What could be more enticing on a chilly
evening than a restaurant named June? The word promises so much:
a respite from the long dull winter and the beginning of exciting
times in the city.
June is owned by Charles McMickens, who was the proprietor of Sol, a Latin Caribbean eatery that occupied the space before June opened last winter. The eatery, McMickens says, is named for his favorite time of year, a month that "offers good times for family and friends."
With June’s three chic rooms, he’s established a laid-back ambience for dinner and celebration. Above the long bar in the front room are hanging lamps that resemble black mesh hair curlers; the walls are hand-textured and hung with lush, black-and-white drawings. Along the narrow room that connects the front area to a back lounge are intimate dining nooks created by tables enclosed on two sides by beaded chain drapes. Little of the restaurant’s design was left to chance, down to the carved white marble candleholders on the tables.
And yet, a few things about the rooms made me uneasy: one of the lights was burned out, leaving a dismal gloom above the bar; and someone tried - and failed - at removing a large sticker from our table top, and I had a tough time not picking at it during dinner.
And then, there’s the aroma.
If I walk into a place and enticing scents emanate from the kitchen, great; good smells mean delicious things are cooking. But on one recent Sunday evening, the air was chilly, with a tinge of something damp and sour.
Another clue that I’m not about to partake of the meal of my dreams: a hodge-podge of a menu. After perusing June’s "American eclectic" roundup of dishes like "wakame seaweed salad," chicken pot pie, and fried calamari with marinara sauce, I got turned off. Something for everyone usually means nothing for me.
While my initial foreboding wasn’t entirely correct, I wasn’t too far off. The cuisine, created by Rafael Fernandez, was a bit like the decor; there were admirable attempts throughout, but with the exception of a good milk chocolate pot au creme and a well-seasoned strip steak, the flavors were muddled.
I’ll begin with the most unfortunate dish: lobster bisque. How could lobster bisque go wrong? Let me count the ways: If the waiter is five feet from the table and out of the two small cups he’s carrying wafts the odor of the pre-Bronx-move Fulton Street Fish Market, I get nervous. If I taste herring - not lobster - that’s bad. And if the texture resembles ground eggshells, it’s time to run for the hills.
The meal improved after the soup debacle. A crisp lump crab cake that sat atop a bed of "wakame" seaweed was crowned with slivers of "kimchi" (spicy Korean pickled cabbage) and sprinkled with black sesame seeds. There was a pleasing blend of soft and crunchy textures, but the appetizer lacked finesse. So did two pretty cylinders of fried phyllo dough filled with roasted shiitake mushrooms, carrots and spinach. The "strudels" were crisp but under-seasoned, and the two squiggles of sauces - a pungent, garlicky pesto and a bland, red pepper coulis - didn’t help.
An entree of nicely seared, but tasteless, salmon coated with kaffir lime glaze wasn’t enhanced by its sides - a stringy watercress mango salsa and a scoop of moist jasmine rice - either. I enjoyed a tender New York strip steak covered with a tangy layer of "salsa verde" (chopped "tomatillos" - the Mexican fruit that tastes like a tart tomato - chilies, garlic, cilantro and lime juice).
The meat emerged sizzling and smoky from the grill with a bite of garlic. A side of mashed potatoes was fine, but the beef overpowered slices of accompanying marinated eggplant in a tart olive oil and vinegar marinade.
I wish I could say that the coffee that ended the meal was rich and complemented the chocolate pot au creme perfectly, but the brew was weak. And an apple galette (a thin round of pastry topped with sliced fruit), with vanilla bean cream sauce, was just okay.
Three years ago, I included Sol in a story about Nuevo Latino cooking. I remember the room being lively, the menu cohesive, and the dishes light and vibrant. A sequel should be an improvement on the first, but that’s not the case with June. Compared to Sol, June might as well be January.
June (229 DeKalb Ave. at Clermont Avenue in Fort Greene) accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $8-$18. The restaurant serves dinner daily. Brunch is available on Sundays, from 11 am to 4 pm. For reservations, call (718) 222-1510.