Brooklyn Girls Night: Ici

Food, good conversation and Brooklyn. These are without a doubt three of my favorite things. And now, thanks to Brooklyn Girls Night, a culinary club of sorts my friend Judith and I created with some fellow food-obsessed friends, I can enjoy them all at the same time.

For our first outing this past spring, we celebrated our common love for Italian food at Tempo in Park Slope, followed a month later by a gluttonous meal (where we ordered the entire menu) at Superfine in Dumbo. Yesterday, at our third gathering, we ventured to Fort Greene, a charming neighborhood with brownstone-lined blocks and a bustling restaurant row. It was there that we discovered Ici, a cozy spot whose menu boasted fresh, local and seasonal foods (three more of my favorite things).

Unfortunately, our group which usually includes five Brooklyn regulars, and a few Manhattanites, was only three strong for this particular outing. Rather than try to find a different time that would work for the bunch of overbooked twentysomethings that we are, Judith, Lucy and I shared a mellower, yet just as lovely Brooklyn Girls Night together.

I'd heard great things about Ici over the years, so I wasn't worried when I walked into the restaurant and saw just one diner finishing up his dessert in a corner nook. I quickly learned that all the action was in the serene backyard garden, and luckily there was one table left.

We promptly put in an order for some glasses of white wine, then studied the menu before selecting two appetizers -- Montauk squid and an arugula salad with grana padano, fennel and button mushrooms -- to start. Both were big hits, but the Montauk squid won me over. I loved its combination of spicy paprika oil and chopped cilantro. Each bite delivered a nice burst of heat, quickly cooled off by one of my all-time favorite herbs.

For entrees, instinct told me to go with the sauteed wild bass with a samba salsa, but since Lucy and Judith had both ordered that, I chose the bluefish instead. When I saw the wild bass, swathed in a sunny sauce of softly cooked summer fruits, I knew I should have gone with my gut. Light yet meaty and sweetened by the salsa's slices of peach and mango, it was the perfect dish for this particularly sticky evening.

My pan fried bluefish came buried under a messy mound of watercress. Once I ate my way through some of the tangled greens, I was happy to discover a crispy filet, livened up by a tangy pico de gallo. While it was almost as good as the wild bass, it would have been much easier to eat (not to mention more pleasing to the eye) had it come nestled on top of the watercress, not hidden underneath. A bigger scoop of pico de gallo would have been good too.

Despite being fairly full from our first two courses, we still managed to save some room for dessert. We easily agreed on the pound cake, something I've been craving ever since sampling one with a rhubarb compote at last month's outing to Superfine, and after hearing the table next to us rejoice over a slice of date cake (I was surprised too), we ordered one of those as well.

This time, I'm glad I didn't listen to my instinct since the date cake, moist with a light crumb and decorated with a delicious drizzle of sticky toffee sauce, was scrumptious. As for the pound cake, it's hard to go wrong with anything that consists mainly of butter, sugar, flour and eggs, so it hit the spot as well. I enjoyed taking back and forth bites of each, and found that the pound cake's nice sprinkling of summer berries tasted especially good when paired with a swipe of sweet toffee sauce.

Lingering over another successful Brooklyn Girls Night in Ici's dimly lit garden, we talked about Judith's upcoming nuptials, what we each believed makes a marriage work, the ever growing price of real estate in our beloved borough, my obsession with all things sweet and why sherry (served at Ici with a hunk of high-quality chocolate) reminded us of our grandmothers. I felt proud of Brooklyn and its fabulous taste in food, but more importantly, I felt lucky. To live in a place full of good food is one thing. To have incredible people to share it with is even better.

246 Dekalkb Avenue

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