Roberta’s, Brooklyn, NY

January 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

Roberta's (Photo: Adam Kuban)

Roberta’s, about a ten minute walk from my apartment, was always my go-to neighborhood spot when I lived in Brooklyn. It’s really one of the only decent places you can go without taking the subway plus it has the added bonus of being close to the Narrows (the only place in the neighborhood that serves up a serious cocktail). No doubt you’ve heard a thousand wonderful things about Roberta’s from the NY Times, GQ, and any food critic that matters.

The thing is, I love Roberta’s. But I don’t agree with the critics. I will defend Roberta’s as having one of the city’s best brunches. Their pancakes are irreproachable, the pork jowl with poached egg and polenta is more than noteworthy, and the fried chicken is my favorite in NYC.

Pork Jowl, Poached Egg, Polenta (Photo: star5112)

I will even defend their pizza. This wasn’t true for a long time. Their pizza has always been decent but expensive and not nearly on the level of places like Motorino. The last time I ate there, when I still lived in Brooklyn, I had the Beastmaster and was shocked to find Roberta’s pizza, suddenly on par with pretty much anywhere in NY. On my return this winter I shared the Duck Hunt (pawlet, duck prosciutto, sweet potato, leek, onion, chili flake, black pepper) with a couple of friends. While I still prefer Motorino, there is no denying this is an impeccable pizza.

Beastmaster (Photo: roboppy)

But at that time, and to this day, I will not defend their other dinner options. Let me rephrase. Their dinner options are not bad, per se. But they are small and overpriced, especially taking into account that they are hardly perfect. Let me start with my minute serving of Foie Gras (almond, black pepper, apple) for $17. I admit, the waiter warned me it was small. In general, I have no issue with this kind of portioning, especially for an ingredient like foie. And the foie was perfectly fine. But for $17 dollars (for what is really a small plate), I expect at least perfection. The dish was, unfortunately, ruined by the ‘apple’ component. Not only did it not make sense in the context of the dish but, even more reprehensibly, the apple was mealy. In my book, mealy apples are unforgivable and that bite of apple ruined my entire experience.

This brings me to the Octopus (black garlic, treviso, sea bream) and Bay Scallops (trout skin, meyer lemon), which my compatriots ordered, $16 and $17 respectively. These were well composed dishes but again, the portions were tiny. Where does Roberta’s get off serving food that, while relatively good in quality, is regularly overpriced? And I mean overpriced compared to any fine dining restaurant in the Manhattan with a similar creative aesthetic and quality.

Roberta’s gets away with it because of the novelty of being a good restaurant in an unlikely neighborhood, for being ‘hip’, and for being over-hyped by critics like Sam Sifton. People with money from Manhattan come and they think, wow I’m in some godforsaken area of Bushwick, it feels underground and undiscovered and unexpected and well, cool. This is despite the fact that these days the place is always crowded. I think people who are blown away by Roberta’s have merely lowered their standards, perhaps without consciously realizing it. Because it’s in Bushwick. Because the exterior looks abandoned.

Roberta’s has value to me for their brunch, for their pizza, as a place to hang out and have a drink, and as a neighborhood restaurant. But in the larger arena of fine dining, it simply isn’t a contender.

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