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JAZZ JOINT

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Few restaurants come with a proprietor whose history is as colorful as Night and Day’s Judy Joice.

Joice owned the Lion’s Head, a legendary Greenwich Village bar that, for 30 years, served as a gathering place for the city’s literati, journalists and anyone else who liked a stiff drink and could hold up his end of a conversation.

The "Head" as it was known to regulars, was opened in 1966 by Wes Joice, a former New York City cop and Judy’s husband. She joined him as a partner in the bar from 1970 until his death in 1994. It closed two years later.

In his memoir, "A Drinking Life," reporter and Lion’s Head regular Pete Hamill paints a picture of the setting:

"I don’t think many New York bars ever had such a glorious mixture of newspapermen, painters, musicians, seamen, ex-communists, priests and nuns, athletes, stockbrokers, politicians and folksingers, bound together in the leveling democracy of drink."

With Night and Day, which opened on Park Slope’s Fifth Avenue in July, Joice hopes to establish a setting similar to the Head’s egalitarian, easy-going ambience. In the back of the restaurant, named for the Cole Porter tune, is a recently completed, skylight-lit backroom that serves as a jazz club and a literary performance venue.

Her goal, Joice says, is "to recreate the elegance, sophistication and the high-flying good times of the 1940s and 1950s jazz era" with her partner Robin Hirsch, owner of Manhattan’s Cornelia Street Cafe.

To set the mood for their modern-day salon, the partners transformed the former site of Bibi’s into a golden-toned dining room brought alive with jazz tunes. Amber lights cast a serene glow over linen-covered tables, and the long wooden bar, that runs the length of the main room, is already abuzz with sounds of the chatty clientele. In the spring, an awning is erected over the patio.

The food was the establishm­ent’s weak point until November when Joice replaced the former chef with the talented Simon Glenn (the third cook since the restaurant’s opening) in the kitchen. Glenn, who has cooked for Jean-George’s Spice Market, has a menu that traverses the world, but each country’s ingredients stay on one plate so nothing gets too fusiony.

You’d be wise to start a meal with the creamy mushroom soup with truffle oil that brings the freshness of a wooded glen, the scent of pine needles, and an earthy, mineral aroma to the bowl.

The appetizer of pan-seared duck livers are crisp-crusted and pink inside. The first taste of their sherry sauce was a touch sweet, followed by a hint of vinegar that balanced its spices and richness.

I found the white wine broth spiced with garlic, lime and chili that accompanied another starter of perfectly cooked steamed mussels to be slightly sharp, but plenty of butter and basil mellowed the mix.

A niçoise salad is nothing special until it’s deconstructed and served in a do-it-yourself mode. Glenn serves the yellowfin tuna as a confit poached in extra virgin olive oil and stored with an anchovy in a little glass jar. It’s slightly salty and great as is, or mixed in a dish with housemade mayonnaise. You pile the fish on a slice of toasted French bread and nibble it with a cornichon (gherkin pickle), or a tiny black olive, or top it with a half of a ripe cherry tomato.

One standout entree is the red wine braised lamb shank "osso buco." Glenn gives the Italian dish a Mediterranean twist by accompanying two meaty, fall-off-the bone pieces with baby artichoke halves and oven-dried tomatoes that have absorbed the wine and lamb juices. A sprinkling of feta lends a piquant touch of saltiness, while fresh oregano adds a bright peppery note. It’s a bold interpretation on the classic entree that held my attention from the first to the last bite.

A roasted, free-range chicken was everything it should be: crisp-skinned and moist-fleshed with well-seasoned pan juices and a few small, oven-cooked potatoes and pearl onions.

Like the chicken, Glenn keeps the desserts simple with a French twist. His chocolate souffle is not too sweet or runny-centered and the pistachio gelato that melts over the top has just enough nutty pieces to add a pleasant crunch to the dish.

It took awhile for Joice and Hirsch to find the right person for the kitchen. Now that this piece of the puzzle is in place, the change in the food is, well, as different as night and day.

 

Night and Day (230 Fifth Ave. at President Street in Park Slope) accepts American Express, Diners Club, Discover, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $11-$22. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Brunch is available on weekends from 10 am to 4:30 pm. For reservations, call (718) 399-2161.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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