We like birthdays, well other people's anyway. And we had to do something special for Thérèse's birthday, particularlybecause she hates her birthday. Dinner at our place was an option, but isn't that what we do all the time? We wanted to go out for a meal, but wanted to keep the intimacy of having dinner at home, just without having to load the dishwasher. A fancy meal in an uncomfortable setting with mediocre food seemed to be what the options were, and that didn't sound very special.
Then Sweetu told us about Brooklyn's best kept food secret. L'épicerie is a small French grocery (hence the name) in Fort Greene. Small, quaint and surprisingly rustic considering the location, L'épicerie serves sandwiches, charcuterie and produce during the day. And if you have a party of ten or more, you can book a dinner in the grocery where they put a large farmhouse table amongst the produce and they will take care of everything.
This doesn't sound so unique, but what's lovely is that it isn't too fancy. It's done in the way we would do it – they go to the farmer's markets, go to the Bronx to the fish market and make everything from scratch. While you're at work that day, unable to be shopping for fresh food and scouring the city for the best of what's in season, they do it for you, and they start cooking a few hours before you get there. You work out the menu with them the day before and they take care of the rest, and you bring the wine. A perfect situation when we brought two bottles each, picked for the birthday girl's taste.
What was lovely about this was that it was really simple, food we may have made ourselves, and just very good, very fresh ingredients. We started with some champagne and olives, milling around the baskets of peaches and potatoes. We then sat for our first course, placemarkers being Simpsons avatars of each person. Jen's avatar was complete with a moustache tattoo on her finger, Michele's with a blonde stripe in her hair (don't ask).
We started with a summer vegetable risotto which was simple and cooked perfectly al dente. The bottles were being passed and emptied very quickly at this stage, everyone trying a little of each bottle (the glass debris was quite amazing at the end of the night). We then had slow cooked eggplant, tomato and onions with roasted cod and deliciously creamy mashed potato. Basic, hearty and lovely. By this point we might have been quite raucous because the neighbors upstairs asked us to turn our music down (bring your ipod to L'épicerie and you control what you listen to. We listened to a playlist I quickly remembered to put together on the subway on the way there). After this a beautiful lemon cake arrived at the table, complete with a candle and a birthday song that must have really bothered the neighbors. The cake was definitely the pièce de résistance, and they had just taken the layers out of the oven when I got there to set up the meal. Springy, fluffy cake with beautifully tart-and-not-too-sweet frosting makes my mouth water thinking of it now. I asked for the recipe, but was denied. Perhaps they knew I would put it on the blog...
We left in a haze of good food, too much alcohol and a lack of understanding of where we actually were in the world. We were unfortunately thrown out of there a little before we were ready, but with a baby on the hip that really needed to go to bed, we kind of understood. I guess it's just like at home.
L'épicerie is at 270 Vanderbilt Avenue, Fort Green, Brooklyn. The phone number is 718.636.1200. All photos by Michael or Jane.