Colonie opened in February 2011 and was the first restaurant project in New York City to be helped along by donations collected through kickstarter.com -- an innovative fundraising vehicle, and an even more clever marketing tool for these first-time restaurateurs. The locale uses the Dutch spelling of colony, and even Brooklyn ('Bruijkleen'), and is a celebration of New York: the menu is a collection of American dishes with a wink to NYC's history as New Amsterdam. As with most any restaurant that opens in New York City, the owners went through their trials and tribulations, but Elise, Emelie, and Tamer (they all met working together on the management team at Public) have managed to pull off a cozy restaurant and bar that's new for the neighborhood, where there was a dearth of great dining spots. But it also feels like it belongs, like it's been there for years.
So, let's get to the food, the creations of chef Brad McDonald.
The menu focuses on locally-grown produce and proteins where it can. It's seasonal, in step with local culinary trends. And it's certainly casual, what with an open kitchen that offers bar stool seating where you can converse with the line cook plating your dish, and get recommendations on the chef's favorites, on specials of the day, whatever. It's laid back and interactive and low-key. Of course, there's also more traditional table seating in the dining room, chunky natural wood tables and benches that encourages casual interaction among diners. The food that arrives in front of you, however, is accomplished -- and delicious.
Yes, waiting time here can be an issue. But the time passes quickly when you're sipping refreshing cocktails and a delicious, springy fried baby artichoke appetizer with an herb-laden aioli for dipping. A cheese plate also helped to curb our appetites (and create a food base for our second cocktails...). Once seated at the rear bar, overlooking the operations of the kitchen, we started with the rabbit and foie gras terrine with a port reduction, which felt both suited to the rustic-farmhouse/industrial-chic dining room, and just right with a bit of nip still in the air.
I also couldn't resist ordering the beet salad. Does every American and French restaurant in the five boroughs of New York City feature some form of beet appetizer or salad? Indeed. And while this beet salad -- here served with horseradish syrup, violet mustard, and sorrel -- was not the most memorable I've had, it was tasty and tangy and earthy, and certainly looked beautiful on the plate, painterly strokes of gorgeous magenta covering the bottom of the bowl.
I also indulged in a delicious bowl of salsify soup, here given the Middle Eastern treatment with a 'shmear' of tahini, crispy fried eggplant balls, and the added zip of meyer lemon. It was truly lick-your-bowl-clean scrumptious. We then moved on to a couple of main courses.
This included a new arrival. The latest fish dish was a sea bass, I believe, the night we were there, which has since been replaced by tilefish. The preparation remains the same, however, as it is on the current menu: the fillet is seared and served over roasted potatoes and dressed with an herb-walnut pesto. This was flavorful and light, beautifully executed fish cooking at work.
The pork chop was a heavier undertaking, with caramelized onions and turnips still representing the comfort food of an admittedly mild winter. The sauce was sweet and savory with a touch of mustard and wine -- perfect for sopping up with a bit of bread.
To close out the meal, my friends decided on the doughnuts with a salty caramel custard. I, however, took a slightly more savory route, and went for a final cheese course, a nicely veined blue cheese with fig marmalade and sliced green apple, accompanied by a glass of ruby port. How very European of me, no? And not a bad way to end a thoroughly enjoyable meal. We stepped out into the night and breathed in the air of this once-Dutch colony by the water. I peered inside and viewed the patrons still tippling at the bar. This, I thought, this is what it means to be a neighborhood spot. I'll be back again, with the hopes of colonizing a bar stool, for many languorous hours.
127 Atlantic Avenue (Bklyn Heights)
Brooklyn, NY 11201