Never order "the special."
How many times have I heard Hubmeister utter that sage advice? Several years and culinary letdowns later, I finally listened to him.
Commonly known to people who have worked in restaurants, "the special" evolves from leftover or surplus ingredients the chef doesn't want to pitch, or it's a creative experiment that's being tested and tweaked before landing on the main menu. When you take the plunge into "the special" pool, you might sink or you might swim. And you might ask yourself, "Do I feel lucky tonight?"
Unfortunately for Daughtress, she drowned in disappointment on our dinner visit to Le Barricou in Brooklyn.
Daughtress currently lives in Brooklyn and wanted to give us a tour of the local scene in Williamsburg, so we ventured out of Manhattan. Taking out my trusty Zagat Guide to New York City Restaurants, I flipped to Brooklyn and chose this French spot, which earned "very good to excellent" scores for food and decor, and also seemed reasonably priced.
Lest you be put off by my bold introduction, allow me to interject that I really liked this place. The ambiance was charming and intimate, offering a romantic setting for couples -- and we saw lots of them. A few candlelit tables were located outside the entrance, but because of the heat, everyone chose to dine indoors. Occupying a long, narrow space in a row of aging urban storefronts on Grand St., this cozy French bistro features a front room with a pretty dark-wood bar on one side and a smattering of tables on the other, and an adjacent dining area that stretches toward the back of the building.
Ours was not the best table because we were sandwiched in a corner between the bar and the front window, and the wait staff had trouble serving us. We ordered a bottle of Macon-Lugny white Burgundy, and Hubmeister was charged with putting it on ice and refilling glasses because the servers couldn't get to the bucket. It was also uncomfortably warm inside, but I'll cut them some slack because the city was experiencing temperatures that I imagine might be found in Hell.
The oppressive heat was probably what drove Daughtress to select not one, but two specials: a cold Cucumber Soup and a salad of Grilled Watermelon on Mixed Greens. The soup was passable but a bowl of it was overkill, and the salad was a disaster. The taste was off balance and she barely touched it. The watermelon was devoid of sweetness, so any type of sweet and salty flavor contrast was missing. The fruit possessed an unpleasant char and the dressing contained a mysterious ingredient that everyone at the table disliked. It was a choppy night in the Sea of Specials, as Daughtress tried to stay afloat by sharing her parents' entrees.
Hubmeister ordered a tasty and creamy Vegetable Risotto that he enjoyed, but I confess that I am the only family member who enthusiastically recommends trying this place. I apparently made the best choice: Coq au Vin. Chicken falling off the bone and luxuriating in a delectable red-wine sauce was served over a heaping serving of some of the best mashed potatoes I have had anywhere. The whole dish tasted as if it were lovingly prepared by a French grandmere. This was comfort food defined, a perfect stew to order when there's a chill in the air.
Pre-entree, both Hubs and I ordered house salads of mesclun dressed with Dijon vinaigrette, and they were fresh, bright and clean-the-plate good. We also reached a few times for the bread basket, which consisted of lovely baguette slices.
I would return to Le Barricou, but I am a sucker for rich, slowly cooked French food and an authentic Parisian bistro atmosphere. Hubs could take or leave this place, but, really, how many vegetable risotto entrees are going to knock your socks off?
Will Daughtress give Le Barricou another try? Probably not.
Will she order off the standard menu from now on? Do kids ever listen to their parents?
Note: No charge cards accepted but ATM on site.
Verdict: Inviting neighborhood cafe. Stick to the tried and true dishes.