Friday, May 18, 2012

Reynards - A First Look

On its opening weekend the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg hosted the Food Book Fair. Luckily for me, it was also the opening weekend for Reynards, the restaurant in the Wythe Hotel. Reynards is brought to us by Andrew Tarlow and Sean Rembold, the team behind Marlow & Sons and Diner.

First a note about the Wythe Hotel. It sits across the street from Brooklyn Bowl and Brooklyn Brewery. Instead of slapping up some new, mediocre construction, the people behind the Wythe refurbished an old factory. They did a wonderful job. The building blends in perfectly with the industrial feel of the neighborhood. The building looks beautiful. There is no large lobby entrance, only a small front door on the corner. The new, large first floor windows look like they were a part of the original construction.

The only real indication that this is not a factory is the steel and glass addition on the roof of the building and the humorous and eye-catching HOTEL sign that looks like it was made from old metal advertising signs. After living through a decade of unfettered construction in NYC, either from hacks looking to make a buck or named architects who care more about their egos than the architectural history and feel of new York's neighborhoods, the Wythe Hotel is a welcome surprise.

This aesthetic continues inside the hotel. To the left is the clean, minimalist lobby. To the right, Reynards. The restaurant runs the length of the hotel on the Wythe Avenue. It is split into two large rooms with high ceilings, (an outside patio is forthcoming). The first room is the more informal of the two. It is dominated by a beautiful dark wood bar with a white marble top and backed with shelves and mirror. It looks like it could have been here for one hundred years (my guess is it was rescued from another establishment, but you never know). Cocktails and coffee get equal billing and equal treatment at this bar.

A beautiful tile floor, exposed brick walls, wood beam ceilings and globe chandeliers create a feel that nods to the industrial history of the neighborhood and pays homage to classic bars and hotel bars of old (old New Orleans comes to mind in particular). In other words, it is very Williamsburg 2012.

The second room has a similar feel but is slightly more formal, more of a classic dinning room. The tile floors are replaced by wood planks.

On this particular sunny Sunday afternoon I settled into a window seat in the front room. I was here for April Bloomfield's panel and a chance to interview her, but I had come out early so I could try the food at Reynards. My first welcome surprise came when the waiter asked me if I wanted tap or sparkling water. Tap was fine. Then he clarified. "We have flat tap water and sparkling tap water. We make our own." Basically, I was offered a free bottle of house made seltzer. I took it.

I don't know why more restaurants do this (OK, I do, they want to sell bottled water). House made seltzer. Another nod to Brooklyn and a great touch for the customer. Nice start.

I ordered a cappuccino and asked the waiter what coffee they used. I had had a cappuccino here on Friday and it was great. He told me the coffee was Terroir. He said he didn't know that much about it but the baristas did and they would be happy to talk to me about. I said thanks, I would do that on my way out.

A few minutes later, as I was taking a few notes, I heard a voice say," I understand you would like to talk about coffee." I looked up to find a striking redhead settling into the chair across from me. This was Emma. She is the head of the coffee program at Reynards. She told me all about the coffee, Terroir out of Massachusetts. We talked about my set up at home (how I made my coffee at home) and her set up.  I learned they used two different types of espresso beans. A sweeter, more dessert like bean for the mornings and the richer one for the afternoons and dinner. She figured out that I had had the richer espresso on Friday and would have the sweeter today. She said I had to meet the  barista that made my coffee, Katherine. Here they are:

I will be completely honest. I felt like I had stumbled into a Woody Allen movie (one of the good ones). "Sunday Afternoon in Williamsburg." I thanked the both of them. I tried my cappuccino. It was excellent, and it was indeed sweeter than the one I had on Friday. I was in heaven.

The food. I ordered two things. The first - Eggs + Mayonnaise;

Two lightly deviled eggs with pickled rhubarb and chives on a home made mayonnaise that was closer to creme fresh or tartar sauce. Remarkable. Deviled eggs are one of my favorite foods. These were in a class by themselves. And it took every ounce of will not to pick up the plate and lick it clean of the mayo. I could have ordered four more servings.

My second dish - Frisee salad with house made bacon and poached egg.

Perfect. warm, thick, chewy bacon, almost a pancetta. Bread toasted with olive oil for croutons. A perfectly poached egg. All this co-mingles with a light bacon vinaigrette on frisee to make a perfect breakfast or brunch salad. Smiles all around.

I was fully fueled, happy and ready for my panel. And I was already looking forward to coming back to Reynards for another meal.

A thought.  I sat in Reynards on this sunny Sunday watching people come and go. At first glance, oh the humanity. Hipsters? Check. Silly men in silly hats? Check. The new version of Eurotrash, dressed in what they think is hip NYC garb. Check. Tourists from the Upper East Side? Check. Williamsburg is now a tourist destination. Reynards fits the bill.

However, as I basked in the glow of my meal and dismissed the people around me I had an bit of an epiphany. I am an NYC snob (just look at the paragraph above if you don't believe me). I am not alone in this. I am sure a few of you reading this nodded approvingly at my disdain. I know there are a lot of people that avoid Williamsburg, and Brooklyn as a whole, because of the attitude, because of the people. They feel it is becoming a cliche and is over hyped. Too many guys in beards, flannel and caps. Too many girls is prairie dressed or ironic t-shirts. Too many things "Made in Brooklyn, or "Breukelen." They roll their eyes at the idea of a barista. I get it. I can be the same way. As fashionable as it is to go to Williamsburg, it is just as fashionable to take shots at it. Don't.

Yes, there are parts that at too precious for their own good. But I have spent enough time there to realize a lot of the attitude is coming from those just visiting, not the people that live and work there. Ignore the crowds. Get past them and enjoy what a wonderful, creative neighborhood this is, especially when it comes to food and drink. If Reynards were in New Orleans, Savannah or Toledo, no one would roll their eyes. The reality is that the people behind the restaurants, the chefs, bartenders and baristas take what they are doing seriously. This is their art, their craft. For Emma, coffee isn't a job, it is a passion. And thanks to her passion, and my willingness to ask questions and listen, I had some excellent coffee, learned something and met a delightful person with similar interests. How is that bad?

There is cultural shift happening. This weekend's Googa Mooga Festival is one indication. After years of music festivals with food, this is a food festival with music. People are saying chefs are the new rock stars. That is true, but dismissive. Food is the new music business and chefs are the new artists. It makes sense. Hard core music fans used to troll for hours in record shops looking for music. You were thrilled to be the first to discover a new band. But now, the second you discover something, your cousin in the Coldplay T-shirt can call it up on his iPhone. The adventure is gone in music, the thrill of the hunt. And the satisfaction of finding something you love that no one else has. You cannot do that with music any more.

But you can do it with food. You can hear about a new chef, a new place in a remote corner of Brooklyn and go find it. You can discover a new cocktail bar or drink. A new coffee. Great Cajun food. The adventure is there. The thrill of the hunt. And being one of the few in the know. Your cousin can't try the tostadas on his iPhone.

Williamsburg is past the tipping point. The secret is out. But it still has room to grow. It is still easier to get a business started there, and the customers are more open to a new idea. I suspect if you went into Reynards with attitude you might get some back. Isn't this true everywhere? But I went in with an open mind, excited about the food, and I was rewarded. Reynards staff was great and welcoming and the food was top notch. I was excited to enjoy the fruits of their labor, and they we happy to indulge my curiosity and excitement.

So don't be afraid. Don't be intimidated. Don't be dismissive. Come on out. The coffee is fine.

Reynard's at The Wythe Hotel - 80 Wythe Avenue at N 11th , Williamsburg, Brooklyn.


  1. I very much like your approach to your afternoon at this restaurant and your understanding of the effort and talent behind such a project. As a Williamsburg resident for over 10 years, the enthusiasm and passion in my neighborhood are the reasons why I stay. I am an early fan of Reynards for the precisely the same reason.

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