The neighborhoody shotgun room crowded with regulars, was named for the designer of nearby Prospect Park. And given chef Baxtrom’s background for having worked under Grant Achatz, Thomas Keller and Dan Barber, it’s no surprise that he wanted somewhere to cultivate at least a few of his modern American, veg-forward, seasonal ingredients – even if it meant standing up to his frown-browed neighbors at the prospect of raising herbs, flowers, quail and crawfish on his suburban premises.
There are only 12 items on the neatly folded menu that range from $7 – $24. In my experience, there are two reasons for such limited options: it can either mean a cramped kitchen with no room to accommodate a broader selection, or that a fastidious chef has clipped, filtered and trimmed the variety of dishes down to only offering standout stars. Olmsted is combination of both. The three line chefs can practically reach every pot, pan and plate without taking a single step, and by cooking every item in batches of 4, many of the plates were prepared in anticipation of us ordering them. If I were to do it over, I would simply order one of everything ($194 total, which can easily feed 6) to solve the debate of what to order, and the food would arrive almost immediately. Don’t let the super-attentive service fool you – it’s all about the food. I’ve never eaten hand-made shrimp chips before. Normally they come dehydrated in a cellophane-wrapped box before curling and stretching out in hot oil, tripling their original size and tasting a whole lot more like UPS packaging than actual shellfish. But these chicharone-like Crawfish boil crackers, poking out of a newspaper basket were a very tasty tribute to those lethargic crustaceans sharing a bathtub with some goldfish out on the patio outside. Next to arrive were four Non-Fjordic oysters, flavored with tiny pickled beets, some horse-radish cream, a few salmon roe and a fluff of dill set atop a bowl of pink, diced ice. The briny, vinegary, salty, anisey combination is a solid hit. A mere wipe of the napkin later, a wooden bowl of Beer battered Delicata squash replaced the empty oyster shells. The short stack of yummy donut-ringed vegies are wrapped in a light, ketchup-flavored batter and crusted in crunchy herbs, crispy rice and salty splinters of nori.
Probably the most requested dish (and therefore the only menu perennial) is a Carrot Crepe. Made from, with (and possibly by) carrots, it’s a wonderful example of transformative cooking. Adding to the heavenly combination of 3 different carrot textures, little neck clams provide some salty chewiness, roasted sunflower seeds (home-grown) yield some crunch, and a few daisy petals finish off a totally Instagrammable package.
Whenever I think of rutabaga I imagine a thick, turnippy, cabbagy alternative to mashed potatoes. Never would I have expected this shy bulb to grab the spotlight as the most delicious ribbons of soft and crunchy Tagliatelle, flavored with Burgundy black truffle breadcrumbs, brown butter and melted Parmesan.
But that was hardly the end of the story. The street cart inspired Gai Tod Hat Yai (Deep fried Thai Chicken) is served two ways: as expected in tightly battered and fried strips before being dunked in the most delectable ginger glaze, and an unexpected confit, tossed in a cabbage, carrot and raw turnip slaw with crunchy fried shallots and a superb fish-sauce and lime dressing.But how can I ever look a plain yogurt in the eye again after knowing that it can be topped with a meringue-like foam made entirely from whipping honey and water? Despite the sub-freezing temperatures outside, this magical concoction found its way onto every table (sometimes twice) which fully deserves a slot in the next time capsule.
So, don’t feel intimidated to veer coyly away from the island in search of great food – run!