Street, Williamsburg. Information: +1-718-460-8000; http://www.wythehotel.com.
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience. *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor
(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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