Two friends, Caesar and Sueshe, exploring
Brooklyn, a city full of so many choices, we find that deciding
where to eat can be overwhelming. Yet we embark on our quest
with high sprits and growling stomachs. Where will we find delicious
food at reasonable prices, a unique atmosphere, attractive decor
and a non-pretentious staff and clientele? Who knows?
As luck would have it we find ourselves standing in front of Blue Ribbon Brooklyn, 280 Fifth Ave. at First Street in Park Slope.
As we stand outside admiring the raw bar visible through the window, I remember reading that in June this Blue Ribbon was opened by the owners of the ever-popular original Blue Ribbon, Blue Ribbon Sushi and Blue Ribbon Bakery - all located in Manhattan.
Just as I am wondering if Caesar wants to eat here, he glances at me and says, "A guy at work told me, ’Blue Ribbon is excellent. It’s owned by the Bromberg brothers. It’s always packed.’ I think that’s a good sign. Let’s go in!"
Swept away by Caesar’s enthusiasm, I follow him into the restaurant. Blue Ribbon makes the most of a lofty dimly lit space, which previously housed a grocery store. The ambiance is romantic, yet relaxed and fun, and the mouthwatering aromas tantalize our palates. Candlelit tables are strewn throughout the trendy, single-level dining area colored Valentine’s Day red.
The full bar is just off the entrance, which is great for the lone city slicker trekking the streets in need of a drink and a bite to eat.
"This place is much bigger then I expected," I remark.
"Yeah, most places in Brooklyn are not this large," Caesar replies.
Caesar asks the host, "How long is the wait for a party of two?"
"There is no wait right now," he answers.
"It pays to get here early," remarks Caesar.
The waiter approaches our white linen-covered table and introduces himself as Ben. He is very knowledgeable with all types of recommendations and a list of daily specials, which all sound extremely tempting. As he leaves with our drink order, Caesar excuses himself to the restroom. As usual, too many pre-dinner drinks.
As I sit pondering the extensive list of wines from around the world and nibbling the warm fresh bread, I notice the attentive staff working diligently to satisfy the needs of the families, couples and lone diners, who must be attracted by this wine list. Prices range from $20 to $600 a bottle. I select the crisp and fruity house Chardonnay.
As Caesar approaches the table, I sarcastically question, "Did the bathroom meet your liking?"
"As we both know, I have a small bladder and it has made me a bit of a bathroom bon vivant. The bathroom is up-to-the-minute with a swanky sign that reads, ’WC.’
"You know, ’Wash Closet.’ There are no more men’s or ladies’ rooms in Brooklyn, just ’Wash Closets,’" Caesar says sarcastically. "Very interesting evolution of terminology if you ask me. Much more chichi to go to the WC than the toilet. Anyway, the WC is unisex with a common hand-washing area. It’s almost like ’Ally McBeal.’"
"Okay, let’s hear it. How was the sink in the WATER Closet?" I question.
"Oh, is that what WC stands for? Wash Closet, Water Closet, same thing," he remarks. "Anyway, the sink was primo - like a piece of art, almost trough-like and unrefined, but still modish. I’ll wash my hands there any day."
"I’m so glad to see you had such a great experience in the WC, you geek! Is that why it took you so long?" I ask.
"That’s because I went down the stairway first, by mistake, and ended up in the kitchen. That place is so clean it’s sterile, and it’s very spacious. I even saw someone checking the glassware for spots!"
We mull over the enticing, moderately priced menu for a while since the choices are abundant and range from a plate of frites to paella to prime rib to pigeon. For an appetizer we decide to share the grilled shrimp remoulade, which was a burst of flavor.
The medium-sized shrimp were served warm in a light butter-herb sauce, minus the kiss-repelling overload of garlic one might find in other shrimp recipes. The neatly arranged, tasty appetizer was an excellent primer on what was to come.
Our salad (recommended by Ben) was served next. The large smoked trout salad, tantalizing to the palate, was perfect for two.
"I have never tasted anything like this anywhere," I tell Caesar. "It’s delicious!"
The filet of smoked trout was served in bite-size pieces over a bed of fresh, crisp greens tossed with a light vinaigrette. Caesar surprises me by grabbing my wrist and taking a slow bite off of my fork.
"I’m glad they allow a ’smoker’ in the kitchen," said Caesar with a mischievous grin. "You know it’s fresh!"
Next our table is cleared of crumbs and silverware, renewed in preparation for our feast. Our main courses arrive. Our mouths are watering at the sights and smells. As we take our first savory bites, we know we have made the right choice on where to eat tonight.
I’ve ordered salmon broiled to perfection. Moist and very fresh the salmon sits next to crisp, bright green asparagus, and mashed potatoes with chunks of potato drizzled with a more sweet than spicy mustard sauce. Caesar has ordered shrimp Provencale served with cheese ravioli and spinach.
Caesar’s entree looks promising: eight medium-sized shrimp arranged atop homemade ravioli filled with minced mushrooms, spinach and cheese and topped with a light cream sauce. This time I grab his wrist and take a bite off of his fork. To my surprise, he doesn’t resist.
The light cream sauce had a slight garlic and tarragon flavor. Everything cooked to perfection - it melts in my mouth. I moan, and wonder if I moaned too loudly? Embarrassed, I sink lower into our comfortable banquette.
We complete our meals; leaving nothing more than crumbs on our plates, and being that we both have a sweet tooth, there is always room for dessert!
Ben places the dessert menu in front of us.
I ask Caesar, "Do you like what you see?" and he does not reply. After a moment I look him in the eyes, "What’s wrong?"
"I like what I see. I like what I see sitting across from me, and the desserts too," he states.
"Oh," I reply, in complete shock.
"I have liked what I see for a while," he replies, "and yet I never do anything about it."
He is staring at me, and I look down at the menu. What do I say? I scramble for words. This is something that I have thought about, but just didn’t speculate that it was going in that direction. I thought we would just remain work friends and go out for fun occasionally. We have known each other for a while and I never thought he had this interest.
I look down at the dessert menu and blurt, "Ben, what do you recommend?"
"Um, I recommend the chocolate Bruno, a rich flour-less chocolate cake served with ice cream, or one of our warm bread puddings," he explains - seemingly nervous from the tension at the table.
"All of this sounds really good," says Caesar. "I like what I see ... on the dessert menu. I’ll go with the banana walnut bread pudding."
"And I’ll go with the first one you mentioned, the chocolate Bruno."
Without delay, large artfully designed dessert portions are served.
"Do you want to share your thoughts um I mean dessert? This banana walnut bread is covered in vanilla ice cream and absolutely nutty. I bet you would love it!" Caesar exclaims.
"I don’t know if I’m ready to share my dessert," I state. "This chocolate Bruno just melts in my mouth. It’s semi-sweet and rich. Look at these two small perfectly round scoops of white chocolate ice cream drizzled with chocolate. It’s perfect!"
"I am looking," says Caesar. "I’m looking at those two small perfectly roundeyes, and I need to tell you that you really don’t know what you’re missing with this dessert - and me."
Food Out for Real is written by Tino DeAlmeida and Eve Kris.
Blue Ribbon Brooklyn is at 280 Fifth Ave. at First Street in Park Slope. Open Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday, 6 pm to 2 am, and Friday and Saturday, 6 pm to 4 am. Brooklyn Blue Ribbon accepts Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Diners Club. For more information, call (718) 840-0404.
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