By Spencer Bistricer
I’ve always loved French food, but I sometimes get the feeling that while the cuisines of other cultures have evolved and adapted to our changing world, most French restaurants are still running along the lines of Disney’s Ratatouille. The Elm in Brooklyn changes all that. A collaboration between the famed Paul Liebrant-you may have seen A Matter of Taste: Serving up Paul Liebrandt on HBO-and Mazen Mustafa-recently at Momofuku Ko, The Elm offers a new take on French and European cuisine. Instead of a traditional cassoulet, for example, The Elm has a version made with lobster, filled with fresh ingredients and delicate flavors. And underpinning the whole experience are a range of Asian influences, subtly blended into dishes prepared to the highest standards of classically trained chefs.
My companion and I began with the steak tartare, one of my favorite dishes and something more people should be willing to try. At its worst, steak tartare can be bland and heavy. Here at The Elm it is as it should be: light and delicately spiced. I particularly liked the addition of olives, while the cornichons delivered a pleasing crunchiness that contrasted nicely with the texture of steak. We sampled three more dishes from the main dinner menu. The “Fish and Chips” deserved the quotes they give it on the menu. This was not your ordinary fish and chips. Instead, it comes accompanied by crisp vegetable fries and a tangy Indian lime pickle that manages not to overwhelm the dish. Next, the cauliflower for two made me forget how much I used to hate the vegetable as a kid. We then shared the pork belly, one of the three dishes on the menu intended for two people. I loved the way that the chef used cabbage and apple, giving the dish a lightness and freshness that left us eager to order a second helping.
Tempting though this was, I am glad we restrained ourselves. The dessert menu is eclectic but enticing. I went for the roasted white chocolate, and my friend raved about the buttermilk pannacota. Overall, this was a great meal, the sort of original food that you can talk about for weeks afterwards. In fact, it was so good, I almost forgot to mention the great modern interior-every inch Williamsburg chic-and the attentive and efficient service. Yes, it’s not exactly cheap and not the sort of place to go to carbo-load before the marathon. But the Elm is a gem that is worth every penny, and a dining experience you won’t easily forget.
160 N 12th St.
Brooklyn, NY 11249