Batard: Just So Tribeca

It wasn’t until I dined at Batard that I understood what had made so many of my previous restaurant experiences as special as they were.

Batard is a restaurant that gets basically everything right, on the surface. Every dish is plated with absolute stunning attention to detail and use of space. Each ingredient is cooked with evident precision. And of course, the service is fairly good, in that totally impersonal, very Manhattan, kind of way.

But appearances aside, Batard may be a waste of some very serious kitchen talent. The first mistake is a perhaps unavoidable result of an already existing structure, or it may be a design flaw: when you walk in, you enter into an immensely stressful clusterfuck. We had to hunt the hostess down amidst all the clamor, ducking people who were speaking unnecessarily loud about their coats and bags. It put my date and me on edge, right away.

More importantly, though, several of the dishes were rather underwhelming. I had been thinking about having the octopus “pastrami” (it’s basically a terrine) ever since it was featured in Pete Wells’ write-up. Well, Pete, this may be the first time you’ve let me down. The octopus was bland and unsalted, and the soft potatoes on the plate were a nicely saline companion but they were also boring. Oh, and it came with these these crazy, sort of airy crouton things, which I could have done without.

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My date had the tete de cochon, which was deliciously flavorful. Like the octopus, it was beautifully presented.

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One of the reasons I wanted to go to Batard is the wine list. As the restaurant name indicates, the list features Burgundy, and from very good producers. I was excited to see a 2010 1er Cru from Bruno Colin for under $100. And it was totally perfect. Our somm looked like he was barely old enough to drink, but he was good at his job.

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I had the duck for my main, and it was truly one of the best duck breasts I’ve ever eaten: perfectly sliced and seared, and with a gorgeous little dollop of foie gras sitting in a pretty green bed of spices; there was also a little mushroom-stuffed egg roll of sorts that was at once very weird, and very good. Duck was a winner, and it worked out with the white wine, even though of course red would be the obvious choice.

My date wasn’t so enthusiastic about the wine with the venison. And the venison itself wasn’t much of a knockout. But again, the presentation: stunning.

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I’m not complaining about the food. It was all very, very good, of course. But the atmosphere wasn’t what I’d expected. It was really uptight, and the server obviously had no interest in the cuisine or the wine (I had to point to the wine I wanted, because he didn’t know it by name).

Possibly you’re rolling your eyes and thinking, what did this hipster expect from a restaurant in Tribeca? OK, so maybe I was a little naive about what Batard would be like; I don’t often go out to high-end Manhattan restaurants. And that’s why this experience was really valuable; it taught me that what’s truly unique about Brooklyn’s food scene, and many places in Manhattan as well, and what I really desire in a restaurant, is the sense that a place holds character, and it’s not impersonal.

The dessert, by the way, was possibly the best dish of the night, alongside the duck.

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