My friends Matt and Phaedra are getting married in May, and the reception dinner will be held at Stone Park Cafe, here in Park Slope. I recently joined them (along with Phae’s mom) on a trip over there to discuss the details of the wedding with the owners, both named Josh. Afterwards we ended up staying for dinner. I had never eaten there before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. We definitely got something of the VIP treatment because of the upcoming wedding, but even so I think we got a really good gauge on the restaurant. Stone Park Cafe is turning out some of the best, most thoughtful and delicious food being served in Brooklyn today.
Stone Park Cafe has what I consider the optimal environment for fine dining — formal and yet relaxed (<a href="http://www.babbonyc.com"Babbo having mastered this atmosphere). This is evident in every aspect of the restaurant. The service (though stretched a little thin that night) was just this side of casual; the walls are decorated with ink-prints of fish caught in nearby waters; the food is refined and yet playful (witness Matt’s “knuckle sandwich” appetizer pictured above, a sandwich of lobster knuckles); and even the music. In fact, during our dinner they played the new Neko Case album in its entirety, which endeared it to me all the more. And if that were not enough, they have Efes beer on draught. I first encountered Efes while in Turkey (fitting, as it’s a Turkish beer), and have been searching in vain for it here in NYC ever since (if you know where I can purchase it, btw, let me know). Efes is a great beer both for drinking on its own and for drinking with food.
I started with an appetizer of butternut squash soup, complete with a tiny ravioli and creme fraiche. It was rich and creamy without being overly sweet, a problem I’ve encountered at lesser restaurants. The bowl was just the right size, though they were also willing to split it into two portions for Phae and her mom.
Next came an example of our VIP treatment: the kitchen sent out an extra course for us, and this was actually my favorite of the night. Meant to be a little preview of spring, delicate little ricotta gnocchi were perched on a puree of fava beans and topped with some mushrooms and tiny grilled asparagus. The gnocchi were light and surprisingly lemony, which matched well with the earthy mushrooms and the vibrant green puree. Nothing exemplifies great seasonal cooking better than this dish.
My entree was actually an appetizer — pasta with black trumpet mushrooms. Our server asked if I wanted it entree sized, which I agreed to. If I had known about the extra course I would have stayed with the appetizer size, as I ended up not being able to finish this. Who am I kidding, if this had been better I would have finished it anyway. This was the only real letdown of my meal, for two reasons. Although the texture of the pasta and the mushrooms was great, the mushrooms weren’t cleaned properly and they came out gritty. In addition, the dish was a little TOO straightforward. I’m all for simple cooking, but this needed a little something extra, either a splash of acidity or some herb to brighten it up. It was fine, but it didn’t live up to the rest of the meal.
At this point we were all loosening out belts, and muttering that we couldn’t eat another bite. Then our server dropped off the dessert menu. The consensus seemed to be that although none of us could possibly eat another bite, we kind of HAD to sample desserts, it was a matter of research. We ordered two to share: chocolate brioche pudding and flourless almond cake.
I have declared my love for bread pudding on the blog before, but this was more chocolate than brioche. That’s not a bad thing, mind you; the chocolate was rich and not too sweet, and matched well with the caramel ice cream served along with it.
The flourless almond cake was not as good. It was served at room temperature, and I think it would have been better slightly warmed. I also think the flavored whipped cream could have been replaced with ice cream, though the fruit compote on the side matched well with the cake. Good, not great.
What was great, however, were the small complimentary glasses of Riesling ice wine we received at the end our meal. I’ve been hoping to try ice wine for a long time, though the price was always prohibitive. Sweet and syrupy, the wine was the perfect end to the meal.
Stone Park Cafe (which received a much-deserved 2-star review from Frank Bruni) is not as well-known as neighborhood fixture Al Di La, but I had a much better meal and experience at Stone Park. Sure we got some special treatment, but I get the impression (especially after having met the owners) that they take both the food and the customer service aspect of the restaurant very seriously. It’s a great “special occasion” restaurant, and if you celebrate there I’m confident that you’ll leave feeling like you got the VIP treatment as well.
Stone Park Cafe — 324 5th Ave., Brooklyn