Dinner Date in Brooklyn Runs $300 at Gwynnett St.: Review

Justin Hilbert and Mark Owen
Chefs Justin Hilbert and Mark Owen outside Gwynnett St. in East Williamsburg. The restaurant charges $115 for a wine-paired tasting menu. Photographer: Philip Lewis/Bloomberg

Gwynnett St. is an ambitious, sometimes forward-thinking restaurant turning paprika into streusel and pistachios into tofu.

It’s where a $115 wine-paired tasting menu will end up costing you and your date $296 after tax and tip.

Yet it’s in East Williamsburg, down the block from a 99 cent store.

Brooklyn fine-dining has become as expensive as Manhattan dining. Get used to it.

Luxury rarely comes cheap. Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare is in a supermarket annex; Blanca is in a converted garage. Dinner for two often exceeds $650.

So I suppose Gwynnett St. represents an affordable option to a privileged cohort. The eight-course tasting, which draws from cheaper a la carte selections ($5-$30), is $85 before wine, tax, tip and bread. Bread is a $5 supplement.

Don’t expect foie gras, truffles, caviar -- or for the moment, Kobe beef.

Roe Speckles

Of six available appetizers, four are vegetarian.

The two outliers contain a modicum of seafood protein, a luscious gem lettuce soup ($11) with speckles of trout roe, and cubes of watermelon ($12), garnished with gossamer slices of cured fluke. The fish isn’t so much the main event as a salty seasoning for the sweet fruit.

Michael White might use lardo, but this is Gwynnett St., where there’s no pork or beef (at the moment).

And that’s just fine by me. Chef Justin Hilbert makes vegetables brilliant with expert cooking and modernist platings. And don’t worry: there’s enough chicken, lamb and duck entrees to sate carnivorous inclinations.

I recommend the bean curd (made without bean curd). Hilbert takes pureed pistachio and jiggles it up with gellan gum and kuzu starch. The result is a nutty, creamy, elegant “tofu.”

If this all seems like a cross between the chemistry experiment that is WD-50 crossed with the locavore temple that is Blue Hill, you’re correct, because Hilbert worked for the former and sous-chef Owen Clark worked at both.

Whiskey Bread

The room is simple: brown woods and bar stools with backs. It looks like a pub and sometimes eats like a pub; that $5 bread is spiked with whiskey. It’s dense, nearly as sweet as corn bread and stings of spirit.

The cocktails are well-balanced -- just a whisper of almond in the Rye-Tai (a riff on the Mai-Tai), a hint of peaches in the whiskey sour.

Champagne? It starts at $30 by the half bottle (about time we caught a break here). And easy breezy Lambrusco is $7 the glass.

Carrots ($14) are sweet enough to qualify as dessert, which is perhaps why Hilbert pairs them with a savory dehydrated carrot cake spiked with cumin.

The root vegetables -- some pickled with coriander, others glazed and still others infused into a yogurt -- suffuse the restaurant with a heady perfume.

Ask for the summer beans ($12) on your tasting; the kitchen takes requests. Gwynnett tosses haricots verts with smoky bits of paprika streusel.

Lobster mushrooms don’t taste like lobster. To be fair, they’re not supposed to, but I’m reasonably certain these guys possess the culinary whiz-bangery to make that happen. No matter. The earthy fungi sit atop a hash of sweet corn, sweeter husk cherries, tomatoes and a light corn puree. Love it.

Oddball Combos

Crispy-skinned dorade ($27) collapses in the mouth with the ashen ease of a toasted marshmallow, while monkfish ($28), the poor man’s lobster, actually tastes like lobster.

Roast duck brined in peach pits and paired with peaches, faro, chanterelles and pecans is even better than it sounds. Lamb is fussy and complex in the best possible way: tender loin, crispy belly, red pepper juice and aubergine in various incarnations (smoked eggplant puree, grilled fairytale eggplant and charred japanese eggplant).

Finish with the raspberry dessert, a loose salad of berry mousse, beet meringue and minty shiso. It would make Paul Liebrandt, the brilliant master of oddball combos, quite proud.

Let’s just hope Gwynnett raises the tasting to $90 and tosses in the bread. No one wants to be nickel and dimed at these prices. It’s not a 99 cent store, after all.

Rating: ***

The Bloomberg Questions

Price: Mains at $30 or less; tasting at $85.

Sound Level: Around 70-75, about average.

Date Place: Worked for me.

Inside Tip: Skip the wine pairings; order cocktails.

Special Feature: Try roast chicken marinated in oil made from roasted garlic and burnt hay ($22).

Back on My Own Dime: Especially for the tasting.

Gwynnett St. is at 312 Graham Avenue. Information: +1-347-889-7002; http://www.gwynnettst.com.

What the Stars Mean:

****         Incomparable food, service, ambience.
***          First-class of its kind.
**           Good, reliable.
*            Fair.
(No stars)   Poor

Sound-Level (in decibels): 51 to 55: Quiet enough to converse. 56 to 60: Speak up. 61 to 65: Lean in if you want to hear your date. 66 to 70: You’re reading one another’s lips. 71 to 75: You’re yelling. 76 to 85: Ear-splitting din.

(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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