Monday, January 4, 2010
The Case of 68 Restaurant and the Inconsistent Dining Experience
I just cannot figure out why 68 Restaurant in Greenpoint is not a dining mainstay of North Brooklyn. Yelpers (that gilded fount of culinary expertise) seems to feel mainly ok to awesome about the place. Though there are a few exasperated "I am so over you" posts. Personally, I think the chef has some real talent, they offer great deals in addition to more than reasonably priced menu items, and the decor is fitting to the industrial venue without going overboard with North Brooklyn Baroque or whatever we want to call it.
That said, there are a few problems:
It's really hard to staff an inconsistently busy restaurant. I know. I've been there for brunch on days where there was only one waiter for a full restaurant. Of course service was slow that day! Poor guy! But I've also been when there were three servers for two tables, and, in that case, things were even more frustrating. Yes, it's hard to get a rhythm when you have one table--you don't want to be right in the diner's face all the time, so you need to spend some time hiding out somewhere. But. I feel like if my beer is empty when you walk by on the way back from your smoke break or wherever...maybe you should ask if I want another? More beers faster = bigger check = bigger tip. God, I feel dirty even bringing that up. Moving on.
The flavors are always really great and sometimes even unexpected. Last time I was there I got butternut ravioli with walnuts and sage butter sauce. Really good. It sounds like a pretty run-of-the-mill winter/fall dish, but I found it super satisfying. My dinner companion ordered wild sea bass with brussels sprouts and saffron orzo (trying to remember here, apologies). The fish was cooked perfectly, and the accompanying flavors were succulent and bright at the same time.
However: Things sometimes seem like they've been hanging out under a heating lamp in the kitchen for a while. The edges of my ravioli were bordering on crispy, and I've been served eggs at 68 that had that weird film on them that eggs get when they sit for even a short time. This evidence, coupled with the fact that no matter how busy or slow, I always feel like I wait forever for food here, makes me call this problem plain ol' TIMING. Any home cook can crank out a dish at a time that tastes great; what sets restaurant chefs apart is that they can crank out lots and lots of them in an hour. Or should be able to.
I didn't even know that this place was called 68 Restaurant and not Coco 68 until I googled it for this post. I guess no one ever talks about it or something. I'll bet half the people who go to Coco 66 (the adjoining bar and original business in this space) don't even know there's a restaurant next door because there's NO SIGN. Yeah, I get it, not having a sign is cool. Well, you know what else is cool? Getting people to eat at your restaurant. On Coco 66's (mildly disastrous-looking) website, the restaurant has only the smallest mention-- in 12 point font--in the middle of a sea of other information. Help your Siamese twin out! Give her a mention at the top of the page! A tab! Something! Finally, 68, get yourself some press. Don't allow Yelp and one post from Greenpointers control your image (or lack thereof).
Anyway, I guess the reason I am being crazy about this is that I really like 68: I think it could be a go-to neighborhood spot. The food is well-conceptualized, the prices are fair, and, when they are either not bored to tears or waiting 25 tables of hungover people at once, the servers are really nice. I want it to succeed, but I can't quite figure out how it should launch itself out of this conundrum. I'm no restaurant consultant, so I don't really have the answers.
Maybe the problem is that I just keep coming in at weird times, and everything is just fine, thank you very much. Or maybe they should just change their name to sound a little less like 99 Restaurants--where my grandmother and I once had to promise not to sue in order to get our burgers medium rare...in retrospect eating those was probably a bad idea.