Crafty Kegstands at Luksus
Chef Daniel Burns plating, or should I say bowling?
"Is that mayonnaise?" The question came tumbling out of my friend's mouth before I could stop it. His eyes affixed to a giant tub of whipped something or other. I'll give him this, it did look slightly mysterious, and there was a lot of it, but I could have come up with a handful of other options that were more reasonable when one is sitting at the bar of an upscale new restaurant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
What first grabbed me about Luksus, a small dinner spot inside a larger craft beer bar called Tørst, was that it's tasting menu was paired with beer. My beer buying days began in college, with Miller Genuine Draft. I can recall the slender glass bottle, pale golden hue and light hoppy taste with ease. I slowly graduated to ESB, a much hoppier beer that I stuck to for many years. From ESB I went on to discover Anchor Steam and Poppy Jasper, which is still a favorite of mine even though I can't find it on the east coast. My beer consumption is still much lower than wine, but after a week of cycling on the Oregon coast, and a week of drinking only beer, I was eager to see what the new world of hops looked like.
Like riding shotgun, the ideal spot in the house is to be seated at the small bar in front of chef Daniel Burns. There are a row of tables against a back wall. Sit there if you must. Burns, previously the dessert chef at Noma, as well as short stints in the Momofuko kingdom, Fat Duck and more, is a fun chef to chat, to watch and to dine with. He answered dozens of questions we threw at him and even showed off the aprons and bread holder he designed himself. (Our reservation was early, so don't expect the same luxury if you're there any later than 6:30 p.m.)
Chunky tomato dip and roasted cippolini onions
Before the tasting menu started there were a few leaps and twirls Burns calls snacks. A wonderfully uber tomato dip, that evoked the strong edge of a romesco sauce, was served with a side of fried cippolini onions. This dish almost begged to be picked up with my fingers, but there's a fork and spoon should you opt for the more oh-wait-I'm-in-public route. Next came a small circle of bright green cabbage topped with a chicken oyster. This brought forth another question: "What's that?" and "Huh?" The oyster, we were told, is the neglected backside of a chicken. The dark meat was firm, like a thigh, and, because they are muscles, you can feel healthy, like you're actually eating an oyster. The crunch of the cabbage brought to mind a jicama taco I had once––that I loved, but the beauty of this snack was the elegant simplicity of just a few ingredients. That Burns didn't feel the need to bury it under additional sauce showcased his ability to edit. (Disclosure: had I been at home I'm sure I would have squeezed Sriracha on it.)
Glazed chicken oysters atop a perfect frisbee of cabbage.
A lobster and seaweed cracker was mildly underwhelming, not wow enough to want again, but just okay in its discreet tastes. The final snack, rock shrimp and rye, was near perfect. The sheered bits of rye, so thin you could see through them, were set atop delicate plump shrimp, and balanced there, like they were the mouse sized version of stonehenge. The only flaw, the small size made it hard to be blown away.
Rock shrimp and rye bits on a plate I wanted to steal, but didn't.
Mackerel with whey vinaigrette, cucumber spheres and dill.
The first real course came with various slices and dollops of eye candy. The mackerel held none of the usual fishy overtones it often has. The taste was simple and clean, like it came from a perfect ocean far far away. Wedges of crispiness were angled here and there, along with circles of sauce, cucumber spheres and a whey vinaigrette. I admired the dish, and appreciated the components, but the few scant circles were too small for me to pick up on and the ocean like vinaigrette sloshed around a bit, perhaps missing it's mark. It wasn't a salad and it wasn't a crudo. What was it?
Squash with turnip, maitake mushrooms and chestnuts.
Next, a brothy soup-like concoction, was light and delicate, with slivers of vegetables set in a small little mound. Our waitress came by to pour in squash broth from a tiny little French press, a little cooking slight of hand. The flavors, earthy and vegetal, allowed the diner to pause, like a midway amuse bouche.
Bread made in house along with slow-churned butter and a palette knife that would also look good in a tool belt.
Delivered in a heavy cotton sack with a weighted bottom, the homemade bread, hearty biscotti-shaped pieces of rye, was another example of ways not to overburden a diner. No fluffy rolls, no five kinds of breads, just the one thank you. The ingenious sacks, also designed by Burns, seemed a fitting compliment to the hefty palette knife balanced on a ramekin of whipped butter. Is it too obvious I liked this place? Perhaps.
Westbrook Brewing's Gose, a traditional German-style sour wheat beer brewed with coriander and salt,
is weirdly delicious.
Duck, duck hearts and beets three ways.
As I watched the sous chef salting a line of duck hearts in front of me, I thought, well, there's something I don't eat every day. I added it to the list of rarities I had that night: parsnip mouse, chicken oysters, whey vinaigrette, and beers that tasted like beer from another planet. The duck hearts were served along with a generous slice of duck breast, salted and grilled to perfection, and beet sauce, roasted and dehydrated beets, and raw beets. Excuse my art history nerd coming out, but like a Gauguin painting or a Matisse, the purple-hued plate, with a blue flower background, was also beautiful to look at.
Parsnip mouse rolled in cocoa, apple ice cream and a crystalline piece of sugar.
When dessert arrived I was thankful that there wasn't the usual overdose of chocolate. Burns showed off a bit, fashioning a light yogurty mouse out of parsnip, a usually heavy flavored vegetable that I have yet to master. The bill, never fun to receive when you're paying, came with honeycomb shaped bonbons coated in chocolate, Burns had mentioned them to us earlier, a little easter egg surprise for his guests. It was at the end of the meal that I realized that each dish had the presence of mind of a dessert-like finale: subtle, sweet, and savory. Each dish a dish you could end on.
If you take in the multitude of perfect details at Luksus (colored pots hanging just so, apron neck ties that are made of leather, mix and match plates that seem to be borrowed from the grandmother's of Greenpoint and beers you'll never see on a supermarket shelf), you will realize that Burns is well-suited for the job of chef, and even more so, as the head of his own restaurant.
And that giant tub? It was filled with butter.