Just around the corner from Richard Meier’s 15-story “On Prospect Park,” the stunning glass condo tower with the multi-million-dollar units, is Cheryl’s Global Soul — an eatery that reflects the ever-changing Prospect Heights neighborhood.
In October, owner and chef Cheryl Smith opened her “cozy cafe around the way,” with 40 seats and a menu offering house-baked breakfast items and a lunch menu of soups, salads and gently priced sandwiches with names like “Latoya,” “Heidi” and “Linus.”
The dining room sports a long brick wall painted soft white, while the other side of the space has raw wood paneling.
“It’s a gallery and lobster shack in one,” said my husband Bob. With one space giving a nod to the Brooklyn Museum (a block from the eatery) and the future tenants of Meier’s building, and the other reflecting a humbler crowd, Bob was right.
The small room fits Smith’s “global fusion” cooking. The former Food Network star of “Melting Pot,” who has cooked in the kitchens of Match, Tocqueville and Lola, offers a dinner menu with just four starters and seven entrees.
The limited selection is offset by a global reach that encompasses Thailand, the West Indies, Japan, Morocco and Korea, with good old American burgers, magnificent fries and down-home favorites like barbequed ribs appearing as specials.
Menus like Smith’s usually make me nervous; when I see “Thai Coconut Curry Mussels” next to “Grilled Jerked Chicken Wings,” I assume I’ll be served so-so versions of both. After all, how many cuisines can one chef pull off?
But from the first taste of silky soup to the last bite of dessert, I can tell you that Smith understands the essence of a cuisine. Those coconut mussels, for instance, were all layers of flavor, not just a single shot of heat and curry. And she’s aware that diners look for comforting food with bold flavors that unfold slowly (that’s where the “soul” comes in), and modest items such as potatoes and greens cooked with care.
The wine list is small, with one choice of Pinot Grigio, one choice of chardonnay and so on. Smith serves a few cocktails, fresh squeezed juices and homemade ginger beer, any of which would have been an improvement on the glass of nothing-special sauvignon blanc I ordered.
Bob ordered carrot soup, a starter I wrote off as banal. I was wrong. This herbaceous, silky puree was the essence of the vegetable’s clean, sweet taste. A swirl of rich olive oil added to the creaminess.
Just as luxurious was a hefty portion of sake-glazed salmon that oozed its juices onto a pile of lightly sauteed spinach and nutty jasmine rice. The liquor added just a touch of sweetness to the fish and complemented the earthy taste of its partners.
Bulgogi, a Korean dish of grilled, marinated steak (the word means “fire meat” in Korean) subbed a lush rib eye steak for the usual slices of sirloin, making a decadently fatty, mineral-rich dish. Served whole, the meat wore a criss-cross of smoky char marks. It was great, especially partnered with crisp, slender fries that absorbed the beef’s pungent juices. A bundle of fresh watercress in light sesame dressing freshened the plate.
A pile of Creole barbecued shrimp arrived in a light, garlicky sauce with the tang of lemon and accompanied by a pile of mashed potatoes and sauteed spinach. Wildly innovative? No. Just a joy to eat.
Desserts also make an impact. The bread pudding is like slices of not-too-sweet, dense and creamy custard. It’s served warm with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream and a few wild blueberries. There’s no novelty about the finale, but having tasted so many dry or cloying sweet versions, I’m happy to try one that works. The “Kiss” is an adult version of lemon meringue pie. Too-sweet and overly fluffy meringue, though, is traded for barely sweetened whipped cream, leaving an intensely tart layer of citrus custard. (The acidity makes you pucker, hence the name.) With a cup of the strong coffee brewed here, the desserts make for a happy ending.
After an evening following the globetrotting Smith to Thailand, Korea and back home, I am happy to report that she never lost her way.