Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Saint Austere: A European Wine & Tapas Bar is Born in Brooklyn

Exterior
The Saint Austere, a new addition the flourishing Grand Street in Brooklyn’s ‘burg, unknowingly follows the suit of its namesake. As it’s playfully defined on the menu, austere “denotes the stubborn and unyielding quality in a young wine which will surely improve with age.” The same can be said for this rustic Euro wine and tapas bar, which is off to a strapping start. It’s literally the familial first baby of the Italian-born, Pirolo sibling team: Jacqueline and her brothers Fabrizio, Gianfranco, and Michael (who designed the menu and is currently chef de cuisine at Scarpetta Miami). With the former two as the friendly font of house faces upon my visit and chef Sol Han in the kitchen, the cozy bricked cubby was mirrored by their warm hospitality. 

Despite the fact that Fabrizio, acting as resident sommelier, curiously had difficulty providing a wine to fit the profile of my description, his tireless effort is applauded. I sampled practically the entire “bar fare” menu and high marks are given for overall consistency and marriage of flavors. The Broccoli Rabe served warm as a “compromise on a salad” according to Han, is beautifully soft and anchovy-salty. The citrusy Bone Marrow presented in a large hollowed shank could use improvement on making the actual marrow the star, and the Grilled Octopus tentacles on their own did not warrant much flavor, but scooped with their stewed tomato and caper accompaniments, the necessary saltiness and flavor depth was found. 

You will not regret skipping the Littleneck Clams for the bountiful Creamy Polenta, whose sausage-induced saltiness and cheesy porridge consistency screamed of comfort food by the spoonful. The fluke Tartare of the day had notes of refreshing vinegar and the Meatballs were pint-sized pleasures: a mix of pork, veal and beef, the smokey provolone bounced beautifully off the sweetness of confit carrots in the fresh tomato sauce. And if you must have your sandwich, pick the Italiano in Cuba - their native-country twist on the classic Cubano with salty porchetta and fontina that offsets the sweetness of the pressed bread, pickles, and dijon. The Beer Braised Vealwurst and broccoli rabe between crusty baguette slices bound by gooey cheese was also a pleasing with every hand-held bite.

Order freely and don’t save room for the dessert and coffee they do not have. According to Jacqueline, this pushes the bar undesirably into restaurant territory. So embrace their sophisticated bar food for what it is. The Saint Austere has room to grow and will surely maintain the longevity for it. But don’t underestimate maturity of this “austere” toddler.

Pickled Veggies in Rosemary-infused Oil&Vingear

Grilled Octopus

Bone Marrow

Broccoli Rabe

Beer Braised Vealwurst

Italiano in Cuba

Littleneck Clams

Fluke Tartare

Meatballs