Family-style French food in Ft. Greene
Ever since I started this blog, I've gone on and on about Brooklyn. I've lived here for seven years and still, the borough makes me weak in the knees. Last night, my love grew even stronger thanks to a birthday dinner for my friend Margherita at L'Epicerie du Quartier in Ft. Greene. By day, it's a gourmet grocery serving local produce, cheese and prepared foods such as quiche and roast chicken. On Saturdays and special occasions, it becomes a restaurant where groups gather for family-style, French meals.
Margherita and her husband Dante reserved the restaurant for 20 close friends. Together they worked on a seasonal menu with the owner/chef Jean-Baptiste, a French-American who has worked and lived in the neighborhood for years. For those of you familiar with Ft. Greene, he used to own A Table, a lovely French restaurant that closed (to the dismay of many locals), three years ago.
With L'Epicerie, Jean-Baptiste, or JB as many people call him, is able to once again run a restaurant. But this time around, he's able to get home each night to hang with his kids. He's a laid-back guy, and like many Brooklyn chefs, his eyes twinkle when he talks about things like farmers markets and fresh produce. I fell in love with his oldest son Etienne, a 10-year old food lover who requested foie gras for his last birthday party and recently fell in love with white truffle oil. On winter break from school, he was on hand last night to help his Dad.
We all arrived at 8:30, bearing bottles and bottles and wine (conveniently, L'Epicerie is BYOB) and mingled for a little while before sitting down at two farmhouse tables for our communal meal. JB explained that he had tweaked the original menu slightly based on his findings at the farmers market that day: bright, crunchy green beans instead of yellowish Brussels sprouts and zingy fennel in place of some sub-par arugula. He talked excitedly about the meal we were about to enjoy and I was happy to hear that everything was local, seasonal and as fresh as could be.
Since I'd forgotten my camera, I at first assumed I wouldn't be able to write about L'Epicerie. But as the night went on, I knew I had to say something. Not to mention that some of my friends are still waiting to get their very first shout-outs (Hi Sunetra!) while others (I'm talking to you, Turck!) can't help but ask whenever we eat together if this meal will be featured on my blog (which he insists on calling Little Miss Piggy). I couldn't let them down and it'd be silly to not tell all of you about L'Epicerie. Just accept my apologies in advance for all the blurry cell phone photos. It's the best I could do!
Our meal began with a butternut squash soup, topped with a few dollops of homemade pesto, served in mini crock pots. Unfortunately, I didn't get a photo, but believe me when I say it was very, very good.
Next came a fennel salad with sliced grapefruit, shaved Parmesan and toasted pine nuts. It was a light and refreshing combination and made me realize that I need to start putting more citrus in my own homemade salads.
For the main meal, our two tables were topped with white ceramic serving dishes. One was overflowing with green beans and another was full of grass-fed hanger steak with caramelized onions and a rich beef broth.
While we each dished up a hearty helping, Jean-Baptiste served everyone potato gratin squares from a huge pan. Rich and gooey thanks to gruyere cheese, they, and the rest of the meal, reminded me of the food I grew to love while living with my French host family.
Sitting with so many of my close friends, I felt like we were our own big, crazy family. Bottles of wine flowed all night long and more than a few people stood up to give a loving speech. I guess good food and drink brings out the sap in all of us!
Because we had the place all to ourselves, we could laugh loudly, shout and have seconds and thirds of all the good food, which of course, we did.
And we all made sure to save room for dessert, one of the most decadent chocolate cakes I have ever eaten. Rich and very sweet, each slice was a serious slab of chocolate that was best eaten slowly.
If you live in NY, I highly recommend a visit to L'Epicerie, especially this time of year. There couldn't be a better place to escape the cold and treat yourself to a local meal chock full of seasonal ingredients. For a group of old friends who love to eat, it was a picture perfect evening (with a lunar eclipse to boot!). Thanks again to Marg and Dante for such a fun night!
L'Epicerie du Quartier
270 Vanderbilt Avenue